Paul Hofhaimer was easily among the finest organists of his day, some of his contemporaries claiming he had no keyboard rivals. He composed many songs, as well as organ pieces, though most of his output has not survived.
Hofhaimer was born in Radstadt, Austria, in 1459. Little is known of his early years and musical education: he may have studied with the priest/musician Erasmus Lapicida, but sixteenth century Swiss scholar Joachim Vadian made the claim Hofhaimer was largely self-taught, while scholar-poet Konrad Celtis asserted he learned his keyboard skills at the Court of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III.
Whatever the origins of his virtuosity, by 1478 his skills on the organ were sufficient to impress the Innsbruck-based Duke Sigmund of Tyrol to award Hofhaimer the post of Court organist for life in 1480. Around this time, too, he developed a reputation as an expert on the construction of organs, and thus often traveled to various European cities to provide supervision and advice on organ-building -- Bolzano, Italy, in 1786-1787; Vitipeno, Italy, in 1790; and later on in Innsbruck and Salzburg.
In 1489 he accepted a position as organist in the prestigious Frankfurt Court of Maximilian I, while retaining his post in Innsbruck. After making numerous other contacts among royalty in Austria and Germany, Hofhaimer, with the blessing of Maximilian, settled in Passau for a time (1502-1506), where he may have served as organist under the Bishop of Passau.
At the behest of Maximilian, Hofhaimer relocated to Augsburg in 1507, where he lived until 1519, the year of Maximilian's death. He briefly returned to Passau (1519-1521) and then settled in Salzburg in 1522. Regarded now by many of his contemporaries as the most celebrated musician in Europe (he was knighted by Maximilian in 1515), he was appointed organist in 1522 at the Salzburg Cathedral.
He remained in this post until his death in 1537. Hofhaimer apparently composed throughout his adult life, focusing more on lieder than on any other genre. His earliest lieder seem to date to around 1500. As suggested earlier, he also produced many works for organ, but these compositions, like his lieder, were mostly lost. The bulk of his surviving organ works appeared first in the 1539 volume, Harmoniae poeticae. Among his liturgical organ compositions only a Recordare and Salve regina are known.