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Carl Friedrich Zelter

Biography

Born: December 11, 1758; Berlin, Germany   Died: May 15, 1832; Berlin, Germany  
As a composer, Carl Friedrich Zelter is best known for his lieder, particularly those that are settings of poems by his close friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. But Zelter's greatest contribution may have been as a music educator: he was a key figure in the movement to establish public-supported music instruction in Germany.

Zelter was born on December 11, 1758, in Berlin. He showed musical talent as a child, teaching himself to play
Read more piano, violin, and other instruments; nevertheless, he prepared for a career as a mason, like his father. At the age of 14 he became a master mason and four years later took control of his father's masonry business. That same year (1787) he married.

But Zelter also remained active in music during his youth, playing in the Theater am Gendarmenmarkt orchestra and composing his first works -- an opera fragment dates to 1778 and a Hallelujah for voices and orchestra is from 1782. During the years 1784-1786 he was a composition student of Carl Friedrich Fasch.

In 1791, Zelter joined Fasch's Berliner Singakademie, an ensemble of singers that performed works a cappella. Zelter's wife, having given birth to eight children, died in 1795. The following year the composer remarried, his new bride a well-known singer at the time, Juliane Pappritz.

In about 1799 Zelter met and soon became a close friend of Goethe. From that year until 1832, they exchanged nearly 900 letters; meanwhile, Zelter set 75 texts by Goethe to music. When Fasch died in 1800, Zelter took over directorship of the Berliner Singakademie. In 1808 he created an orchestra, the Ripienschule, to accompany the Akademie's singers in concert. That same year his wife died.

In 1809 Zelter joined the faculty of Berlin's Royal Academy of the Arts and also founded a second choral group, Liedertafel. He remained active in composition during these years, turning out many vocal works, including a collection of 45 songs (1810-1813).

He was also instrumental now in the establishment of three public-supported institutes of music, the first two in Königsberg and Breslau in 1814 and 1815, respectively, and the last in Berlin in 1822, which he assumed directorship of the following year.

Zelter remained active in his last years, especially in the area of lieder composition, his last important collection being 10 Lieder für Männerstimmen, completed shortly before his death in 1832. Read less


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