Born the son of a tailor in Nuremberg, Hans Sachs attended local Latin school before being apprenticed to a cobbler at age 15. Like other journeymen, he traveled for a time before returning to set himself up in his trade at Nuremberg. He married, had seven children, and eventually became a staunch supporter of the Protestant Reformation. He continued to practice his trade throughout his life, only leaving Nuremberg for brief trips to trade fairs in Germany. In short, his life was relatively without incident or disruption, but as a local poet and author in Nuremberg he wrote more than 6,000 works.
Support of Reformation.
Like many literate townspeople at the time, Sachs was fascinated with Martin Luther's campaign against the church, and he read all of the reformer's available works. Soon after the outbreak of the Reformation, he published The Wittenberg Nightingale, an allegory of 700 verses in which Sachs denounced the Roman Church and its financial exploitation of the German people. Published in numerous editions over the next years, the poem made Sachs something of an instant celebrity throughout the country. Sachs' support for the Reformation never wavered and he published other short pamphlets that praised Luther's teaching in a lively idiom. These were written as dialogues, the most famous being the autobiographical work A Dialogue between a Canon and a Shoemaker, in which a Bible-verse-spitting cobbler takes on a cleric to reveal the evils of the Roman religion.
In the modern world Sachs has long been known to opera lovers as the hero of Richard Wagner's famous work, The Meistersinger of Nuremberg. In that work Wagner immortalized Sachs as the cheerful and beloved master of the art of Meistergesang or Master Song. This tradition had grown up in Germany in the later Middle Ages, and Nuremberg was the primary center of its art. A strict set of rules governed Meistergesang and those who practiced it were members of trade guilds in southern German cities. They met regularly to perform the works they authored and they were judged according to strict criteria. Between 1524 and 1560, Sachs was the undisputed leader of Master Singing or Meistergesang, and during these years he wrote over 4,000 lyric poems that he performed in the Nuremberg competitions. These covered an enormous variety of topics, including subjects that he drew from the Bible, from classical literature, and from medieval German traditions. Some were light farces, others Protestant propaganda. His literary output as a master singer was so enormous that not all of his songs have yet been studied.
Sachs was also a dramatist, and he particularly excelled in writing Carnival Plays or Fastnachtspiele. These were light and short farces that were performed in Nuremberg immediately before the beginning of Lent, and Sachs cast his dramas with a rich variety of characters. Grasping merchants, country bumpkins, simpletons, and an enormous range of human types play off each other in these short comedies, and are given a humane cast by Sachs' light touch. Many of these dramas are still performed today. Less well known are Sachs' 130 other tragedies and comedies which were intended to play a moral and didactic function. In all these works Sachs transformed his characters—whether they were drawn from ancient or medieval models—into contemporary Nurembergers, and the values that he celebrated were those of the emerging European bourgeoisie. He praises hard work, thrift, and religious faith, while condemning self-interest, greed, and envy. Similar themes, too, emerge in the more than 2,000 poems he also wrote. While Sachs was a widely recognized talent of his age, he was largely forgotten after the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth century the great German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, studied his lyrics and promoted his works. Restored to his rightful place among German authors, Sachs inspired a number of dramas, poems, and operas in the nineteenth century, including Wagner's famous and idealized portrait. Since that time scholars have also been devoted to reviving a truer picture of this admitted genius of sixteenth-century German literature.
Eckhard Bernstein, Hans Sachs (Rheinbek, Germany: 1993).
B. Könneker, Hans Sachs (Stuttgart, Germany: Metzler, 1971).
Hans Sachs, Werke. Ed. A. von Keller and E. Goetze. 26 vols. (Stuttgart, Germany: 1870–1908).
The German poet Hans Sachs (1494-1576) made Nuremberg famous in his time as a center of Meistergesang.
Born in Nuremberg, the son of a tailor of the upper middle class, Hans Sachs was apprenticed to a shoemaker in 1508. As a journeyman, he traveled from one German town to another between 1511 and 1516 learning his trade. Simultaneously, he studied Meistergesang in the Singschulen, his principal teacher being Leonhard Nunnenbeck. Meistergesang is the German art of singing original poems to usually original tunes, according to the rules of the pedestrian craft of burgher poets; it was revived in the 19th century in parody form (as sung by Beckmesser in Richard Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger).
