Johann Philipp Krieger


Born: February 27, 1649 Died: February 6, 1725
Johann Philipp Krieger was one of the most outstanding composers of his time, the author of an immense amount of sacred music. It is likely that the sole reason for his lack of fame is the fact that a large proportion of it has been lost.

Confusingly, he was the elder brother of Johann Krieger (1651 - 1735), also a composer. Their family had been present in Nuremberg since the fifteenth century, at a minimum, and the family trade was rug making with a member of the Krieger family still making rugs in Nuremberg as late as 1925. According to his earliest biographies, J.P. Krieger began his clavier studies with Johann Dreschel at the age of eight and received instruction in other instruments with Gabriel Schütz. By the age of nine, he was amazing audiences with many musical skills, including his keyboard playing, his own well-crafted compositions, and his ability to sing or play any melody that was sung to him.

In his mid-teens, he traveled to Copenhagen to become the pupil of Johannes Schröder, the royal Danish court organist, and study composition with Kaspar Förster. He had a job offer to go to Christiana (the future Oslo, Norway), but preferred to return home, arriving back in Nuremberg around 1670. There is some inconsistency in the record about this period. Both of his primary biographers say he worked in the town of Zeitz but disagree on the dates while that town's records don't show that he was there at all. They then place him as concert master in Bayreuth, while the only record of his presence there lists him merely as court organist in 1673.

In 1673, war broke out between some German states and France and the Margrave of Bayreuth, Christian Ernst, led his troops out of the region. He generously gave Krieger permission to travel to Italy, at no loss in pay, to study. In Venice, he was taught composition by Johann Rosenmüller and clavier with A.M. Abbatini. In Rome, he studied both subjects with Bernardo Pasquini. On his way back through Austria, he played for Emperor Leopold I, who was so overwhelmed by Krieger's playing that he granted patents of nobility to the entire Krieger family, male and female. Krieger stayed in Bayreuth only a short while. Traveling on through Frankfurt to Main and Kasel, he got job offers in both places. But he finally accepted a position with the grand ducal court in Hallé on November 1, 1677, as concert master. The Grand Duke August, died three years later. His successor, Johann Adolph I, confirmed Krieger in the same job. This required Krieger to make a move with the rest of the court when Johann Adolph moved it to Weissenfels. Krieger remained in that position until he died.

When the ducal court moved to Weissenfels in connection with a sale of some music to the Marienkirch there, he made a catalog of his own compositions and works of other composers he had acquired and presumably played in Hallé. He continued to keep detailed and meticulous lists of all the vocal music he performed in his 45 years in Weissenfels. It shows that he performed well over 2,000 separate works from his own pen, 225 by his brother Johann, and 475 by other composers. Just the list of his cantatas numbers more than 2,000 works, making up the vast bulk of this listing. However, only 74 of them are extant. He also wrote 13 operas, all lost; some other sacred music; and a small amount of secular music.

Krieger made a great contribution to the history of the German church cantata by adopting madrigal verse forms for his texts. The religious purpose of these cantatas was to comment on or illustrate the day's Scripture lesson. Older cantatas were written on texts from the Bible, chorales, or odes. Krieger's more dramatic form was modeled on Italian secular cantatas and consisted of recitatives and arias, which might include specifically written texts, many of which were written by the deacon at Weissenfels, the pastor and poet Erdmann Neumeister. These cantatas sometimes but not always included chorale and Bible texts. This format became known as the "new German cantata," and is the form that Johann Sebastian Bach elevated to its highest level. Krieger's examples are of very high quality, ranking with those of any other of his contemporaries besides Bach himself. The sections of his cantatas are generally in clearly understandable forms with sturdy, uncomplicated rhythmic and harmonic structure.

The extent of his composition of instrumental music is less well-known: He published two sets of trio sonatas (12 for two violins and continuo and 12 for viola da gamba, violin, and continuo) and six suites, called Lustige Feld-Musik, for four wind instruments. These works survive, but some "sonatas" that were obviously early specimens of concerto grosso did not. Of his keyboard works, only three works (a passacaglia, a set of 24 variations on an aria, and a toccata and fugue) survive.

There are 27 Johann Philipp Krieger recordings available.

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