Senfl (Sennf(f)l, Senffel, Sennffen, Senfftl, Senfli, Sempffel, Senf(f)(e)lius, Senphlius, …)
singer, scribe, composer
* 1489, 1490 or 1491 in Basel or Zurich
† between January and March 1543 in Munich
∞ 1) 1527 N.N., daughter of the Passau shipmaster and customs officer A. Neuburger
∞ 2) Maria Halbhyrn in spring 1535 at the latest; one daughter
There is no precise information on Senfl’s birthday and origin. The designation of “Helvetius” or “Schweytzer” frequently used by contemporaries and especially Senfl himself indicates a certain orientation towards Swiss humanism (Vadian, Heinrich Glarean, Ulrich Zwingli). A document dated 23 July 1498 is probably the earliest reference to the composer. In a payment order from the future Emperor Maximilian I to a “poor” man from Zurich, the latter is ordered to use Amsterdam cloth to make a skirt for the delivery of a boy singer. Senfl’s own statement that he served in Maximilian’s chapel for 23 years confirms the first year of employment as 1498, since the chapel was dissolved by Charles V after the death of the ruler in 1520. Another early document that could refer to the composer is the note “Ludwig Sennfli von Zürich” in the Zurich Glückshafenrodel of 1504.
According to his own account, Senfl studied with Heinrich Isaac (c.1450–1517), who had been appointed imperial court composer beginning in April 1497. Although Senfl does not appear in the registers of the University of Vienna, he may have studied there in 1504–7 as his voice changed, according to the usual practice of the court. From autumn 1507 onwards, he was in Constance with Emperor Maximilian I and the chapel for the Imperial Diet, where in 1508 he was provided by the emperor with a benefice at the cathedral in Basel; at the same time, this entry shows that Senfl was at this time a cleric of the diocese of Constance who had at least received the lower orders. In 1510 Maximilian I gave him another benefice at St. Michael de Englario in the diocese of Verona. After Isaac was granted a leave of absence in early 1515, Senfl may have become increasingly responsible for composing works for the imperial court chapel, although he was never officially appointed court composer. In 1515, Senfl is documented as having been part of the imperial chapel for the celebrations of the Habsburg double wedding in Vienna, and in 1518 at the Imperial Diet in Augsburg. It is possible that he met Martin Luther on this latter occasion.
After the death of Maximilian I and the dissolution of the chapel, Senfl undertook several journeys, for example to the Imperial Diet in Worms in 1521 (where further contact with Luther was made) and to various princely weddings, for which he composed songs. Around 1520 he returned to Augsburg and published the first printed anthology of motets in the German-speaking world (Liber selectarum cantionum, RISM 15204). In 1523 he entered the service of Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria with other former members of the imperial court chapel. With the help of substantial musical inventory from his earlier employment, he purposefully developed the Munich court chapel, which until then had only a low profile, into a professional ensemble modeled in terms of repertoire and personnel on the imperial chapel of Maximilian. Although Senfl was employed at the Catholic court of the Munich duke, he maintained regular correspondence with central figures of the German Reformation such as Duke Albrecht of Prussia (Königsberg) or Luther and composed songs and motets for them.
Senfl acquired a house in Munich in 1529, and the city remained his place of employment until his decease. In 1527 he married the daughter of the Passau shipmaster and customs officer A. Neuburger, although her name is not known. She must have died early, as Senfl was married to Maria Halbhyrn in spring 1535 at the latest. A daughter was born to the couple in 1537. At the beginning of 1543, Senfl died at the age of 53. The inscription on his gravestone praises him as the descendant of ancient goddesses and muses and extols his special connection to humanism, his studies with Isaac, and his outstanding position at the Munich court.