The Austrian composer, organist, and teacher Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537) was a great master of German song composition and one of the few Germanic organists widely known throughout Europe.
The father, brothers, son, and nephews of Paul Hofhaimer were all organists in Salzburg and Innsbruck. He received instruction from his father and from Jacob von Graz. Hofhaimer's first important position, that of chamber organist to Archduke Sigismund of Tirol at Innsbruck, was in 1480. He received an appointment for life, and in 1489, upon receipt of an offer from the Hungarian court, he was promoted to the position of director of the court chapel at Innsbruck. During the 1480s he met the composers Heinrich Isaac and Arnolt Schlick and fashioned a reputation as a teacher.
In 1490 the emperor Maximilian I took over the musical establishment. Apparently well satisfied with Hofhaimer's services, he ennobled the composer in 1515. During this period Hofhaimer apparently spent some time at other locations. He may have been at the court of the elector Frederick the Wise at Torgau with Isaac and Schlick.
Hofhaimer probably wrote most of his best songs between 1490 and 1510. The German song of this period was generally based on a familiar melody, such as a folk song or court song, which was kept largely unchanged in the tenor. The other parts wove contrapuntally around it. Unlike the songs written in the dominating Franco-Flemish style of the period, the German songs were in closed sections (often in the Bar form—AAB) rather than in continuous polyphony. With Hofhaimer's generation, progress was made toward equality of parts and strong interpart relation through the use of imitation. There is some melodic preeminence of the soprano part.
At Maximilian's death in 1519 Hofhaimer accepted the post of organist at the Cathedral of Salzburg and held it until at least 1524. He remained a resident of the city until his death. He became interested in the quantitative setting of Latin verse and began setting the Odes of Horace in this manner. After his death Ludwig Senfl completed these settings and published them as Harmoniae poeticae (1539). Only these pieces enjoyed any popularity after Hofhaimer's death.
Although Hofhaimer enjoyed a considerable reputation as an organist and teacher of organists, little of his organ music has survived. This may be due in part to a tradition of improvisation of organ music. Although his pupils have not been definitely identified, his doctrines were apparently widespread among German organ composers of the early 16th century, and elements of the style may have reached Italy. In music of this generation, ornamentation idiomatic to the instrument was applied to the melody, but not so copiously as to obscure the basically sound proportions of the piece. This restraint, which probably characterized Hofhaimer's music, generally disappeared later in the century under a welter of ornamentation.
Further Reading on Paul Hofhaimer
The definitive work on Hofhaimer is in German. In English, Hofhaimer's music and that of his contemporaries are discussed in Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (1954; rev. ed. 1959).