Despite his upbringing as a musician off the beaten track in Eastern Europe, Valentin Bakfark enjoyed a meteroic rise to incredible fame and wealth; he served in turn the Queen of Hungary, the King of Poland, the Duke of Prussia, the Archbishop of Lyons, and the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor. His fame was so great that his name later became a part of the Polish language. Though born in Transylvania (modern-day Romania), Peter Kíraly has shown that Bakfark was ethnically German. His father, brother, and perhaps his nephew as well played the lute, and Bakfark showed an early aptitude for music. His father arranged for his apprenticeship (perhaps to an Italian lutenist) at the court of the King of Hungary. When the king died some four years later, in 1540, Bakfark apparently pleased his widow the Queen, serving her court for a further nine years. His next career move (1549) was to Kraków, Poland, where he won a position among the King's musicians.
In 1551, he met Duke Albrecht of Brandenburg, whose patronage would further expand Bakfark's career. Albrecht obtained his release to travel to Germany and Italy, though the political situtation prevented his completing the journey. Instead, he traveled to France and published his first book of lute music while in Lyons; he briefly appeared the French royal court and that of the Pope in Rome. Albrecht, uncle to the King of Poland, also convinced the King to offer Bakfark numerous raises, and even perhaps some land, when he returned. He was ennobled sometime in the mid-1550s.
Suddenly, in 1565, Bakfark made two visits to Vienna. During the first, he printed his second book of lute music; during the second, he abandoned the King of Poland to enter the Holy Roman Emperor's service. He married a second time in Vienna, and may have tried to settle down, but after a brief period as a political prisoner he and his family moved to Padua in 1569. He made music for the Prince of Transylvania for a year or so, but in 1571 returned to Padua for good. Tragically, Bakfark and all of his family (wife and four children) died in 1576 during a plague outbreak. Polish literature quickly elevated him to heroic status among its cultural heritage.