Nucius, Johannes
(Nux, Nucis)


*                  1556, Görlitz 
†      25.03.1620, Himmelwitz


Komponist. Abt in Himmelwitz.


Das Jahr 2006 wurde in Himmelwitz zum "Nucius-Jahr" erklärt.

Engelsgleiche Stimmen
Musik aus Schlesien und Böhmen in Görlitz

Von Thomas Napp

Was die Namen Jacob Handl- Gallus und Johannes Nucius mit Görlitz verbindet, dürfte wohl bisher den wenigsten bekannt gewesen sein. Umso bedeutender erscheint es, dass im Rahmen des Lausitzer Musiksommers der Prager Philharmonische Chor jeweils vier Motetten dieser beiden Komponisten der Spätrenaissance am Sonntagabend zu Gehör brachte. Galt der Prager Kantor Handl- Gallus dem Görlitzer Convivium musicum um Bartholomäus Scultetus als hervorragendster Musiker seiner Zeit, so war Nucius ein Kind der Stadt Görlitz.

Als der Chor zum Mirabile mysterium von Handl- Gallus ansetzte, durchströmten das Hauptschiff der Görlitzer Peterskirche engelsgleiche Stimmen, welche das Wunder der Geburt Christi tonmalerisch nachempfinden ließen. Verstärkt wurde dieser Eindruck noch durch die im ersten Moment die zahlreichen Zuhörer irritierende Aufstellung der Musiker – auf der Empore der Sonnenorgel.

Auch Nucius arbeitete mit tonmalerischen Mitteln, als er in seiner Motette Angelus ad postores ait das Alleluja polyphon zu Freudengesängen stilisierte oder in Gaudens gaudebo eine Himmelsschar imitierte.

In Zukunft sollte diesen fast vergessenen Werken, die am Ende des 16. Jahrhunderts, obwohl noch in polyphoner Tradition stehend, auch schon monodische Strukturen aufweisen, in der Oberlausitz verstärkt Gehör verschafft werden.

Johannes Nucius (ca. 1560 - 1620): Ausgewählte Motetten.
Herausgegeben von Jürgen Kindermann.
Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden 1968. XI, 191 S.

Sacred music
Enth.: Salve regina. Orto iam sole. Ecce Dominus veniet. Hodie nobis caelorum rex. Missa "Vestiva i colli". Missus est angelus. Ave Maria. Dixit autem Maria. Mitten wir im Leben sind. Laudate pueri Dominum. Freut euch, ihr Auserwählten. Tu es Petrus. - Interpr.: Alsfelder Vokalensemble. Helbich, Wolfgang [Dir]

Johannes Nucius was a German composer and theorist. He lived at a time of transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods: it was in the 17th century that the dramatic and expressive potential of music in relation to texts became paramount in the styles of most composers, and he reflected this development in both his music and his treatise. His Musices poeticae is a major treatise about compositional practices in the early 17th century. He was a private pupil in composition of Johannes Winckler, whose teachings Nucius claimed were the basis of his Musices poeticae. About 1586 he took his vows as a Cistercian monk at the monastery of Rauden, Upper Silesia, where he probably received the broad humanist education that appears to have influenced his later writing. By 1591 he had become deacon at Rauden and in that year published the first of his two books of motets, which he dedicated to his abbot. In 1598, in order to devote more time to composition and writing, he delegated many of his administrative tasks to one of the priors. In the last two years or so of his life, however, he was much involved in directing the rebuilding of the monastery and church after a disastrous fire on 22 June 1617, which destroyed more than half of the buildings. His death followed a crippling illness and blindness.

Although he was isolated from the mainstream of musical development, Nucius achieved a degree of fame, which was based primarily on his treatise. For example, references to him occur in Michael Prætorius's Syntagma musicum (1618). Although Nucius apparently had no contacts with a major centre of musical performance he was familiar with the music of many 16th-century composers: he referred to works by Josquin, Johann Walter, Senfl, Clemens non Papa, Handl, Kerle, Lassus, Vaet, Wert and others. Nucius is all the more valuable as a theorist because he was an excellent composer. His extant music, though not extensive, provides ample opportunity for comparing his provocative theoretical concepts with his own practice. It is all contained in his two motet collections, which comprise 102 pieces, 97 to Latin texts, five to German. Though rooted in the music of Lassus and other composers of the second half of the 16th century, his style is not without striking personal characteristics. As one would expect from his concern as a theorist for expressive text- setting, the motets are laden with affective musical devices, both to enhance the general emotional content of the words and to emphasize and illustrate particular words and phrases. 

