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Jakob Handl [Jacobus Gallus] (Composer)

Born: July 3, 1550 - Reifnitz, Carniola (now Ribnica, Slovenia), then part of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire
Died: July 18, 1591 - Prague, Czechoslovakia

Jakob Handl [Jacobus Gallus Carniolus / Jacob Handl / Jacob Handl-Gallus / Iacobus Handl Gallus / Jacobus Handl] was a late Renaissance composer of Slovene origin. Born in what is today Carniola, part of Slovenia, then part of the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, he lived and worked in Moravia and Bohemia during the last decade of his life.


Gallus may have been born with the name of Jakob Petelin. Petelin means "rooster"; Handl and Gallus mean the same in German and Latin, respectively. He was born in Reifnitz, Carniola (now Ribnica), Slovenia. He used the Latin form of his name, to which he often added the adjective Carniolus, thus giving credit to his homeland Carniola.

Gallus most likely was educated at the Cistercian monastery at Stična in Carniola. He left Slovenia sometime between 1564 and 1566, traveling first to Austria, and later to Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. For some time he lived at the Benedictine Melk Abbey in Lower Austria. He was a member of the Viennese court chapel in 1574, and was choirmaster (Kapellmeister) to the bishop of Olmütz, Moravia between 1579 (or 1580) and 1585. From 1585 to his death he worked in Prague as organist to the church sv. Jan na Zábradlí. Gallus died on July 18, 1591 in Prague.


Gallus represented the Counter-Reformation in Bohemia, mixing the polyphonic style of the High Renaissance Franco-Flemish School with the style of the Venetian School. His output was both sacred and secular, and hugely prolific: over 500 works have been attributed to him. Some are for large forces, with multiple choirs of up to 24 independent parts.

His most notable work is the six part Opus musicum, 1577, a collection of 374 motets that would eventually cover the liturgical needs of the entire ecclesiastical year. The motets were printed in Prague printing house Jiří Nigrin. The motet O magnum mysterium comes from the first volume (printed in 1586) which covers the period from the first Sunday of Advent to the Septuagesima. This motet for 8 voices shows evidence of influence by the Venetian polychoral style, with its use of the coro spezzato technique.

His wide-ranging, eclectic style blended archaism and modernity. He rarely used the cantus firmus technique, preferring the then-new Venetian polychoral manner, yet he was equally conversant with earlier imitative techniques. Some of his chromatic transitions foreshadowed the breakup of modality; his five-voice motet Mirabile mysterium contains chromaticism worthy of Carlo Gesualdo. He enjoyed word painting in the style of the madrigal, yet he could write the simple Motet Ecce quomodo moritur later used by Georg Frideric Handel in his funeral anthem The Ways of Zion Do Mourn.

In the mentioned printing house Jiří Nigrin were also published 16 of his 20 extant masses.

His secular output, about 100 short pieces, was published in the collections Harmoniae morales (Prague 1589 and 1590) and Moralia (Nuremberg 1596). Some of these works were madrigals in Latin, an unusual language for the form (most madrigals were in Italian); others were songs in German, and others were compositions in Latin.

J.S. Bach Connection

The large-scale concerted oratorio Passions were written for performance at Vespers in the two principal churches in Leipzig in alternate years. Good Friday Vespers in Leipzig had a simple liturgical structure:

Hymn: Da Jesus an den Kreuze stund
Passion, Part 1
Passion, Part 2
Motet: Ecce quomodo moritur by Jacob Handl (1555-1591)
Hymn: Nun danket alle Gott.

Source: Wikipedia Website (based on Allen B. Skei/Danilo Pokorn: "Jacobus Handl", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy, accessed March 23, 2008); Malcom Boyd, editor: Oxford Composer Companion J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999, Article author: Robin A. Leaver), p. 361
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Jakob Handl: Short Biography | Motet Ecce quomodo moritur | Jakob Handl & Bach

Works performed by J.S. Bach

Motet Ecce quomodo moritur - performed by J.S. Bach as part of Good Friday Vespers at the prinicipal churches in Leipzig 1724-1749

Links to other Sites

Jacobus Gallus (Wikipedia)
HOASM: Jakob Handl (Gallus)
Jacobus Handl (Gallus)
Jacobus Gallus Biography (Biography Base)

Jacob Handl (CPDL)
San Francisco Bach Choir: Jacobus Handl
Jakob Handl (
Jacob Handl (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)


Gustave Reese: Music in the Renaissance (New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954)

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