Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel

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Sondershausen—Castle and Market Square

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (13 January 1690 in Grünstädtel – 27 November 1749 in Gotha) was a prolific German baroque composer


Stölzel grew up in Schwarzenberg, Saxony in the Erzgebirge. From 1707 he was a student of theology in Leipzig and of Melchior Hoffmann, the musical director of the Neukirche. He studied, worked and composed in Wrocław and Halle. Then an 18-month sojourn in Italy, from 1713 — where he met Antonio Vivaldi in Venice — rendered him au courant with the latest musical taste. After working for three years in Prague, he became briefly court Kapellmeister in Bayreuth and Gera. Then in 1719, he married, and the next year took up an appointment in Gotha, where he worked until his death for the dukes Frederick II and Frederick III of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, composing a cantata each week.

From 1730, he also wrote for Sondershausen. Stölzel supplied numerous festive occasional pieces and arias for court performance; the archive at Schloss Sondershausen retains many of his manuscripts, found in a box behind the organ in 1870. Half of Stölzel's output, never engraved, is lost. Stölzel's immediate successor at the court in Gotha, Georg Benda, bears most of the responsibility for losing many of Stölzel's works. In 1778 Benda wrote: "... Only the best works of my predecessor, which could be used even today for church music, are saved, because already a long time ago I separated them from useless junk and kept them in my own house."[1] This suggests that occasional music (birthday cantatas, serenatas), operas and so on, and most of Stölzel's instrumental music were lost during Benda's lifetime. Those "junk" pieces were apparently taken to the castle attic where holes in the roof exposed the manuscripts to rain and mildew damage, and rodents also ate the paper manuscripts as well. Christian Ahrens has offered another reason why so much of Stölzel's music vanished.[2] According to Ahrens, musicians at the court apparently took instruments and music manuscripts and sold them in advertisements in local Gotha newspapers. Stölzel apparently did this himself before his death (possibly to cover medical expenses as he became more sick near the end of his life), and with Benda's prejudiced view towards the instrumental pieces, it is theorized that the musicians felt this gave them tacit permission to sell the music. The losses were staggering: Stölzel is reputed to have composed over 18 orchestral suites alone (none survive), as well as 90 serenatas (vocal pieces performed as "table music"). In fact, out of what had to have been thousands of compositions in Gotha, only twelve manuscripts survive there today.

Stölzel enjoyed an outstanding reputation in his lifetime: Lorenz Christoph Mizler rated him as great as Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Mattheson reckoned him among "the level-headed, learned, and great music masters" of his century. Stölzel was an accomplished German stylist who wrote a good many of the poetic texts for his vocal works. Students beginning the piano may remember some pieces by him, those that are included in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.[3] His most important works are: four concerti grossi, many sinfonias, and a concerto for oboe d'amore. His five operas: Diomedes, Narcissus, Valeria, Artemisia, and Orion have not survived.

Musicologists and conductors such as Ludger Rémy have successfully revived his music. Oratorios such as a version of the Brockes Passion (1725) and two Christmas Oratorios, made of cantatas,[4] have been recorded, as well as a Deutsche Messe (German Mass), a Lutheran Mass of Kyrie and Gloria, in German, set for four-part choir, strings and basso continuo. Stölzel composed 1,358 cantatas (twelve complete annual cycles of sacred cantatas) of which 1,215 are extant; but of these, only half (605) have musical materials (i.e. score and or parts).[5]

Title page for a birthday serenata composed by Stölzel in October, 1727

Additionally, Stölzel set cantatas to secular texts. A recent CD recording included several cantatas for Pentecost Sunday.[6]

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  1. ^ "Nur die besten Arbeiten meines Vorgängers, von welchen man noch izt beÿ den Kirchen-Musiken einigen Gebrauch machen könnte, sind gerettet, weil ich solche schon vor langer Zeit von dem unbrauchbaren Wuste abgesondert und eigends in meinem Hause verwahrt habe."
  2. ^ Ahrens C (in: "Zu Gotha ist eine gute Kapelle ...". Aus dem Innenleben einer thüringischen Hofkapelle des 18. Jahrhunderts, Stuttgart 2009).
  3. ^ ^Bach-Jahrbuch 2002, pp. 172–174.
  4. ^ Stölzel: Christmas Oratorio - Epistle Cantatas on ArkivMusik, review of David Vernier, 2005
  5. ^ Siegemuend, Bert (2007). "Zu Chronologie und Texgrundlagen der Kantatenjahrgänge von Gottfriedh Heinrich Stölzel". In Hopf, W. Alte Musik und Auffürungspraxis - Festschriff für Dieter Gutknecht zum 65. Geburtstag. Lit Verlag. pp. 81–92. ISBN 9783825809980. 
  6. ^ Cantatas for Pentecost review of the 2002 recording by Johan van Veen, 2005


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