Composers for the Lute
Silvius Leopold Weiß
    Silvius Leopold Weiß was probably born in 1687 in Grottkau (Grodków), near Breslau (Wroclaw), Silesia, an area now part of Poland. His father, a lutenist, provided his early musical training. The quality of the instruction and the boy's natural musical talents were apparently quite impressive, since he was invited to perform before the Emperor Leopold I already at age seven. While still quite young, he was employed as a lutenist in the service of the nobility in the Palatinate. In 1706 he spent time in the court of Crown Prince Friedrich of Hessen-Kassel and in Düsseldorf with Johann Wilhelm, Elector of the Palatinate, as well as in Breslau with Pfalzgraf Karl Philipp, his principal employer. He was active in Rome from 1710 until at least late in 1714. In 1718 Weiß entered the service of August II, Elector of Saxony, in Dresden. The quality of the musicians and the music composed there during the second quarter of the 18th century was among the highest of any of the courts in central Europe, and Weiß participated in many events that included Johann Joachim Quantz, Johann Adolf Hasse and Johann Georg Pisendel among the performers. He remained in the post of court lutenist in Dresden until his death in October, 1750.

    Silvius Leopold Weiß and his wife Maria Elisabeth had 11 children. His son Johann Adolf Faustinus Weiß, born in 1741, was sufficiently proficient musically to be appointed as the court lutenist in Dresden from 1763 to 1813, although after the 1760s that post must have been mostly nominal.

    The earliest known composition by Silvius Leopold Weiß is dated 1706. Until 1718 all his music was written for the 11-course lute in d-minor tuning. It seems that Weiß himself, working with lutemaker Thomas Edlinger in Prague around 1717 or 1718, created the 13-course Baroque lute, adding two courses, modifying the pegbox and lengthening the bass strings to enhance their sound. This evolved about 1732 into the "swan-neck" lute and then other forms with two or three distinct pegboxes. His first known composition for a 13-course instrument dates from January, 1719.

    Very little of the music of Silvius Leopold Weiß was published during his lifetime. Most of his music that has come down to us in original eighteenth century sources is found in two large manuscript compilations now in libraries in London and Dresden. These two collections together contain a total of about 360 pieces. In other manuscripts from that period there are over 200 more pieces that can be fairly securely attributed to Weiß.

Bibliography:

  • Legl, Frank; Between Grottkau and Neuberg: New Information on the Biography of Silvius Leopold Weiss. Journal of the Lute Society of America, Vol. XXXI, 49-77 (1998)
  • Smith, Douglas Alton; A Biography of Silvius Leopold Weiss. Journal of the Lute Society of America, Vol. XXXI, 1-48 (1998)
Discography:

    A partial listing of recordings of music by Weiß may be found on the website of Medieval.org.

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Last updated 30 April AD 2005 – DFH