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Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)
Who was Christoph Graupner?
That one can even write about Christoph Graupner (1683–1760) marks a peculiar failure of his project to erase himself from history. Had he been successful, his entire corpus of works — some 1,400 cantatas, over 100 sinfonias, and more — would have been entirely destroyed. In an anonymous biographical notice published in 1781, some twenty years after his death, the author writes that Graupner
But not only was his music preserved from destruction in the eighteenth century, it has managed to remain almost entirely in one place until the present day. But this has had negative consequences too, for the very same course of events that kept Graupner’s music together also prevented its circulation and study for the first century and a half following his death.
Graupner was born on January 13 (the date not being documented), 1683 in the small Saxon town of Kirchberg, roughly 13 km south of Zwickau. Though not born to a musical family, he was fortunate to receive instruction from the local cantor Mylius and organist Nikolaus Küster. In 1694 he departed for Reichenbach to follow Küster, and remained there until he was admitted as a pupil at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where he studied from 1696 until 1704. He remained in Leipzig for two more years, studying law at the university. During his Leipzig tenure, he received instruction from both Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau. He also made the acquaintance of fellow student Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729), who would become Kapellmeister at Dresden and author the important treatise Der General-Bass in der Composition.
He must also have gotten to know Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), then director of the Collegium Musicum, and only two years his senior. In 1706, war between Sweden and Saxony forced Graupner to emigrate to Hamburg. Such was Graupner’s luck, or rather, he says, divine providence, that the day before his arrival in Hamburg, Johann Christian Schiefferdecker vacated his position as accompanist at the opera to depart for Lübeck, where he succeeded Buxtehude as organist. Though Graupner remained only three years at the Theater am Gänsemarkt, he composed some operas, collaborating with Reinhard Keiser on some more. It was here that Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, invited him to take up a position at the court of Darmstadt after hearing him play in his capacity as harpsichordist at the opera. He became Vice-Kapellmeister in 1709, and succeeded Kapellmeister Wolfgang Carl Briegel in 1711, even before his death in 1712. This is a point worthy of emphasis: Ernst Ludwig hired an opera composer primarily to write church music.
In these early years, Graupner had a well-funded ensemble at his disposal, and was able to devote significant time to opera composition, alongside his work on cantatas and instrumental music. However, in 1719, this ideal situation began to deteriorate. Financial pressures forced reductions in the size of the ensemble, and obliged those remaining to secure secondary employment; these changes also led Graupner to cease operatic composition. Matters came to a head in 1722, leading to the best-known event in his career. After the death of Johann Kuhnau (1660–1722), the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig became vacant. Though Bach would go on to take the position, he had not been the town council’s first choice. Telemann was the initial selection, but he withdrew from consideration after receiving a salary increase in Hamburg. This cleared the way for Graupner, the council’s second choice. But he was unable to secure release from his employment at Darmstadt, and was offered an increase in salary and benefits — combined with a guarantee that his salary would receive priority payment — leading him to withdraw from consideration. That he would be ranked by his contemporaries among the top composers in Germany at the time speaks to his considerable talent and reputation.
So far as is known, he did not attempt to leave Darmstadt again. Graupner gives few details about his final decades in a letter to Johann Mattheson — written in May of 1740 for his Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte — except to say that he is extraordinarily busy. He says:
In the early 1750s, Graupner, by then in his late sixties, went blind — cantata composition ceased entirely after 1754 — and he died six years later.
After Graupner’s death, the position of Darmstadt court Kapellmeister fell to Johann Samuel Endler. Unlike the instrumental music, the cantatas were seen as valuable for reuse in the court chapel, a purpose for which Endler evidently continued to use them. It appears that the manuscripts themselves were in the possession of Graupner’s children, and that Endler had to borrow the materials from them. However, sensing the value of this music, the heirs, who did not have any use themselves for this considerable quantity of music, sought to sell it to the Landgrave Ludwig VIII, the son of the man who initially hired Graupner. When this suggestion was put to the Landgrave, however, his response was less than positive: why should he, who had already paid Graupner a salary for the last fifty years, need to pay more for the music that he wrote during his tenure? Indeed the Landgrave seemed almost baffled that the heirs would even think to ask for compensation — his personal involvement ended here, and aides handled all further correspondence.
In 1766, the heirs wrote again to the court, and this time enclosed a series of supporting materials, including a letter of support by the Gotha Kapellmeister Georg Anton Benda (1722–95). After laying out criteria to determine whether or not the works belong to the court or to the composer’s heirs — including whether ownership was contractually specified—Benda ultimately sided with the latter. One might argue that this document is part of the gradual development of the concept of intellectual property: the works are not mere occasional accompaniments, whose value dissipates after their initial performance, but rather they are the products of a creative mind, and they naturally belong to their creator, unless otherwise reassigned. This latest missive was evidently enough to convince the Landgrave’s advisors to offer 400 florins to the heirs, but this was dismissed by the Landgrave as being far too high. When Ludwig VIII died in 1768, the matter remained unresolved, and when his son, Ludwig IX, took the throne, the court musical establishment was changed so extensively that there was no longer any need of cantatas. As the descendants themselves gradually passed away, the music was slowly consolidated into the possession of Graupner’s niece Maria Luise Köhler (née Wachter).
