article 102: THE OTHER MR. K

After writing about Hans Kotter it was inevitable that I dust off the two cloth-bound volumes of the slightly later (and larger) tablature of Leonhard Kleber and check the free keyboard pieces found therein. Kleber was organist in Pforzheim, a market town a little more than 100 miles from Augsburg, where Paul Hofhaimer often appeared in the entourage of the Emperor, and where he designed the gorgeous organ in the Fugger burial chapel.

Kleber has two outstanding works in the free category, both unica. The rest are even more “prehistoric” (see the previous article) than Kotter’s preludes, possibly reflecting the provinciality of Pforzheim vis-à-vis Basel.

Taking pride of place is no. 1, a Preambalum (sic) which is anonymous, like almost all the rest of the tablature. It could well be by the same composer as Kotter’s mystery prelude, no.26 in D-minor. Kleber’s no. 97 is a fine Preambalum by Hans Buchner, a.k.a. Hans von Konstanz. Kleber is an important source for Buchner, who, like Kotter, was a student of Hofhaimer’s, but this prelude is by a very different personality from no. 1 and Kotter 26.

This gets us no closer to a secure identification of the composer of Kotter 26 and Kleber 1, assuming they are both by the same man. My best guess is Hofhaimer, whose Italianate leanings are manifested, if not in his songs and his few surviving keyboard works, then at least by his final project: a set of abstrusely humanistic settings of odes by Horace which were published in 1539, two years after the composer’s death.

Hofhaimer’s long improvisations are what attracted the most comment from contemporaries. The two brief, anonymous works discussed here could be examples of how his mind worked when not bound by a cantus firmus or a tenor. I have no other explanation for why such fine, purely Renaissance pieces should crop up in the neighborhood of two of his students – unless they are in fact by an Italian or Italians. As mentioned in the previous article, the famous organist of San Marco (and later of Henry VIII and Santiago de Compostela) Dionisio Memmo considered his teacher, Hofhaimer, a demigod. The improvisatory ricercars printed by Francesco Spinacino and Marc’Antonio Cavazzoni look to me like logical outflows of Hofhaimer’s practice as I imagine it (see article 7), which just might be reflected in the two little pieces mooted here as well.

There are a dozen concordances of vocal intabulations between the two K’s, but none for the free pieces. It is surely possible that Kotter composed his no. 26. If so, that would make him the logical candidate for Kleber no.1. My only serious reservation is the distance in quality between Kotter 26 and the other preludes attributed to him in his tablature.

The anonymity of so many works from this period is exasperating. Perhaps the name of Hofhaimer was too holy to be spoken or written, like Yahweh’s?


The nicest thing about the Kleber collection is the illustrations accompanying some of the pieces. Here is one entitled Lo torlidore. Usually spelled tornatore, it means a turner, a lathe-operator. I take it in this case to be a regional or dialect usage, applied to the thresher shown because of the turning motion of his hinged flail, or of his body as he does his job. But that is just a guess.

July 1, 2023

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