The selections from Johannes Nucius (1556-1620) include a moving setting of Vulgate Psalm 113 ("In exitu Israel"), wherein late chant and baroque elements are fused to achieve a sublime effect. Polyphony alternates with plainchant -- two verses in chant, two more polyphonically. This arrangement juxtaposes the unadorned beauty of the plainchant with often more plaintive or daring polyphonic lines. The wavelike alteration of richness and simplicity draws the listener in and releases him every four lines. I find it even more relaxing than, say, some settings of Palestrina where the ear is sometimes overwhelmed in following the complexities of each verse. If you are praying these psalms meditatively, it is much easier to keep your place in settings so styled. Moreover, the Scholars could not pass up a bit of playful musical self-reference in the way they gloss "in guttere suo" in verse 15 with such verve. ("Simulacra gentium...os habent et non loquentur...non clamabunt in gutture suo.")

Johannes Nucius (also Nux, Nucis) (c. 1556 – March 25, 1620) was a German composer and music theorist of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Although isolated from most of the major centers of musical activity, he was a polished composer in the style of Lassus and penned an extremely influential treatise on the rhetorical application of compositional devices.

Nucius was born in Görlitz, in Lower Silesia. He studied at the Gymnasium in Görlitz with Johannes Winckler, who was so influential in his development that he referred to him reverentially in his later writings. In 1586 he became a monk in the monastery in Rauden, in Upper Silesia; there he received a humanistic education to supplement the considerable musical training he had received under Winckler. He rose in the hierarchy at the monastery, becoming a deacon, and later an abbot at Himmelwitz; however in 1598 he turned over most of his duties to his assistants in order to compose and write his musical treatise.

He died at Himmelwitz (now Jemielnica, Poland), near the town of Strehlitz, in Upper Silesia (now Strzelce, Poland).

Works and influence

Nucius's music shows the influence of Lassus above all. He published two collections of motets, containing a total of 102 pieces, as well as several masses; his works were published in Prague and Liegnitz. The writing is homophonic but with an abundance of expressive devices, the exact application of which he later described in detail in his major treatise, Musices poeticae.

It was his Musices poeticae which gained him his fame, and his resulting reputation lasted at least until the 18th century; this treatise was influential on three of the most famous German Baroque treatises of all, the Syntagma musicum (1618) of Michael Praetorius, the Critica musica (1722-1723) of Johann Mattheson, and Johann Gottfried Walther's Musicalisches Lexicon of 1732.

Musices poeticae is a guide to composition. It focuses primarily on counterpoint, and includes nine chapters, which cover topics as diverse as the definition of music, the definition of sound, intervals which are concords and discords, the proper succession of consonance and dissonance, musical modes, cadences, composed versus improvised counterpoint, and proper techniques of composition for differing numbers of voices. The most famous chapter is the 7th, with its unique list of specific musical devices which can be used to express different feelings. It is the first in a German Baroque tradition of comparison of musical devices with rhetorical devices, an idea which was to be later expanded by Joachim Burmeister and Mattheson.

Some of the devices named are: commissura (passing note dissonances), fuga (melodic imitation of varying kinds), repetitio (the repetition of a section for dramatic effect), climax (passages in parallel thirds or tenths), complexio (the reprise of an opening passage at the end to make a cohesive statement), homoioteleuton (the dramatic use of silence — by inserting a sudden rest for rhetorical effect) (in this Nucius is one of the first music theorists to recognize the powerful musical use of silence, an idea which was to attain fame in modern times in the work of John Cage), and syncopatio (syncopation, for rhythmic enhancement). All of these devices are presented with suggestions for their employment, with examples of texts they can set effectively.

Nucius, though he represented an aspect of early Baroque practice, looked mainly to the past — and sometimes the distant past — for his examples of rhetorical devices in music. He considered John Dunstaple to be the earliest composer of expressive music (though earlier music may not have been available to him), and other composers he wrote about included Gilles Binchois, Antoine Busnois, Johannes Ockeghem, Heinrich Isaac, Ludwig Senfl, Josquin des Prez, and of course Lassus.

While some of his book is based on previous writings by Heinrich Glarean and Franchinus Gaffurius, the section on the rhetorical devices in music is original, and signifies the rapidly changing practice during the transitional period between Renaissance and Baroque styles.

References and further reading

  • George Buelow: "Johannes Nucius" and "Rhetoric and Music," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2