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Sebastian Knüpfer

born: 6 September 1633
died: 10 October 1676
country: Germany

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the position of the Thomaskantor in Leipzig (organist and choirmaster of the Thomaskirche) was one of the most respected and important musical posts in central Germany. An unbroken chain of fine musicians, appointed by the City Council but whose fame in their time stretched far beyond the boundaries of Leipzig, reaches from Seth Calvisius to Johann Hermann Schein, Tobias Michael, Sebastian Knüpfer, Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau up to Johann Sebastian Bach. Simply by looking at the legacy of these composers one can draw a representative picture of the Baroque music world in central Germany. Unfortunately, however, with the exception of Schein and Bach their fame did not survive as their works have been decimated over the years, and most of the few surviving pieces have not been reconstructed in new editions.

The high standard of seventeenth-century sacred music in Leipzig is perhaps best illuminated by Sebastian Knüpfer’s compositions. Born in 1633 in Asch, Vogtland, the son of a cantor, Knüpfer received his first musical education from his father. At the age of thirteen he was accepted at the renowned Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg, where he remained for eight years. In Regensburg, Knüpfer was highly active in musical circles, but was also known for his profound knowledge of philology and poetry. After finishing his schooling he went to Leipzig, probably to study there; strangely, though, his name does not appear on the matriculation register. From this period we have evidence only of his non-compositional activities: he sang as concertist in performances of the Thomaskantor Tobias Michael and additionally taught music. The musical qualities of the young Knüpfer must soon have been noticed in Leipzig for, after the death of Tobias Michael in June 1657, he was appointed Thomaskantor at the age of only twenty-four. Appointing Knüpfer was a wise decision: thanks to his commitment, Leipzig’s sacred music enjoyed a splendour and magnificence that was formerly unknown. Handwritten copies of Knüpfer’s sacred works circulated throughout the entire German-speaking area and became desirable collectors’ items, thereby spreading the fame of the composer and his post. After nineteen years of fruitful work, he died on 10 October 1676 at the age of forty-three.

from notes by Peter Wollny © 2000
English: Viola Scheffel


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