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Opitz, Martin

(b Bunzlau [now Bolesławiec], 23 Dec 1597; d Danzig [now Gdańsk], 20 Aug 1639). German poet. In 1620 he was forced to leave the University of Heidelberg, where he was a student, because of the Thirty Years War and travelled to Leiden, where he met the Dutch poet Daniel Heinsius, who greatly influenced him. He taught for a time at the Gymnasium in Weissenburg, but by 1625 he was in Vienna, where he was crowned poet by Emperor Ferdinand II. Opitz was a Protestant, but when he entered the service of Count Karl Hannibal of Dohna (Silesia), who was strongly Catholic, the two worked closely together, going on a political mission to Poland which resulted in Opitz’s ennoblement by the emperor. In 1630 he was in Paris. After the Catholics were defeated in Silesia he entered the establishment of a Protestant duke and served as a liaison officer for the Swedish general staff. Opitz was forced to flee when Silesia became Catholic again in 1635. He went first to Toruń and then to Danzig, where he worked as historian and secretary at the court of King Władisław IV. He visited Königsberg in 1638 and died of the plague the following year.

Opitz outlined German poetics in his treatise Buch von der deutschen Poeterey (1624) and provided poetic examples of these rules in his Teutsche Poemata (also 1624), the first edition of which he subsequently revised according to the new rules set forth in his poetics. Opitz is widely regarded as the father of modern German poetry. He received the patent of nobility in 1627 and was made a member of the foremost German literary society, the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft, in 1629.

The prime musical interest of Opitz’s texts lies in the insistence on a correspondence between natural word stress and metrical stress, which produced poetry that was natural, graceful and readily set to music. His poems were set by many 17th-century composers, including Heinrich Schütz, for whom he provided the libretto of Dafne (Breslau, 1627), a German paraphrase of Rinuccini’s work set by Jacopo Peri. Performed at a Saxon court festival on 13/23 April 1627, Dafne is widely regarded as the first opera in the German language; the music is no longer extant. Opitz’s libretto may have served as a model for another Dafne, by M.G. Peranda and G.A. Bontempi, which was performed at the Dresden court in 1671.

Opitz’s Judith (Breslau, 1635), a reworking of Andrea Salvadori’s Italian text for Marco da Gagliano, has frequently been associated with Schütz’s name, since Opitz undertook the translation after the collaboration on Dafne; however, Schütz never set this three-act libretto. In 1646 another version of Opitz’s Judith was published in Rostock, expanded to five acts by Andreas Tscherning with its choruses set to music by Matthias Apelles von Löwenstern, Kapellmeister to the Duke of Oels. In Dansktalende Judith (1666), Mogens Skeel translated Opitz’s Judith into Danish in connection with a court performance in Copenhagen; it is not known if this version was performed with music.

A hunting song, ‘Auff Ihr Jäger auff! Es tagt’, with text by Opitz, was inserted into Johann Lauremberg’s second pair of musical dramas published as Zwo Comoedien and performed during the Danish royal wedding celebrations of 1634. It has been shown that this hunting song is based on the chorus of shepherds from Act 3 of Dafne. In the ballet performed at the Danish wedding six strophes from Opitz’s Galathee (1621) reappear in the ‘Klageliedt des Orpheus’, whose fifth strophe begins ‘Täglich geht die Sonne nieder’. The Schütz Werke Verzeichnis lists among the lost works three secular songs which can be attributed to Opitz: ‘Ach liebste, lass uns eilen’, ‘Gehet, meine Seufzer, hin’ and ‘Täglich geht die Sonne unter’. This last must be considered a Schütz composition used at the Danish royal nuptials of 1634 and strengthens the assertions that Schütz did, in fact, compose the secular music for this wedding. Opitz can be considered to have provided the greatest share of secular texts set to music by Schütz; other composers who set his secular songs include Heinrich Albert, C.C. Dedekind, Caspar Kittel, J.E. Kindermann and Johann Nauwach.

Opitz’s translations of biblical texts were also influential for composers such as Albert, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Jacob Hintze, Kindermann and Schütz. His translation of the Huguenot Psalter, which was meant to replace that of Ambrosius Lobwasser, found only limited popularity, however. Both Opitz and Lobwasser translated the French psalms of Marot and de Bèze into patterns identical to the originals and set to Goudimel’s original music. Opitz demonstrated great care for the musical setting of the texts, and his rendering subtly fits the borrowed tunes. Opitz based several collections of psalms and epistles on French originals so that they could be sung to the same Geneva tunes. Hammerschmidt composed a series of dialogues on Opitz’s paraphrase of the Song of Songs; they make up the first 11 numbers in Hammerschmidt’s Geistlicher Dialogen ander Teil (Dresden, 1645).

A critical edition of Opitz’s works is in progress: G. Schulz-Behrend, ed: Martin Opitz Gesammelte Werke, Kritische Ausgabe (Stuttgart, 1968–).


Grove6 (J.H. Baron)

A. Mayer: ‘Zu Opitz’ Dafne’, Euphorion, xviii (1911), 754–60

M. Szyrocki: Martin Opitz (Berlin, 1956)

J.H. Baron: Foreign Influcences on the German Secular Solo Continuo Lied in the Mid-Seventeenth Century (diss., Brandeis U., 1967)

J.L. Gellinek: Die weltliche Lyrik des Martin Opitz (Berne and Munich, 1973)

V. Helk: ‘Martin Opitz in Dänemark’, Wolfenbütteler Barock-Nachrichten, v (1978), 143–50

M.R. Wade: ‘The Reception of Opitz’s Judith during the Baroque’, Daphnis, xvi (1987), 147–65

M.R. Wade and K.H. Ober: ‘Martin Opitz’s Judith and Mogens Skeel’s Dansktalende Judith’, Scandinavian Studies, lxi (1989), 1–11

G. Gillespie: ‘Humanist Aspects of the Early Baroque Opera Libretto after the Italian Fashion (Opitz, Harsdörffer, Anton Ulrich)’, Beiträge zur Aufnahme der italienischen un spanischen Literatur in Deutschland im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, ed. A. Martino, Chloe: Beihefte zum Daphnis, no.9 (1990), 151–70

B. Becker-Cantarino and J.-U. Fechner: Martin Opitz und seine Welt: Festschrift für George Schulz-Behrend, Chloe: Beihefte zum Daphnis, no.10 (1990)

G. Dünnhaupt: ‘Opitz, Martin’, Personalbibliographien zu den deutschen Drucken des Barock, iv (1991), 3005–74

M.R. Wade: ‘Zwei unbekannte Seitenstücke zu Optiz’s Dafne’, Wolfenbütteler Barock-Nachrichten, xix (1992), 12–22

J.P. Aikin: ‘Opitz redivivus’, Colloquia germanica, xxvi (1993), 211–22

M.R. Wade: Triumphus nuptialis danicus: German Court Culture and Denmark: the Great Wedding of 1634 (Wiesbaden, 1996)


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