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Christoph Birkmann (Poet, Bach's Pupil)

Born: January 10, 1703 - Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany
Died: March 11, 1771 - Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany


The German poet, Christoph Birkmann, was born on 10 January 1703 in Nuremberg. Although poverty-stricken, he enjoyed the blessings of a charitable school-system for the poor, inspired by the Halle Pietism of August Hermann Francke. Birkmann then attended the Latin-school at the Holy-Spirit Infirmary, the ‘Spitalists’’-School, and he was a member of the pupils’ choir at St Giles church. He writes that he had a ‘natural flair for singing and the humanities’ [schöne Wissenschaften], which won him lessons with the then-famous Nuremberg school-cantor Nicolaus Deinl (1665-1725).3 Birkmann began teaching at an early age to help earn his keep. Apparently he was deeply gifted in music and languages, and with the help and support of two notable composers and organists from Nuremberg, a town-musician and several language tutors, he developed these skills over time.

I was keen to use my musical talent and continue what I had learned under Mr Deinl.
4 Fischer5 and other respectable composers who had granted me admission showed me what I lacked and introduced me to good musical books although I was unable to make use of them since I knew no Italian or French. Tonelli, Plaz and Kleemann gave me the necessary training in the above-mentioned matters,6 after which I tried my hand at composition. Sometimes I submitted my compositions to Mr Drezel for assessment.
Mr Fischer introduced me to Italian composers and taught me how to imitate them. This enabled me to teach music in detail to others early on and benefited me directly.
My future career became apparent. I wanted to study the humanities, but lacked the funds. I hoped to receive a grant at college and following Whitsun moved to the charming Altdorf in
1723 in order to attend the Iubilaeum Academicum. I attended the public and private collegia.7

Birkmann continued to pursue music vigorously at Altdorf University, situated in the immediate vicinity of Nuremberg:

A special liking for mathematics drove me to Magister Kelsch,8 who also was a musician. We practised composing and tried out collegia musica, and through this drive I quickly reached the point where I composed two pieces of music for the annual inauguration of the Rectoris Magnifici and performed them to applause.9
Birkmann was, however, ‘still not sure whether I should major in music or concentrate on my books’.

The prospect or earning a living by teaching in the relatively larger and more expansive city of Leipzig, where commerce and learning were predominant, caused him to leave Altdorf after just a year, as he had had to survive there without any kind of income. Birkmann arrived in Leipzig on the ‘Friday before Advent’, December 1, 1724. And, excluding two absences, he stayed there until the beginning of September 1727.11 In Leipzig he attended lectures in law and theology, but just as in Altdorf, he seems to have been specially interested in mathematics, and particularly drawn to the research of a young professor named Christian August Hausen (1693–1743). Birkmann and professor Hausen co-authored a mathematical disputation, which they published in Leipzig in the summer of 1726: De motu solis circa propriam axem (The motion of the sun around its own axis). It was a study of the spherical geometry about the sun’s rotation, measured by means of sunspots, which was Hausen’s area of expertise. Hausen encouraged Birkmann to pursue a career as a mathematician, and introduced him to eminent mathematicians and astronomists at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin and at the Königliches Cabinet der mathematischen und physikalischen Instrumente (Royal Chamber of Mathematical and Physical Devices) in Dresden.

It was only gradually that Birkmann began to focus seriously on theology. It is likely that Johann Abraham Birnbaum contributed significantly to this change of mind. Birnbaum was a rhetorician, a friend of J.S. Bach, and Birkmann both stayed with him and attended his private collegia

Because I spent some time in the house of Magister Birnbaum,12 I made use of this excellent weekly opportunity to practice eloquence and the defence of various propositions, for I was often required to extemporize. From then on, I studied theology seriously, attended lectures by Pfeiffer,13 Carpzov,14 Bernd,15 Siber16 and other famous teachers at both pulpits, and even tried preaching a few times. However, I postponed the rest of my training until a more convenient time and found guidance in Hoffmann’s and Tellers’ sacred exegesis and disposition of sacred texts because I could enjoy both as desired.17
Even so, I did not give up music entirely. I diligently followed the great composer Mr
Bach and his choir, and in winter joined in with the collegia musica and this gave me an opportunity to help many students with their Italian language.18

At the beginning of September 1727, Christoph Birkmann then returned to Altdorf in order to complete his theological studies and to prepare seriously for what appears to have been a promised position in the church in Franconia. From 1728 onwards, he became a private tutor (Informator) for an aristocratic family living in Hersbruck near Nuremberg. Occasionally he preached in Hersbruck as a substitute. He also preached in Nuremberg in 1731, where he was asked by a senior pastor to give private instruction to the families of patricians.19

