Arne Spohr

Black Court Trumpeters and Kettledrummers in Early Modern Germany

By the end of the seventeenth century, black trumpeters and kettledrummers were employed at many courts of the Holy Roman Empire as symbols of princely magnificence. Their legal and social position within the court hierarchy, and German society as a whole, has been debated among historians. According to a commonly held view, black performers who had been bought on the international slave market were considered legally free and fully integrated into German society once they had completed a two-year apprenticeship and entered court service. Drawing on sources and insights from social, religious and legal history, history of race, and music sociology, my research project reevaluates the notion of frictionless integration of black trumpeters and drummers into Germany’s estate-based society. I argue that the tension between their blackness, associated with their previous slave status, and their visible roles as court trumpeters associated with princely power, made black performers more susceptible to discrimination and violence. This was especially the case when they moved out of the courtly sphere, in which they were privileged and protected.