By the second decade of the nineteenth century, the value of the music had clearly changed in the eyes of its possessors, and, for that matter, in the eyes of its potential purchaser, Grand Duke Ludwig I (formerly known as Landgrave Ludwig X). Rather than being marketed for their utility value — their potential use in the court chapel — the heirs saw them as a cultural treasure for the territory, and appealed to the art- and music-loving duke on these terms. In a letter from March 1819, they refer to Graupner as a “famous composer” whose music is “particularly suitable for the collection of his royal highness.” (As had the first generation of heirs, this generation also tugged at the duke’s heartstrings, describing in detail their financial straits.) At last, this argument seems to have resonated: the duke purchased the music from Graupner’s heirs for the equivalent of 275 florins — almost half the amount contemplated some fifty years earlier.
The music was entered into the court library’s nineteenth-century catalogues, but so far as is known, the music was unused, and simply sat in storage, unperformed and unstudied. The fire-bombing of Darmstadt on September 11, 1944 was enormously destructive: virtually the entire city, including the Residenzschloss, the site of the court library, was destroyed. Yet the music survived, having been evacuated to a safe storage location, outside the city, the previous year. When it returned to the city, after the war, it was now the instrumental music that was thought to be more valuable than the cantatas—the latter were simply tied into bundles, grouped together by annual cycle. Not until the 1970s, over two hundred years since Graupner’s death, were they properly repackaged, and this is how they remain today. In a real boon for scholars, the Technische Universität Darmstadt is digitizing its musical holdings. How far we have come from the locked cabinet of the 1760s.
Today, there is something of a Graupner renaissance underway. Several recent recordings have featured his music. Likewise, in the last ten years or so, several dozen of his instrumental and vocal compositions have been published for the first time. There has been a commensurate increase in scholarly focus as well, led by, among others, Oswald Bill, Ursula Kramer, Christoph Großpietsch, and Beate Sorg. Admittedly, we are unlikely to see the complete publication or recording of his enormous oeuvre, but any work to bring to light the life and music of this fascinating and important figure in eighteenth-century music history is to be commended.
© Evan Cortens/Beate Sorg 2017
Services (in German)
The Christoph-Graupner-Gesellschaft is a registered non-profit association, founded in 2003 by an union of Darmstadt cultural politicians and experts.
The primary objective of the association is the promotion and dissemination of the compositional work of Christoph Graupner, the longtime Kapellmeister at the court of Hesse Darmstadt.
This is achieved by the organization and promotion of concerts, together with the scientific processing and dissemination through lectures, conferences and publications.
Read the articles of association (in German only).
The Christoph-Graupner-Gesellschaft (CGG) looks forward to welcoming new members who are interested in the music of the Darmstadt Court Chapel and would like to actively promote our work by supporting the planning and implementation of our projects or by passive membership.
The CGG is recognized as a non-profit organization. Accordingly, membership fees and donations can be taxed. Since 2013 there are the following levels of membership:
Please use the following form to apply for membership (PDF). The PDF can be printed out and posted to the following address:
Geschäftsstelle der Christoph-Graupner-Gesellschaft e.V.
Services (in German)
To be done
Almost all of the autographs Graupner's works, which are still extant and recognised, can be found in the collection of the University and State Library in Darmstadt, from the collection of the Hofkapellbibliothek of the first Grand Duke established about 50 years following Graupner's death. Within the scope of a large digitization project, not only all Graupner manuscripts of the ULB Darmstadt have been digitized, but also various compositions by other composers of the 18th century; they are available in the digital collections of the ULB. However, individual works are located outside of Darmstadt; the libraries of Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Berlin and Paris belong to the owners of these additional compositions. Their locations can be easily identified using the RISM online catalog.
The history of this corpus of Graupner's works begins in his lifetime. In the years 1718 and 1722, Graupner published collections of keyboard music in self-publishing (partitas on the Clavier, Monatliche Clavier-Früchte). From a third collection, also published in this way (Partitas Vier Jahreszeiten), only a partita (Vom Winter) in Darmstadt is preserved. While the Darmstadt-based singer and theater librarian Ernst Pasqué caused a renaissance of interest in the now forgotten Darmstädter Hofkapellmeister in the mid-nineteenth century he did not leave any practical notes, the early 20th century brought renewed interest and scholarship.
Within the framework of the German monographs, which were first published in 1892, to further the course of newly established musicological research, selected works by composers of the German schools were published. In 1907 the first work by Christoph Graupner appeared: in volume 29/30 of the series - There was also a concerto for 2 trumpets, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola and harpsichord. In 1926 the Darmstadt-based Graupner researcher Friedrich Noack published a double volume with a total of 17 cantatas of Graupner (Selected Cantatas). Since these ground-breaking editions were re-published between 1957 and 1960, it is possible to gain a clear overview of the compositions. These volumes published more than 70 years ago are now. It seemed that this preliminary work was having some impact through the monumental DDT series. At last the work of the Darmstadt Hofkapellmeister had been noticed, and musical scholars and performers began to be interested in Graupner's oeuvre in all its breadth. After Noack's cantata collection, the focus then switched completely to the instrumental work, which was obviously also to be brought closer to the wider musical world. Thus the first single editions appeared in close succession, and piece by piece all the major publishers included works by Graupner in their catalogues; a continuous cultivation of the Graupner's oeuvre is, however, only to be found for the Schott publishing house in Mainz (the first edition published there from 1939, the most recent of 2008). In detail, these are (links lead directly to editions of Christoph Graupner):
GWV Print version
Already by the 1990s, plans and preparatory work for the compilation of a list of all works by Christoph Graupner was made. Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the work on the first part, the list of all instrumental works, was carried out in the department of music of the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (ULB) in the years 1999-2001, and finally brought to a final conclusion with the 2005 publication in Carus Verlag (in German):
Information according to §5 TMG (Germany):
Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek
Represented by: Prof. Dr. Ursula Kramer