Martin Agricola

Martin Agricolas’ German name, was Sohr, or Sore, and he was born about 1500 at Sorau in lower Silesia.

In 1524 we find him teacher and cantor in the first Protestant school at Magdeburg, and he remained there till his death, June 10, 1556.

The assertion of his biographer Caspar that Agricola reached the age of seventy has misled all following writers as to the date of his birth.

In his Musica instrumentalis deudsch, which, notwithstanding its polyglot title is written in German, he states that he had no ‘activum praeceptorem’ for music, but learned the art by himself while constantly occupied as a schoolmaster. That work is remarkable not only for its musical ability but for its German style, which has all the force and flavor of the writings of his contemporary Luther himself. [It was reprinted at Leipzig, 1896] Agricola’s chief protector and friend was Rhau, the senator of Wittenberg, renowned in his own day as a printer of music. This excellent man printed many of Agricol’s works.

Matheson in his Ephorus praises him for having been the first to abolish the ‘ancient tablature,’ and adopt the system of notation which we still employ. But this is inaccurate. All that Agricola proposed was a new ‘tablature’ for the lute, better than the old one. On the conflict between the old and new notation, Agricola’s writings are full of interest, and they must be studied by every one who wishes to have an accurate view of that revolution. But unfortunately they are both rare and costly.