Johann Mattheson

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Johann Mattheson
Mattheson, in a 1746 engraving by Johann Jacob Haid
Born(1681-09-28)28 September 1681
Died17 April 1764(1764-04-17) (aged 82)
  • Composer
  • critic
  • lexicographer
  • theorist

Johann Mattheson (28 September 1681 – 17 April 1764)[1] was a German composer, critic lexicographer and music theorist. His writings on the late Baroque and early Classical period were highly influential, specifically, "his biographical and theoretical works were widely disseminated and served as the source for all subsequent lexicographers and historians".[2]

Early life and career[edit]

Johann Mattheson was born on 28 September 1681 in Hamburg.[3] The son of a prosperous tax collector, Mattheson received a broad liberal education and, aside from general musical training, took lessons in keyboard instruments, violin, composition and singing.[3] By age nine he was singing and playing organ in church and was a member of the chorus of the Hamburg opera. He made his solo debut with the Hamburg opera in 1696 in female roles and, after his voice changed, sang tenor at the opera, conducted rehearsals and composed operas himself. He was cantor at St. Mary's Cathedral, Hamburg from 1718 until increasing deafness led to his retirement from that post in 1728.[citation needed]

Mattheson's chief occupation from 1706 was as a professional diplomat. He had studied English in school and spoke it fluently. He became tutor to the son of the English ambassador Sir John Wich and then secretary to the ambassador. He went on diplomatic missions abroad representing the ambassador. In 1709 he married Catharina Jennings, the daughter of an English clergyman; they did not have any children.[citation needed]

Friendship with Handel[edit]

Mattheson was a close friend of George Frideric Handel, although he nearly killed Handel in a sudden quarrel during a performance of Mattheson's opera Die unglückselige Kleopatra, Königin von Ägypten in 1704. Handel was saved only by a large button which turned aside Mattheson's sword. The two were afterwards reconciled and remained in correspondence for life: shortly after his friend's death, Mattheson translated John Mainwaring's biography of Handel into German and had it published in Hamburg at his own expense ("auf Kosten des Übersetzers") in 1761.[4]


After his death in 1764, Johann Mattheson was buried in the vault of Hamburg's St. Michaelis' Church where his grave can be visited.[citation needed]

Literary and musical legacy[edit]

Der vollkommene Capellmeister, Hamburg, 1739

Mattheson is mainly famous as a music theorist. He was the most abundant writer on performance practice, theatrical style, and harmony of the German Baroque.[5] He is particularly important for his work on the relationship of the disciplines of rhetoric and music, for example in Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre, Hamburg 1713,[6] and Der vollkommene Capellmeister [de], Hamburg 1739.[7] However his books raise more and more attention and suspicion because Mattheson was a brilliant polemicist and his theories on music are often full of pedantry and pseudo-erudition.[8]

The bulk of his compositional output was vocal, including eight operas, and numerous oratorios and cantatas. He also wrote a few sonatas and some keyboard music, including pieces meant for keyboard instruction. All of his music, except for one opera, one oratorio, and a few collections of instrumental music, went missing after World War II, but was given back to Hamburg from Yerevan, Armenia, in 1998. This includes four operas and most of the oratorios. The manuscripts are now located at the State and University Library Hamburg [de].[citation needed]

Selected works[edit]


  • Die unglückselige Kleopatra, Königin von Ägypten (1704)
  • Boris Goudenow (1710)


  • Die heilsame Geburt (1715), Christmas oratorium
  • Das größte Kind [de] (1720), Christmas oratorium
  • Der gegen seine Brüder barmherzige Joseph (1727), oratorium
  • Der liebreiche und geduldige David

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ruth Tatlow; Ruth Mary Tatlow (21 February 1991). Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet. Cambridge University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-521-36191-0.
  2. ^ Welter, Kathryn Jane (1998). Johann Pachelbel: Organist, Teacher, Composer, A Critical Reexamination of His Life, Works, and Historical Significance (PhD). Cambridge: Harvard University. p. 6. OCLC 42665284.
  3. ^ a b Buelow, George J[ohn] (2001). "Mattheson, Johann". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.18097. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0.
  4. ^ Georg Friderich Händels Lebensbeschreibung, nebst einem Verzeichnisse seiner Ausübungswerke und deren Beurtheilung; übersetzet, auch mit einigen Anmerkungen, absonderlich über den hamburgischen Artikel, versehen vom Legations-Rath Mattheson, Hamburgh, auf Kosten des Übersetzers, 1761 (accessible for free online as a Google ebook).
  5. ^ Gary, Fred B. (Spring 1962). "Some Publications of Johann Matteson". University of Rochester Library Bulletin. XVII (3).
  6. ^ Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre, extracts,
  7. ^ Der vollkommene Capellmeister, extracts,
  8. ^ Agathe Sueur, Le Frein et l'Aiguillon. Eloquence musicale et nombre oratoire (XVIe–XVIIIe siècle), Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2014 ISBN 978-2812421105
    ——. "Johann Mattheson et le pédantisme: des usages de l'érudition dans la théorie musicale allemande au XVIIIe siècle", Revue de musicologie [fr], 2014, 100/1, pp. 3–36. OCLC 886865744

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]