Johann Kuhnau, classical music composer

Johann Kuhnau

Biography

Johann Kuhnau was an important and influential figure during German Baroque period. Born April 6, 1660, he was something of a polymath. As a child, he showed a natural aptitude for music. He was admitted to the Kreuzschule in Dresden as a chorister at the age of nine and later became a proficient organist. With such gifts, one might have expected Kuhnau to pursue a career solely in music, but after leaving the Kreuzschule he enrolled in the University of Leipzig as a law student. Furthermore, unlike many other musicians, Kuhnau did not later dropout but instead received his law degree in 1688. Following his graduation from the University, Kuhnau continued to be highly respected as a musician, particularly on the organ, while also running a successful law practice. He studied mathematics and was fluent in Hebrew, Greek, French and Latin. Amidst all this, he found the time to write poetry and a satirical novel titled Der Musicalishe Quack-Salber (The Musical Quack).

In 1701, Kuhnau was appointed Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, making him Johann Sebastian Bach's immediate predecessor. His output as a composer spanned both sacred and secular works, though today only his sacred cantatas and keyboard music are known to us. His cantatas were likely influential on Bach's music and his keyboard sonatas are considered to be the progenitor of the multi-movement form that has lasted through modern times.

In Leipzig, Kuhnau was part of a thriving musical atmosphere. Georg Philipp Telemann arrived in Leipzig the same year as Kuhnau's appointment. Though only a young professional musician, Telemann began to encroach on Kuhnau's duties. Nevertheless, Telemann was indebted to Kuhnau and later recounted that he learned much about counterpoint from the elder composer. Among Kuhnau's formal students, however, were Johann David Heinichen and Christoph Graupner who both became influential voices in the development of Western music, particularly the former in his extensive treatise on figured bass and composition.

On June 5, 1722, Kuhnau passed away. His post as Kantor was offered first to Telemann, who was the outright favorite candidate for the position. Telemann declined and the post was subsequently offered to Kuhnau's former pupil, Christoph Graupner. When Graupner also declined, the appointment finally fell to Johann Sebastian Bach.


Composer Title Date Action
Johann Kuhnau Suonata Quarta (Biblischer Historien) 06/26/2009 Play Add to playlist