The life of Johannes de Fossa (d. 1605) is inextricably linked with the chapel of the Munich court. Soon after he joined it in 1569, Duke Albrecht V appointed the young Flemish musician as vice-director of the chapel, headed famously by Orlando di Lasso. Upon the latter's death in 1594, Fossa even followed into his footsteps. Clearly, this promotion was born out of necessity: The dire financial situation dictated drastic cuts in the budget (even to the point that the duke contemplated Lasso's dismissal from the chapel) and did not allow for contracting a successor who could in any way be compared to the most cosmopolitan, most widely published and most highly respected composer of his age.
These biographical circumstances have hitherto impeded a fair evaluation of Fossa's achievement: Second in command during Lasso's lifetime, second choice after his death and a second rate composer, Fossa has been portrayed as a complete failure, if he deserved mentioning at all. Based on the evidence of archival records, the essay re-appraises Fossa's accomplishments, limitations and shortcomings. Contrary to the received view, his services earned him a high reputation at court and even the elevation to nobility (a privilege rarely bestowed onto musicians).
As archival records show, the flourishing of the Munich court chapel in the late 16th century resulted from the fruitful collaboration of Lasso, the master composer, and Fossa, the master manager. Moreover, archival documentation about Fossa allow a glimpse behind the scenes of the everyday life of this musical institution.
From this perspective Fossa's compositions appear in a new light: Primarily concerned with administrative duties, his oeuvre consisted of occasional ‘functional' works, which, however, reveal a composer who was aware of contemporary trends and, towards the end of his life, at the forefront of new musical developments.