Johann Kuhnau

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Johann Kuhnau
New keyboard exercise 1689, portrait of Kuhnau on the title page
Sonata 4 from the Biblical Histories using the chorale O head full of blood and wounds , a kind of chorale partita: The deadly sick and healthy Hezekiah

Johann Kuhnau (born April 6, 1660 in Geising ; † June 5, 1722 in Leipzig ) was a German composer and writer of the Baroque era .


The son of a carpenter attended the famous Kreuzschule in Dresden as a scholarship holder and then studied philosophy and law in Leipzig before taking up a position as cantor in Zittau . He thus corresponded to the type of academically educated cantor that had been common since the Reformation. According to a contemporary judgment, he was considered a universal scholar among musicians. By Johann Christoph ennobling says of Kuhnau: "I do not know if he brought more honor to the Order of Musicians or other scholars. He was taught in divine wisdom, in rights, eloquence, poetry, mathematics, foreign languages ​​and music. "

In 1682 he returned to Leipzig and two years later became organist at the Thomaskirche ( Thomas organist ). From 1701 until his death he was the Thomaskantor as successor to Johann Schelle and immediate predecessor of Johann Sebastian Bach . From 1701 he also held the office of university music director.

Kuhnau became particularly famous for his works for keyboard instruments. His musical performance of some biblical histories (Biblical sonatas) for harpsichord , some of which are also suitable for organ, can certainly be described as program music. His new keyboard exercise , which also influenced his successor Bach, is significant.

As Thomaskantor, Kuhnau was also responsible for composing vocal music (e.g. in the form of cantatas for Sunday worship). Much of his work in this area has been lost. The few (approx. 35) surviving cantatas show, however, that Kuhnau made important contributions to the further development of the cantata, from the “concerto” form of the 17th century to the cantatas of the 18th century consisting of recitatives , arias and choral movements .

His musician novels , written entirely in the style of Christian Weise , are regarded as school examples of "enlightened" realistic representations.

Kuhnau is considered to be the author of the Christmas cantata Uns is a child born , which was previously ascribed to Johann Sebastian Bach as BWV 142.

In his work Der musicalische Quack-Salber , Kuhnau explains his idea of ​​the “true virtuoso”. This is characterized above all by the ability to improvise. The idea, which deviates from today's concept of virtuoso, was widespread in the 18th century and appears in a similar way with Andreas Werckmeister , Lorenz Christoph Mizler and Ludwig van Beethoven .

Works (selection)

Many of Kuhnau's works have been lost, for example stage works, cantatas, occasional music and at least two writings. Only the text of some cantatas, arias and odes has survived.

Works for keyboard instruments

  • 7 suites: New keyboard exercise, first part (1689)
  • 7 suites and 1 sonata: new keyboard exercise, different part (1692)
  • 7 Sonatas: Fresh Clavier Fruits (1696)
  • 7 sonatas: musical presentation of some biblical histories (1700)
  • Prelude in G for organ
  • Prelude alla breve for organ
  • Fugue in G for organ
  • Toccata in A for organ

Sacred vocal music

  • Oh Lord, how many are my enemies?
  • Bone Jesu, chare Jesu
  • Christ lay in the bonds of death
  • This is how we know that we are staying in him
  • The old has passed
  • All's well that ends well
  • Scare my heart in front of you
  • God get up (doubtful)
  • God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwell with us
  • God have mercy on me
  • I am happy in the Lord
  • Your heaven jubilates from above
  • In te domine speravi
  • Laudate pueri
  • Praise the Lord my soul (2 versions for 2 and 5 voices)
  • Praise the Lord heavens
  • My age is coming, I can't die
  • Magnificat
  • Doesn't man have to be on this earth
  • Not just alone in the morning
  • O holy time where heaven, earth and air (2 versions: one dubious for 2 voices, one for 4 voices)
  • Decorate the festival with Meyen
  • Sing the lord a new song
  • Spirate clementes
  • Tristis est anima mea
  • And whether the enemies day and night
  • Up from heaven, that's where I come from
  • Leaves her worries out of her heart
  • Goodbye world, I'm your tired
  • When you are happy at your parties
  • How beautiful the morning star shines

