At the end of an article about the most important painting in Cologne depicting an early keyboard, I mentioned the only manuscript I knew from the same time and place. Dated 1594, it contains a few small pieces by “M[onsieur]. Salomon”, about whom I could find nothing when I acquired a photocopy (Krakau, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, ex Berlin Mus Ms 40103) around 1990. This minor source was compiled by a francophone, probably a member of one of the numerous Walloon families who fled to Cologne after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by the bigoted Louis XIV.
M. Salomon turned up unexpectedly when I came across a monument to one of the last grand manifestations of medieval chivalry in Germany: “Beschreibung derer fürstlicher Güligscher etc. Hochzeit, so im jahr Christi 1585 ... zu Düsseldorf ... gehalten worden.” This 500-page tome by Landesschreiber (court historian and literary authority) Dietrich Graminäus describes the festivities held at Düsseldorf celebrating the politically-motivated wedding of Johann Wilhelm, heir apparent to the triple duchy of Jülich-Kleve-Berg, and the daughter of the Margrave of Baden.
The marital alliance was a small cog in the endless Wars of Religion that convulsed France, Germany and the Netherlands in the 16th century and culminated in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th. The mentally unstable Catholic bridegroom had given up the bishopric of Münster in order to marry, after the death of his vigorous and promising elder brother. The consequences call to mind the disaster that followed the death of Prince Henry, son of James I of England. The lands Johann Wilhelm eventually inherited constitued one of the larger of the desperately fragmented German states. They were sandwiched between the Spanish Netherlands, where the Calvinist-dominated northern provinces were struggling for independence, and the Archbishoprics of Liège and Cologne. The latter ecclesiastical territory was then engaged in civil war between forces loyal to a prince-bishop who had recently gone Protestant (thus taking a different tack in order to marry) and those of the Catholic powers supporting a newly-installed replacement. Troops of all sides had for years been crisscrossing the duchy, marauding and plundering as they went. While all this was raging around Düsseldorf, the ducal capital on the banks of the Rhine, Johann Wilhelm’s father utterly wrecked his country’s already catastrophic finances by organizing a week-long extravaganza of banquets, fireworks, mock battles, allegories, plays, and especially tournaments on horseback, as if it were peacetime in the Golden Age.
Graminäus’ book mostly makes for grim reading. The lists of the nobles who attended and of their entourages, the descriptions of their clothes and those of their servants, their horses, their coats of arms, etc. etc., are endless, as were the church services they attended. The author also expounds legends and texts from Antiquity which formed the basis of various events, “for the benefit of those unfamiliar with heathen learning.” Graminäus’ last publication was a treatise on seeking out, interrogating and punishing witches. It would be difficult to imagine a writer more steeped in the Teutonic aristo-obscurantism which Napoleon unsuccessfully tried to stamp out, while in the process sowing the dragon’s teeth of German nationalism.
But Graminäus’ grand opus, which, witness the large number of surviving copies, was printed in hopes of furnishing souvenirs for the many guests commemorated therein, contains flashes of information on the musical aspects of the party, for which “famous artists were brought in from distant lands”.
On the whole, music takes a respectable place in the narrative – more so than in many such descriptions, where it is often not mentioned at all. Trumpeters, essential for noble display, many of them part of the entourages of guests, are only numbered, not named, in contrast to cooks or masters of the wardrobe and the horse. But on folio “N” Graminäus takes the unusual step of listing at least some of the participating musicians, among them Salomon von Cölln Organist. Several of the detailed engravings by Franz Hogenberg show musicians in action, among them the two ensembles grouped around virginals shown below.
This interesting source has not received much attention in the musicological literature. The only serious study I have found is that by the late Gerhard Pietzsch, an expert for the music history of the Rheinland, in a Festschrift for his teacher K. G. Fellerer.* In his copious footnotes this author is at pains to point out the errors of his predecessors, but himself gives only secondary sources for his assertion that Salomon is recorded as the organist of St. Maria im Capitol and owner of a house in the Lichhof, just east of St. Mary’s, in 1581.
Salomon’s church is – or was before its destruction in World War II – the finest Romanesque basilica in Cologne. It is so named for having been built on the site of the Roman temple of Jupiter in Colonia Agrippina ad Rhenum, as the city then was. A treasure house of art, St. Mary’s is now little known, sadly separated by an uncrossable thoroughfare from the center around the cathedral and the major museums. Still, it is nice to know where Salomon von Cölln lived and worked. One hopes that he came to a better end than the couple who were so magnificently wedded in 1585. The bride was murdered in her prison cell after overspending and having open affairs, and her widower died, insane as he had lived, a few years later. A war of succession followed which merged into the Thirty Years’ War, and the devastated triple duchy was ultimately divided between two contenders.**
June 12, 2023
*Studien zur Musikgeschichte des Rheinlandes II / Karl Gustav Fellerer zum 60. Geburtstag überreicht...(Cologne, 1962).
**One of them was the Electorate of Brandenburg, which got Kleve, a town where I used to go shopping when I lived just over the Dutch border 1990-4. Thus began the fateful westward expansion of the state later known as Prussia. The castle of Kleve was the home of Henry VIII’s fourth wife (and post-annulment, his “beloved Sister”) Anna, and according to legend also that of the Schwanenritter Lohengrin.