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The Song of Gutenberg | Gutenberglied

Portrait of Hans Folz by Hans Schwarz, c.1520. [Public Domain]

Introduction to the Text

The Gutenberglied (Song of Gutenberg) is a song composed sometime before 1480 by the Nuremberg poet and barber surgeon Hans Folz (ca. 1437–1513). The song is an example of the genre of the Meisterlied (master song), a form of art song prevalent in various German cities in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These vernacular songs were typically created by artisans who composed new texts according to strict rules concerning rhyme, meter, and word choice. They set these texts to existing melodies and performed them in meetings of poets’ guilds.

This song is especially interesting as one of the earliest texts commenting on Johannes Gutenberg’s recent introduction in Europe of printing with movable type, which set the stage for the mass production and distribution of books, pamphlets, and other forms of printed works. Folz’s song is both supportive and suspicious of the new technology. Folz praises print for spreading the word of God, as print has made copies of the Bible more affordable for monasteries. However, he also criticizes it for allowing those who deny God—particularly the Jews—to spread their ideas. On balance, Folz concludes, print is a positive development and Gutenberg deserves praise for his invention.

Introduction to the Source

While Folz himself printed many of his own works (he operated his own small printing operation), he did not print this song (or any of his other Meisterlieder). The source survives in a late-fifteenth-century manuscript, possibly in Folz’s own hand, containing a number of Folz’s Meisterlieder, Shrovetide plays, and treatises on theology, fencing, and alchemy. The manuscript also contains a number of poems by the fourteenth-century poet Heinrich von Mügeln.

About this Edition

This translation is based on August Mayer’s 1908 edition of Folz’s master songs, available on Archive.org. I have maintained the original manuscript’s division of stanzas but have elected not to divide the transcription and translation into lines as the manuscript itself does not do this. I have also not attempted to recreate the rhyme scheme of the original German. The manuscript in which this song survives is available online on the website of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar.

Further Reading

Baldzuhn, Michael. “The Companies of Meistergesang in Germany.” The Reach of the Republic of Letters: Literary and Learned Societies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, edited by Arjan van Dixhoorn and Susie Speakman Sutch, Brill, 2008, pp. 219–55.

   •   Introduction to genre of master song.

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. Divine Art, Infernal Machine. The Reception of Printing in the West from First Impressions to the Sense of an Ending. U of Pennsylvania P, 2011.

   •   Account of positive and negative reactions to print in early modern and modern Europe.

Flood, John L.. “Hans Folz zwischen Handschriftenkultur und Buchdruckerkunst.” Texttyp und Textproduktion in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters, edited by Elizabeth Andersen, Manfred Eikelmann, and Anne Simon, de Gruyter, 2005, pp. 1–28.

   •   This essay documents Folz’s printing career and contextualizes the Gutenberglied in Folz’s wider work as a printer. Includes a translation of the song into modern German.

Huey, Caroline. Hans Folz and Print Culture in Late Medieval Germany: The Creation of Popular Discourse. Ashgate, 2012.

   •   Study of Folz’s literary works and his work as a printer.

Credits

Transcription based on August Mayer, Die meisterlieder des Hans Folz aus der Müchener Originalhandschrift und der Weimarer Handschrift Q.566. Berlin: Weidmann, 1908.Translation by Christopher HutchinsonEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Irene Han

Suggested citation: Hans Folz. "The Song of Gutenberg." Trans. Christopher Hutchinson. Global Medieval Sourcebook. http://sourcebook.stanford.edu/text/folz-gutenberg. Retrieved on January 20, 2022.