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How fast could and did Baroque composers compose cantatas?
Author: Thomas Braatz (September 2008)

Here is additional evidence that describes the speed at which Baroque composers like J. S. Bach could compose and perform cantatas. Below is a short biography of another Baroque composer who resembles in many aspects what J. S. Bach was capable of doing with the circumstances he faced in Leipzig during his most productive period.

 

Stoltzenberg [Stolzenberg, Stolzenberger], Christoph

(b Wertheim, 21 Feb 1690; d Regensburg, 11 June 1764)

German composer. His parents died soon after he was born and he grew up among friends, brothers and sisters. He began his musical training with singing lessons under the Kantors of Wertheim. In 1701–3 he was a pupil at the Heiliggeistschule in Nuremberg, then moved to Worms, and, in 1706–8, lived in Frankfurt, where he attended the Gymnasium. After returning to Nuremberg in 1708 he travelled extensively through Bohemia and Saxony to Hamburg and Harburg, where he spent a year; from there he went through Lüneburg to Lower Lusatia, through Dresden to Bohemia and Moravia, and finally through Bavaria to Salzburg. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to complete his musical studies in Italy. After some time in Regensburg and Altdorf (where he toyed with the idea of studying theology), he returned to Nuremberg. There he received instruction in composition from the Kantor of the Heiliggeistkirche, Nikolaus Deinl, and played in the collegia musica (keyboard, flute, horn and string instruments). In 1711 he became Kantor in Sulzbach, Upper Palatinate, and in 1714 he was appointed Kantor and tutor at the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg. After 50 years in office he was presented with a Festschrift and a cantata in his honour, set to music by his son, Ehrenreich Carl (1721–85).

Stoltzenberg's works (according to his autobiography, published by Mattheson) include a complete cycle of cantatas for the church year, written during his time in Sulzbach; each work in this cycle ‘begins with a biblical text (usually in fugue), continues with several arias, and concludes with a chorale’. He later composed many other annual cycles, in which recitatives were used.

Article by Günter Thomas; Copyright © Oxford University Press 2007 — 2008.

 

Johann Mattheson’s Grundlage einer Ehren=Pforte….(Hamburg, 1740)

The following excerpts are from Johann Mattheson’s Grundlage einer Ehren=Pforte…., Hamburg, 1740, Anhang p. 38-39

[This is one of the accounts written by contemporary composers to fulfill a request extended by Mattheson for autobiographical information which he would consider including in his honorary panel {a ‘gate of honor’} of noteworthy composers of his time. Stoltzenberg had previously written one to cover his life and achievements until 1720. Since the following account is included in the appendix, it covers the period in Stoltzenberg’s life as Kantor and tutor in Regensberg from 1720 until shortly before Mattheson published his book in 1740. This would place Stoltzenberg’s descriptions into the same period when J. S. Bach was most active as a composer of vocal music in Leipzig.]

This is the first excerpt from Anhang, p. 39:

»Von der Bestellung des Stoltzenbergischen Chors ist folgendes zu berichten: daß ein Hoch=Edler Magistrat, zur Aufnahme der Musik, beständig 24. alumnos, mit Kost, Wohnung, Wäsche und anderen Sachen unterhält, welche alle beisammen auf dem Gymnasio ihre Kammern und Bette haben, denen auch ein inspector vorgesetzet ist, der bey dem Gebet und Tische über sie die Aufsicht haben muß. Es kommen so wohl fremde, als einheimische dazu, wenn sie nur eine feine Stimme haben. Durch diese kann also ein Chor mit Singstimmen gut genug besetzet werden. Damit sie aber noch grössere Lust zur Musik bekommen mögen, so ist auch, nebst andern milden Stiftungen, die Pergerische alhier, da jährlich am Tage vor Michaelis alle alumni öffentlich in die Wette singen und certiren müssen, worauf alsdann am Michaelis=Tage die præmien ausgetheilet werden. Der beste Discantist, Altist, Tenorist und Bassist bekommen jeder 3 Gülden, und die es, nächst ihnen, am besten gemacht, die Person 1 fl. 30 Kreutzer. Drey von der besten Violinisten und der beste Violonist erhalten auch jeder 1 fl. 30 X und demjenigen Organisten, der es andern zuvor thut, werden 2 fl. gereicht. Zur Instrumental=Musik sind zwar nur 4. Stadtmusikanten angenommen, die sich bey ihrer Probe, auf der Trompete, auf dem Waldhorn, auf der Violine, auf dem Hautbois, Fagot und andern Instrumenten müßen hören lassen, worunter anitzo einer, Nahmens Sammetinger, ein großer Künstler auf der Geige ist; es befindet sich aber noch eine Bande von 7. Personen hier in Regensburg, andre Liebhaber ungerechnet, die dem Chor dienen

