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Matthias Greiter (Composer)

Born: c1494 - Aichach, near Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany
Died: December 20, 1550 - Strasbourg

Matthias [Matthaeus, Matthäus, Mathis, Mateus] Greiter [Greitter, Greuter, Greyter, Gritter, Gryter] was a German composer and Kantor. Born near Augsburg, he matriculated at the University of Freiburg in Breisgau in 1510, and probably practised music in the circle around the law professor Ulrich Zasius. His musical colleagues included Thomas Sporer (believed to have been his teacher), Johannes Heugel, Sixt Dietrich, Johannes Zwick and Johann Weck. He may have left Freiburg for Ingolstadt before the arrival of Bonifacius Amerbach in 1513, but his first dated music appeared less than a decade later in partbooks owned by the Basle humanist (CH-Bu F.X.1–4). By 1522 at the latest Greiter was in Strasbourg where he held the position of Vors?nger ( Cantor praebendarius) at the Cathedral. Th organist of the church of St Thomas, Wolfgang Dachstein, encouraged him towards Protestantism when the city officially countenanced reform, and in 1524 Greiter left monasticism, married and became a citizen.

Matthias Greiter continued at the reformed Cathedral as its first protestant Kantor, adapting and composing new melodies for congregational use; these appeared in the influential Teutsch Kirchenampt (1524) and Psalmen, Gebett und Kirchenübung (1525). To supplement his salary he also held benefices at several city churches: St Martin, St Stephen and Old St Peter. His work in the Latin Schools of Strasbourg began in 1534, and in 1538 he was appointed to the newly founded Gymnasium Argentinense. In 1544 he published a brief Elementale musicum juventuti accommodum (repr. in Schmid, 94– 105) for his students.

A charge of adultery in 1546 cost Matthias Greiter nearly all his positions, and he was not reinstated at the Gymnasium until 1548. With the onset of the Interim in 1549, the pragmatic composer, whose income had been insufficient to support his ten children, reverted to Catholicism and regained his post as kantor at the re-Catholicized cathedral. His return to the cathedral with his friend Dachstein in January 1550 brought upon both musicians the ire of Strasbourg's Protestant community. He died of plague at the end of the year.

Matthias Greiter's small but impressive body of work comprises some of the most celebrated tunes and texts of the Reformation, including Es sind doch alle selig (Ps cxix) and O Herre Gott, begnade mich (Ps li), which affected both German and French reformed musical styles. Calvin used several of his melodies; Greiter may also have composed a number of the melodies associated with Marot's versified psalms. His secular works for four and five voices, both chordal and polyphonic, show a whimsical and idiosyncratic use of rhythm and word-play (Es hiedri hut gut Schedri ), combinative technique (Elslin and the ‘list-quodlibets’ on eggs and spoons), ostinato ( Ich stund an einem Morgen/Lass sie fahren) and modulation ( Passibus ambiguis/Fortuna desperata). The Fortuna motet, with its symbolic texts, is the earliest German work featuring a chromatic descent throught the circle of 5ths, beginning on F and ending on F. It is the only known instance in the period where the use of a B is implied. Preceded in kind only by Willaert's famous ‘duo’ Quid non ebrietas , it was printed after the composer's death as an example of musica ficta in Gregor Faber's Musices practicae erotematum (Basle, 1553).


Domine non secundum, motet, 2vv, 15456; ed. in Schmid (1976)
Passibus ambiguis/Fortuna desperata, motet, 4vv, G. Faber: Musices practicae erotematum
(Basle, 1553), ed. in Lowinsky (1956)
Christ ist erstanden/Christus surrexit, motet, 5vv, CH-Bu F.X.1–4; ed. in Riedel (1980)
11 melodies: 7 psalms (xiii, li, cxiv, two each on cxix, cxxv), 4 liturgical melodies (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Alleluia), Teutsch Kirchenampt (1524) and other Strasbourg publications; ed. in Zahn, Roper, Schmid

16 lieder, 4–5vv, 153417, c153513 , 153517, 15368 , 154031, 1544 19, CH-Bu, Zz, D-HB, Mu , Rp, W, DK-Kk; 13 ed. in Cw, lxxxvii (1962), 5 ed. in H.J. Moser, 65 deutsche Lieder … von Peter Sch?ffer und Mathias Apiarius (Wiesbaden, 1967), 3 ed. in EDM, 1st ser., lx (1969), 4 org. intabulations ed. in SMd, vii/2 (1970)

Anonymous, possibly by greiter
Unattributed melodic settings of Marot psalms in Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques (Strasbourg, 1539) and La forme des prieres et chantz ecclesiastiques Geneva, 1542); ed. in S.J. Lenselink, Le psaumes de Cl?ment Marot (Assen, 1969)

14–16 lieder, 1535


Source: Grove Music Online © Oxford University Press 2006 (Authors: Hans-Christian Müller/Sarah Davies)
Contributed by
Thomas Braatz (February 2006)

Chorale Melodies used in Bach’s Vocal Works





Es woll uns Gott genädig sein




Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Christ ist erstanden, Motet for 5 voices

Christ ist erstanden

Links to other Sites

HOASM: Matthias Greiter



J. Zahn
: Die Melodien der deutschen evangelischen Kirchenlieder, v (Gütersloh, 1889/R )
E. Wagner:
Akten-Material zu einer Geschichte der protestantischen Kirchenmusik in Strasbourg von 1524–1681 (MS, F-Sm , 1907–25)
M. Vogeleis:
Quellen und Bausteine zu einer Geschichte der Musik und des Theaters in Elsass 500–1800 (Strasbourg, 1911/R )
E.E. Lowinsky: ‘Matthaeus Greiter's Fortuna : an Experiment in Chromaticism and in Musical Iconography’, MQ , xlii (1956), 500–19; xliii (1957), 68–85; repr. in Music in the Culture of the Renaissance and Other Essays, ed. B.J. Blackburn (Chicago, 1989), 240–61
M. Jenny:
Geschichte des deutsch-schweizerischen evangelischen Gesangbuchs im 16. Jahrhundert (Basle, 1962)
C.M. Roper: The Strasbourg French Psalters, 1539–1553 (diss., U. of Southern California, 1972)
M.H. Schmid:
Mathias Greiter: das Schicksal eines deutschen Musikers zur Reformationszeit , ed. T. Grad (Aichach, 1976)
E. Weber: ‘Contribution ? l'hymnologie compar?e: la m?lodie du psaume LXVIII Que Dieu se montre seulement et du choral O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross
au XVIe si?cle’, EG , xviii (1979), 225–46
J. Riedel, ed.: Leise Settings of the Renaissance and Reformation Era (Madison, WI, 1980)
M. Honegger: ‘ La place de Strasbourg dans la musique au XVIe si?cle’, International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music
, xiii (1982), 5–19
K. Ameln: ‘ Es wolt vns Gott genedig sein: eine Strasburger Melodie aus Wittenberg’, JbLH , xxxii (1989), 146–57

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