Johann Nikolaus Forkel

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Johann Nikolaus Forkel

Johann Nikolaus Forkel (born February 22, 1749 in Meeder near Coburg , † March 20, 1818 in Göttingen ) was a German organist and music researcher. He is considered one of the founders of (historical) musicology .


Forkel was the son of a shoemaker who was also a customs officer and box master. His teacher in Meeder was the schoolmaster and organist Johann Heinrich Schulthesius, an uncle of Johann Paul Schulthesius . At the age of 17 he went to Lüneburg , where he was accepted into the Johanneum school choir . Already in 1767 he took over in Schwerin with 18 years the post of prefect at Schwerin Cathedral Choir , perfected in organ playing and immersed himself in the writings of Johann Mattheson . In 1769 he became a student. jur. Matriculated at the University of Göttingen and in 1770, after an extremely unusual test of his skill, organist at the university church. In 1772 he began to give private lectures on music and in 1779 became university music director. Until 1815 he directed the university's winter concerts in this capacity. An application to succeed Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Hamburg in 1789 was unsuccessful. Forkel stayed in Göttingen until the end of his life , with the interruption of a six-month study trip that took him to all major libraries as far as Vienna in 1801 .

His unfinished general history of music can be regarded as his life and main work , “for which he was awarded the master's degree (in the sense of an honorary doctorate) by the Göttingen University before it was published (1787), which placed him on an equal footing with the professors ". In favor of his work on General History , he discontinued the work after 1789. As a bibliographical by-product of his work on the history of music , Forkel published the 3000-title Allgemeine Litteratur der Musik in 1792 , some of which he commented on.

Forkel was an enthusiastic admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach and in the later years of his life raised his music more and more to the dogmatic norm. He wrote the first Bach biography in 1802 and received direct information from correspondence with his sons Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach . This book, entitled About Johann Sebastian Bach's Life, Art and Works of Art , is the first monograph on music history and about Bach in particular. After the introductory, very personal description of Bach's living conditions, it mainly contains reflections on Bach's piano and organ playing, the structure of his fugues and his work as a teacher. His sacred vocal works, however, appear only marginally, in the catalog raisonné the St. Matthew Passion is incidentally listed as “a two-choir passion”. The monograph owes its creation to the oeuvres complettes de Jean Sébastien Bach , which were published from April 1801. Due to his frank and critical expression of opinion, Forkel was employed by the publisher as a consultant and supervisor. At his own request, however, Forkel only acted as the corresponding auditor and not the editor, and he left his honor at the discretion of the publisher. At his request for an accompanying text for the booklet, Forkel suggested a separate publication, the first specimen copies of which arrived at Forkel on November 12th.

In 1781 he married the 16-year-old daughter Margaretha (Meta) of the Göttingen theologian Professor Rudolph Wedekind. The marriage, from which a son emerged (Carl Gottlieb Forkel, * 1782), was divorced in 1793. "Madame Forkel", as she was called in the letters of the Romantics, worked as a writer and translator. She married a second time, the later director of the appeal court, Johann Heinrich Liebeskind . Her brother was the physician Georg von Wedekind .

A year after Forkel's death in 1818, the printed catalog of his library was published in Göttingen, written by his son Carl Gottlieb Forkel. The book lists 2305 volumes of music books and 1592 volumes of music and became valuable for Bach research due to the information on lost Bach works. Forkel's library is now part of the Berlin State Library and the Institute for Church Music at the Berlin University of the Arts .

Forkel left numerous compositions. His variations for piano on the British national anthem " God Save the King " are remarkable . .

Works (selection)

Musically critical library 1779 Titel.jpg
  • About the theory of music . Göttingen, 1777.
  • Musically critical library . 3 volumes, Gotha, 1778/79
  • Musical almanac for Germany for the year ...
    • 1782
    • 1783
    • 1784
    • 1789
  • General history of music. Leipzig 1788 and 1801 - his second important work, which, however, only goes back to 1550.
  • General literature on music. or, Guide to the Knowledge of Musical Books which have been written from the oldest to the most recent by the Greeks, Romans, and most of the modern European nations; systematically arranged and accompanied with comments and judgments as requested . 2 volumes. Schwickert, Leipzig 1792.
  • About Johann Sebastian Bach's life, art and works of art ( Wikisource ) Leipzig 1802.


Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. Ingrid Schellhorn: Fechheim 1162-2012 Chronicle of the community and parish Fechheim in Coburg. P. 312.
  2. Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen: Johann Nikolaus Forkel and the beginnings of Bach research . In: Michael Heinemann, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen (Hrsg.): Bach and posterity . tape 1 . Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 1997, p. 193 .
  3. Example: “Joh. Seb. Bach had now turned 32 years old, had used his time so much up to this period, studied, played, and composed so much, and through this persistent diligence and zeal had received such power over the whole of art that he now stood there like a giant , and could kick everything around in the dust. "
  4. Excerpts from