[»Regarding how the members of Stoltzenberg’s choir are chosen the following can be reported: that the very noble municipal authorities {of Regensberg} have assumed the responsibility for maintaining continually a group of 24 pupils who have been accepted specifically for the study and performance of music. These pupils will be provided with meals, a place to live, clothing and other things. They will be housed together at the school and have their rooms and beds there. An inspector is appointed as their overseer and will supervise them during prayers and meals. In addition to the group of 24, other pupils not boarding at the school who either live in town {Regensburg} or who come from places outside of the town will be admitted as ‘day’ pupils under the condition that they must have a good voice {The DWB, the equivalent to the full OED, gives a definition for “eine feine Stimme” as a voice having both a high and a low range, in other words, a wide, vocal range}. Having voices such as these will make it possible to have a choir with sufficient singers in all vocal ranges. In order to spur pupils to want to improve their vocal performance even more, there are charitable foundations, like the local Perger Foundation, which has instituted annual vocal competitions that take place on the day before Michaelmas. On this day all the choir members are required to sing alone publicly to demonstrate their level of achievement. On Michaelmas the prizes will be awarded to the winners: the best soprano, alto, tenor and bass will receive 3 florin {1 fl = € 63,00}, and those who were runner-ups will receive 1 fl and 30 kreutzer {there are 60 kreutzer in 1 florin}. Three of the best violinists and the best violone player will receive 1 fl and 30 kreutzer each and the organist who is better than any other will receive 2 fl. Where instrumental music {and/or as accompaniment for the choir} is required, only 4 city pipers, to be sure, have been officially appointed. However, before they were appointed, they were auditioned on the trumpet, horn, violin, oboe, bassoon and other instruments. Among those who were appointed was a great violinist whose last name was Sammetinger. In addition there is still another instrumental group of 7 individuals located here in Regensburg, not to mention other amateurs who also perform with the choir.«]


On p. 38 of the Anhang (the previous page to the above), Stoltzenberg describes in some detail the circumstances under which he was required to work (to compose and perform music very quickly):

»Ao. 1727. wurde Ihre Hochfürstl. Durchl. dem Fürsten von Fürstenberg, Kaiserl. Principal=Commissario alhier, von einem Poeten eine Cantate praessentirt, unter dem Titel: Die Gottesfurcht und Grosmuth, als Grundsteine des Thrones des Allerdurchlauchtigst=Grosmächtigst= und unüberwindlichsten Kaisers, Carl des Sechsten p. welche auf dero auf allerhöhestes Nahmensfest gerichtet war; an besagter Cantate hatten Ihro Hochfürstl. Durchl. ein so ädigstes Gefallen, daß Sie den Tag vor dem höhesten Nahmens=Feste, und zwar erst gegen 1. Uhr, zum Stoltzenberg schickten, und ihn befragen liessen: ob es nicht möglich wäre, daß sie noch könnte componiert werden? Die Zeit war kurtz, der Singenden Personen aber 8; allein er resolvirte sich doch, das Werck, mit etlichen Copisten, über sich zu nehmen. Die Probe geschah den andern Tag um 1. Uhr, und Abends wurde, durch Gottes Beistand, das Stück, im Beiseyn aller hochansehnlichen Herren Gesandten aufgeführet: worüber Ihro Hochfürstl. Durchl. und andre hohen Herrschaften ein solches gnädiges Wohlgefallen bezeigten, daß 14. Tage hernach, auf der Kaiserinn Nahmens=Tag, wiederum eine Cantate muste verfertiget werden, worauf dem Stoltzenberg allein für die Composition 80. Gülden gnädigst gereichet würden. Die andern Herren Musici bekamen, nach proportion, so, daß die gantze Musik, mit den auf groß Regal=Papier gedruckten und eingebundenen Exemplarien, auf 500 fl. zu stehen kam

[»In 1727 a poet presented {the text for} a cantata to {you} His Royal Highness, the Imperial Chief Commissioner to the Prince of Fürstenberg here. The cantata was entitled “The Fear of God and Generosity” which are the cornerstones for the throne of the Most Royal and Almighty and Unconquerable {Holy Roman} Emperor, Carl VI. This cantata was written to celebrate His Majesty’s Nameday Festival and the text so graciously found your pleasure that you sent for Stoltzenberg on the day before the Nameday Festival and that was as late as almost 1 o’clock in the afternoon. At that time you had someone ask me if it could be possible to still compose the music for the performance on the next day. The time was short and there were 8 singing roles/parts {for the solo singers, concertists}. Nevertheless, he {Stoltzenberg} decided to accept the task of completing the work with the help of several copyists. The rehearsal took place the next day {on the day of the performance} at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. In the evening, with God’s help, the music was performed in the presence of all the highly esteemed envoys {of the emperor} whereupon you and other noble gentlemen demonstrated such a gracious appreciation that another cantata had to be composed for the Queen’s Nameday for which Stoltzenberg was graciously given 80 fl. for this cantata alone. The other musicians received proportionately from the sum of 500 fl which was distributed among them and also was used to pay for the printed copies in a large format {large shelf size}. From the Continuation of Stoltzenbergs Biography as contained in the appendix (p. 38) of Johann Mattheson’s Grundlage einer Ehren=Pforte, Hamburg, 1740.«]

 

Commentary:

Although there are certainly differences (the size and importance of Leipzig compared to Regensburg) between the situations experienced by J. S. Bach and Christoph Stoltzenberg, there are some remarkable similarities worth pointing out:

Similarities:

Both J. S. Bach and Christoph Stoltzenberg
1. lived in Germany and were most productive during the same time span: 1720 to 1740.
2. were teachers at a school specializing in the arts/music and wrote music for and performed music with a select group of musically talented students whose pre-university education, room and board were paid for by a city governing body.
3. were not restricted to using only students from within the school (“internal”), but also could choose from those who were day students (“external”) or even those who had no firm connection with the school but also were musically gifted.
4. could call upon the City Pipers to form the backbone of the instrumental group along with additional instrumental reserves from outside the school.
5. composed cantatas beginning with a dictum (usually in fugue), arias, recitatives, and a final chorale.
6. could compose a cantata and perform it in a limited time frame of one day, a weekend or just a few days.
7. used a number of different copyists when time was pressing.
8. did not plan ahead and compose in advance for name-day cantatas (although these dates were well-known ahead of time) until a written request/promise (commission) was in hand.

 

Contributed by Thomas Braatz (September 20, 2008)


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