- (Ger. master singer) A member of one of the German guilds ofpoetry and music that flourished from the 14th to the 16th century.According to legend the Meistersinger were founded by 12 masterpoets of ancient times but in reality they probably developed fromearly fraternities of laymen who sang in church. Because in medievalGermany music and poetry were regarded as crafts to be learned, Singschulen(German: song schools) were formed on the same lines as the craft guilds;students had to pass several grades before becoming a 'mastersinger'.Music, subject matter, metres, and performance style were all restrictedby codes called Tabulatur, thus originality was only possibleduring competitions, when poets fitted new words to old tunes.
In the 16th century, Hans Folz (d. 1515) campaignedsuccessfully for a wider choice of subjects and the right to composenew music; this liberalization was extended by Hans Sachs(1494 - 1576), a leading Meistersänger and an importantplaywright. Sachs appears as a character in Wagner's opera DieMeistersinger von Nürnberg (1867). The Meistersingerwere never generally popular and the Singschulen virtuallydisappeared after 1600 (although the last school, in Memminger, wasnot closed until 1875).