Johann Philipp Kirnberger and Authorship

By Jerold, Beverly | Notes, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Johann Philipp Kirnberger and Authorship


Jerold, Beverly, Notes


Questions remain about the authorship of various works now attributed to the theorist Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783). Because his limited education prevented formulating concepts in writing, he required assistance from others, notably his pupil Johann Abraham Peter Schulz (1747-1800), who became a composer and music director. According to the lexicographer Gustav Schilling (1838), Kirnberger trained Schulz diligently, but also hoped to form this gigantically powerful talent into a support of his [harmonic] system. As a result of these studies and also, to a greater extent, Schulz's own far-reaching scholarship and flights of artistic spirit, he "later rose far above our theorist." He joined in Kirnberger's own investigations and work, to whose muddled presentation he brought more order and light, and prepared works that long circulated under Kirnberger's name in the scholarly musical world. (1)

Like many of his class, Kirnberger had a limited general education. The son of a court lackey, he attended grammar school in Coburg for an unspecified period of time. From a letter (14 March 1783) to his composition pupil, Princess Amalia of Prussia, it seems that the apex of his book learning occurred in his twelfth year when he could easily translate Latin, French, and Italian into German, to the praise of his teachers. His rapid learning, however, had the disadvantage of soon forgetting everything. He then dedicated himself totally to music, which "drove out" all his school learning, making him easily suspect among educated people, as if he had never in his entire life seen a grammar, or, what is worse, a catechism, hymnal, or Bible. When writing to Johann Nikolaus Forkel on 13 June 1779, he apologized for his lack of writing ability, noting that he had learned little at the Coburg school. (2) He went to Grafenroda to study music with the organist and composer Johann Peter Kellner (1736?) and subsequently to Sondershausen to study violin with the court musician Meil (in 1738). (3) According to his fragmentary family album (Stammbuch), whose earliest entries date from the autumn of 1740, he was still there, so the claim about going to Leipzig in 1739 to study with Johann Sebastian Bach cannot be substantiated until the time of two records from January and March 1741.4A contemporary implied that his sojourn in Leipzig was short. (5) He left for Dresden around June of that year and then served Polish nobility for ten years from 1741. Settling in Berlin, Kirnberger remained a lifelong theorist. After his trip to Berlin in 1772, the English music historian Charles Burney wrote that Kirnberger "is said to be soured by opposition and disappointment; his present inclination leads him to mathematical studies, and to the theory of music, more than the practice. ... In his late writings, he appears to be more ambitious of the character of an algebraist, than of a musician of genius." (6)

Schulz, on the other hand, had a more substantial, if not university level, education. The son of a baker who had destined him for the clergy, Schulz was determined to make music his life's work. According to his manuscript autobiographical notes, he seems to have completed the curriculum at the Luneburg Latin School (at his father's insistence), but without distinction because "his head was filled with music." (This would have qualified him for university entrance, but universities offered no music.) His music teacher J. C. Schmugel, an organist who had studied with Georg Philipp Telemann, gave him a solid foundation in composition and organ. Inspired by Schmugel's praise for the music to be found in Berlin, -Schulz traveled there early in 1764 at the age of 17. (This date is usually incorrectly stated as 1762, which derives from Johann Friedrich Reichardt's biography of Schulz written shortly after his death. (7)) He soon returned to Luneburg (at this point, there is a hiatus in his autobiography) and ultimately gained his father's permission to return to Berlin, which he did in 1765. …

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