His father, Ferdinand II had established a thriving musical center in his hometown of Graz. When he was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1619, he moved his court and the musicians of the Graz chapel to the imperial city of Vienna, making it one of the largest, most resplendent musical organizations in Europe. The imperial chapel, led by the composers Giovanni Priuli and Giovanni Valentini — Kapellmeister at the Michaelakirche — was kept extremely busy preparing and performing music for all state and church functions and occasions. For Ferdinand’s coronation as king of Hungary, Valentini composed a Magnificat for seven choirs, with trumpets and other instruments. Valentini enjoyed an exceptional reputation — although he was somewhat overshadowed by his contemporaries Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz — and composed a large number of vocal music, among them madrigals, masses, motets and sacred concertos. Importantly, he also became the composition teacher of young Ferdinand III. The future Emperor progressed rapidly, and according to Athanasius Kircher, “as a composer, he had no equal among sovereigns.”
A number of compositions by Ferdinand III have survived, among them two masses, a number of motets and hymns, a Stabat mater, a Miserere and an allegorical Drama musicum. For musical scholars, “Ferdinand III offers a fascinating case study in monarchical representation, for the war necessitated that he revise the image he had cultivated at the beginning of his reign, that of a powerful, victorious warrior. At the same time, Ferdinand III was able to uphold his reputation as a pious Catholic reformer and subtly revise his triumphant martial image without sacrificing his power, while also achieving his Counter-Reformation goal of unifying his hereditary lands under the Catholic Church.” In 1638, Claudio Monteverdi published his eight and largest collection of secular works as Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (Madrigals of War and Love) and dedicated the compilation to the newly crowned Emperor Ferdinand III. Originally, the collection was to have honored Ferdinand II, but since he died in 1638, the dedication passed to his son. “I present to the feet of Your Majesty, as the protecting power of virtue, these my musical compositions. Fernando, Your Majesty’s great father, deigning, through his innate goodness, to accept and honour them in manuscript, granted me an as it were authoritative passport to entrust them to the press. And lo I eagerly publish them, consecrating them to the most revered name of Your Majesty, heir no less of kingdoms and the empire than of his valour and kindness.” Ferdinand III died in 1657, and his close personal friend Johann Jakob Froberger composed the aforementioned lament. Ferdinand III was succeeded by his second son Leopold I, who became a composer in his own right. I will tell you more about his musical achievements in our next episode.
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