Secular vocal music

  • Oh God, how freeze me , Aria for the funeral of Rector Titius, Zittau, May 19, 1681


  • Divini numinis assistentia, illustrisque jure consultorum in florentissima academia Lipsiensi (dissertation; Leipzig, 1688)
  • The Schmid of his own misfortune (novel; 1695)
  • The wise and foolish use of the five senses (novel; 1698).
  • Der musicalische Quack-Salber (Roman; Dresden, 1700) ( digital version of the Dresden 1700 edition : sheet music and audio files in the International Music Score Library Project ).
  • Fundamenta compositionis (treatise; 1703)
  • Tractatus de tetrachordo seu musica antiqua ac hodierna (lost)
  • De triade harmonica (lost)

Newer editions of works

Title page of The Musical Quack Salber , 1700
  • Selected church cantatas. Ed. Arnold Schering . Leipzig 1918.
  • Selected piano works. Edited by Kurt Schubert. Mainz 1938.
  • The musical quack salver. Edited by Kurt Benndorf . Berlin 1900. (Reprint of the Dresden 1700 edition)
  • Laudate pueri. (For tenor, 2 violins, trombone or viola da gamba, basso continuo) / Man doesn't have to. (For tenor, clairon, violin, bassoon, basso continuo). In: Stephen Rose (Ed.): Leipzig Church Music from the Sherard Collection: Eight Compositions by Sebastian Knüpfer, Johann Schelle, and Johann Kuhnau. Yale University Collegium Musicum series 2 vol. 20th AR Editions, Madison, WI 2014.
  • The Kuhnau project. Complete edition of the surviving vocal works by Johann Kuhnau at Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden (previously at Pfefferkorn Musikverlag), edited by David Erler.

Literature (selection)

  • Carl von Winterfeld : Der Evangelische Kirchengesang ... , 3rd part, Leipzig 1847, S. XV ( digitized in the Google book search).
  • Philipp SpittaKuhnau, Johann . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 17, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1883, pp. 343-346.
  • Richard Münnich : Kuhnau's life. In: Anthologies of the International Music Society. 3. 1901-1902, pp. 473-527.
  • Susanne Stöpfgeshoff: The musician novels by Wolfgang Caspar Printz and Johann Kuhnau. Dissertation Freiburg / B. 1960.
  • Lois Evangeline Rimbach: The Church Cantatas of Johann Kuhnau. 2 vols., Diss. Rochester 1965.
  • James Hardin: Realism and the figure of Caraffa in Johann Kuhnau's 'The Musical Quack'. In: Yearbook for International German Studies. 8. 1980, pp. 44-49.
  • Friedrich W. Riedel:  Kuhnau, Johann. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 13, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-428-00194-X , p. 270 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Jochen Arbogast: Style-critical investigations into the piano work of the Thomaskantor Kuhnau. Dissertation. Regensburg, 1983.
  • Gerhard Dünnhaupt : "Johann Kuhnau". In: Personal bibliographies on Baroque prints. Vol. 4. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-7772-9122-6 , pp. 2463-2469.
  • Stephen Rose: The musician-novels of the German Baroque: new light on Bach's world. In: Understanding Bach , 3 (2008), pp. 55–66. ( online ; PDF; 146 kB)
  • Stephen Rose: The Musician in Literature in the Age of Bach . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, ISBN 978-1-107-00428-3 . [1]
  • Martin Petzoldt : The Thomas organists in Leipzig. In: Christian Wolff (Ed.): The organs of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig 2012, ISBN 3-374-02300-2 , pp. 95–137 (pp. 106–108),

Web links

Commons : Johann Kuhnau  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. In the series Weberschiffchen-Bücherei published by JJ Weber, Kuhnau's biblical piano sonata The dispute between David and Goliath (text and sheet music) was published in 1936 as volume 20 .
  2. The source texts are available in excerpts on the Internet: evidence of the qualities of a piano player by Andreas Werckmeister 1698/1702, Section E .
  3. Alexander Wheelock Thayer , Hermann Deiters, Hugo Riemann: Ludwig van Beethovens Leben (TDR), Vol. 3, p. 455 ( online at .).
  4. Article description on the publisher's website ( Memento from December 20, 2014 in the Internet Archive )