In Nuremberg in 1517 Sachs attained the rank of master in the shoemakers' guild and in Meistergesang. He declared himself in favor of Martin Luther in the poem Die wittenbergische Nachtigall ("The Nightingale of Wittenberg") in 1523 and also in prose dialogues.
Sachs produced works in profusion: more than 4,000 Meisterlieder; 208 dramas, according to his own count; 85 Shrovetide plays; and many rhymed orations and other verses. During his lifetime three volumes of his verse appeared, and two more were issued posthumously. Other works remain unpublished in a collection in Zwickau, Saxony. His themes, derived from his reading in anecdotal and farcical literature of the time and from popularized and trivialized hero lore, cover a wide range from classical (Lucretia), biblical (Cain and Abel), and medieval (Siegfried) times to later periods. No matter what the subject or era, the time and locale are always those of Sachs's own Nuremberg; his characters talk like upright burghers of his age.
Sachs's so-called meistersinger dramas, a genre originating with his predecessor Rosenplüth, are merely dramatized dialogues, weak and heavy in the tragic mood, sprightly in the comic. Sachs excelled in the didactic-satiric manner. His best works are his later, exuberant Shrovetide plays, such as Der fahrende suchüler im Paradies (1550; The Itinerant Scholar in Paradise) and Das heisse Eisen(1551; The Hot Iron), and such narrative skits as St. Peter mit der Geis (St. Peter with the Goat), all in rhymed doggerels.
Sachs's satire is good-natured, his humor never unduly coarse. He had a healthy moral instinct and a realistic bent, best employed on familiar ground. His comedies, performed in taverns and halls, though lacking dramatic quality, have influenced folk drama. Eclipsed after his death, Sachs's work was revived and popularized by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in a poem of 1776; and in the opening scene of Faust, Goethe resuscitated Sachs's free doggerels. Sachs is the only German writer of his time whose short, witty, unsophisticated narrative poems and humble, jolly, dramatic Shrovetide skits can hold an audience today.
Some of Sachs's writings are in Selections from Hans Sachs, chosen by William M. Calder (1948). His work is discussed in Walter French, Medieval Civilization as Illustrated by the Fastnachtsspiele of Hans Sachs (1925). □
Sachs, Hans , famous German poet and Meistersinger; b. Nuremberg, Nov. 5, 1494; d. there, Jan. 19, 1576. He was educated at the Nuremberg grammar school (1501–09). After serving his apprenticeship (1511–16), he returned to Nuremberg as a master shoemaker in 1520; joined the Meistersinger guild about 1509, where he received instruction from Linhard Nunnenbeck. Under Sachs, the Meistergesang was an active force in the Reformation movement from 1520. He wrote over 6,000 poetic works, ranging from Meisterlieder to dramatic pieces; he also wrote 13 Meistertone. For his musical works, see E. Goetze and C. Drescher, eds., Hans Sachs: Sämtliche Fabeln und Schwanke (Halle, 1893–1913) and F. Ellis, ed., The Early Meisterlieder of Hans Sachs (Bloomington, Ind., 1974). Sachs is the central figure in Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
C. Schweitzer, Un Poète allemand au XVIe siècle: Étude sur la vie et les oeuvres de H. S.(Nancy, 1889); K. Drescher, Studien zu H. S.(Marburg, 1891); R. Genée, H. S. und seine Zeit (Leipzig, 1894; second ed., 1901); B. Suphan, H. S.: Humanitätszeit und Gegenwart (Weimar, 1895); H. Holzschuher, H. S. in seiner Bedeutung für unsere Zeit (Berlin, 1906); H. Nutzhorn, Meistersangeren H. S.(Copenhagen, 1911); F. Ellis, H. S. Studies (Bloom-ington, Ind., 1941); B. Könneker, H. S.(Stuttgart, 1971); H. Brunner, G. Hirschmann, and F. Schnelbogl, eds., H. S. und Nürnberg: H. S. zum 400. Todestag (Nuremberg, 1976); N. Holzberg, H.-S.-Bibliographie (Nuremberg, 1976); K. Wedler, H. S.(Leipzig, 1976).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire