Capricornus strikes back

Samuel Capricornus

In 1657 Samuel Capricornus was summoned from Pressburg (now Bratislava) to take up the position of Kapellmeister to the Stuttgart court of Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg—to the surprise and disappointment of the organist of the Stuttgart collegiate church, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, a distinguished composer in his own right, who had hoped to obtain the job himself.

Disputes quickly arose between Capricornus and Böddecker, as well as Böddecker’s brother David, a zinck player, who complained that Capricornus had required him outside the provisions of his contract to play the quart-zinck and to sing “such high-pitched, difficult passages” (so hohe und schwehre Stückh) that he was unable to comply “because of bodily weakness, short breath, and also declining vocal ability” (Leibsschwachheit, kurzem Athems, auch vergehende Stimme halber); and furthermore had insulted him publicly, saying he played the zinck “only like a cow-horn.”

Capricornus responded with a lengthy complaint of his own, presenting a gloomy picture of conditions in the ducal musical establishment and accusing the organist Böddecker of gluttony and drunkenness (Fressereien und Saufereien) and of being at the center of a whole network of intrigue against the Kapellmeister; moreover, “[he] did not deal especially gently with his inimical rival from the organ bench, and used all the arts of dialectic and learning to convict him of musical ignorance.”

This according to “Samuel Capricornus contra Philipp Friedrich Böddecker” by Josef Sittard (Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft III/1 [November 1901] pp. 87-128), which includes a complete edition of Capricornus’s grievance letter as found by the author in the ducal archives.

Below, Capricornus’s Magnificat.

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