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Christoph Bernhard (Composer)

Born: 1627 or 1628 - Danzig, Prussia, Germany (or January 1, 1628 - probably Kolberg, Germany)
Died: November 14, 1692 - Dresden, Germany

The German composer and theorist, Christoph Bernhard, was a sailor's son and was so poor as to sing from door to door to keep himseH from sarving. By a Dr. Strauch he was placed in lihe Gymnasium, where he studied music under Balthazar Erben, and the organ under Paul Syfert. He apparently studied also theology and jurisprudence in Danzig. By the aid of the same benevolent individual he was enabled to visit Dresden with letters of recommendation to Heinrich Schütz, the Kapellmeister. There his fine voice, at first an alto, but afterwards a tenor, so far attracted the notice of the Kurfürst (Elector of Saxony) as to induce him to take him into his service in 1649. There he gained the admiration of Heinrich Schütz, from whom he had further instruction. The Kurfürst sent him to Rome, Italy with the view of perfecting his singing.

In Rome Christoph Bernhard became intimate with Carissimi, and excited the enthusiasm of the Italians by his compositions, amongst others a Mass for ten voices. After returning with a party of young Italians to Dresden, he was enabled by the Kurfürst to make a second journey to Italy about 1651. On his return in 1655 he became Vice-Kapellmeister. The Italian musicians at the Saxon court, who had returned with him, however, intrigued against their benefactor, and at length compelled Bernhard to resign his post and becoming Kantor at St. John's School in Hamburg, a post he held from 1664 to 1674. In 1670 Heinrich Schütz commissioned him to compose a funeral piece for him, which was performed at the elder composer's funeral two years later. In 1674 he was recalled by the Kurfürst Johann George III, and remained in Dresden as Kapellmeister till his death.

Christoph Bernhard's facility in counterpoint was very remarkable, and some extraordinary instances of his ability in this direction may be found in his setting of the Latin hymn Prudentia Prudentiana (Hamburg, 1669) in triple counterpoint, as well as in other of his works (Q.-L). Though highly regarded by his contemporaries as a composer, principally of sacred vocal works in both German and Latin, Bernhard is remembered today chiefly for his theoretical treatises, especially for the Tractatus compositionis augmentatus,widely circulated in manuscript during the second half of the 17th century. In it he divided music into three categories: the stylus gravis, the classical polyphony of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and others; the stylus luxurians communis,the style initiated by Monteverdi; and the stylus luxurians theatralis,or recitative style.


Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition; Author: Franz Gehring); HOASM Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (January 2006)

Works in J.S. Bach's Library

2 Dresden chorale Masses

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Missa: Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, 5vv

Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam

Missa: Durch Adams Fall a mass based on the chorale

Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt

Links to other Sites

HOASM: Christoph Bernhard
Christoph Bernhard (Naxos)

Christoph Bernhard - Wikipedia [German]

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Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 08:55