He was ordained at Altdorf in 1732 and took up his first ecclesiastical position in Nuremberg.20 In his spare time he wrote edifying and pedagogical literature of a theological nature. He was also an active collector of historical and geographical research materials. For example, he helped the Altdorf historian Georg Andreas Will (1727-1798) to compile biographies of notable Nurembergers for a Gelehrten-Lexicon. Birkmann’s eldest daughter, Margaretha Barbara21 (1734-1801), was his assistant, although she was also an author in her own right and translated texts from French, which in 1758 earned her the title of a poeta laureata.22 Both father and daughter were members of the Ducal Teutsche Gesellschaft, based at Helmstedt.

Illustration 2: Portrait of the pastor Christoph Birkmann with his motto from 2. Corinthians 6:4 (‘But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God’) engraving by Georg Lichtensteger, 1759 (privately owned).


The Nuremberg cantata-cycle of 1728

When Birkmann left Leipzig at the beginning of September 1727, he had decided to become a theologian. It looks from various documents as though his mathematical and musical ambitions were put behind him for pragmatic reasons. As early as autumn 1728 he had published a collection of cantata-texts: Gott-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden (God-devoted Sunday Tithes).23 This collection comprises 71 catexts for the entire liturgical year, including all holidays and feast days in honour of the Virgin Mary (Purification, Annunciation, Visitation), the saints (Michael, John) and the apostles (Andrew, Thomas, Matthias, James the Lesser and Philip, Peter and Paul, James the Greater, Bartholomew, Matthew, Jude and Simon), all of which used Figuralmusik used in Franconia. Minor saints’ days were not celebrated in the Leipzig churches in J.S. Bach’s time, at least not with Figuralmusik.24

Illustration 3: Christoph Birkmann, GOtt-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden, title-page (Nuremberg [1728])

Birkmann organised the texts for the liturgical year of 1728/1729 and, as his lengthy preface indicates, he intended them for performances at Hersbruck.

Figuralmusik from the Leipzig principal churches can be detected in the collection, which is probably not surprising in the view of the chronological proximity between the publication date of the collection and Birkmann’s stay in Leipzig. As many as 30 librettos relate to performances at Leipzig’s principal churches, and of these at least 21 are known to be texts for J.S. Bach Cantatas. Birkmann also includes a complete libretto for a substantial Passion for Good Friday. This corresponds to J.S. Bach’s Leipzig St. John Passion (BWV 245) from 1725.

Illustration 4: Christoph Birkmann, GOtt-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden (Nuremberg [1728], 40 f.) St John Passion Das schmählich- und schmertzliche Leiden Unsers HErrn und Heylandes JEsu Christi (The shameful and painful suffering of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ)

The importance of Birkmann’s Sabbaths-Zehnden now becomes apparent: it is the earliest and most detailed contemporary documentation of the sacred music written by J.S. Bach in his early years in Leipzig.25

The discovery of Birkmann’s printed annual cycle suggests two likely new entries for the schedule of J.S. Bach’s performances in Leipzig during the ‘Birkmann-period’ 1725-1727. Two cantatas, for which performances can, so far, only be confirmed at Weimar are now also likely to have been re-performed at Leipzig then.40 The pieces in question are two musical settings of texts by Salomo Franck:

Komm, du süße Todesstunde, BWV 161

S. Franck 1715

16th Sunday after Trinity (Weimar 1715/16)

Presumed re-performed on Sep 16, 1725

Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 152

S. Franck 1715

1st Sunday after Christmas Day (Weimar 1714)

Presumed re-performed on Dec 29, 1726

As the list above shows, at least 18 of the 30 cantata texts in the Sabbaths-Zehnden were not written by Birkmann.41 These texts were published before Birkmann arrived in Leipzig, originating from cycles that were printed earlier, such as by Salomo Franck or Georg Christian Lehms, or originating from cycles belonging to the Meiningen annual cycles, first published in 1704.42 There are also five further cycles from which J.S. Bach borrowed texts. This raises the question of whether Birkmann’s 1728 Nuremberg print actually documents cantatas that are now lost from this Leipzig period. Two texts by Picander (1728), one by S. Franck (1715), as well as two that belong to the Meiningen annual cycles belong in this category.


A Student as Bach’s librettist

Arguably the most important aspect for J.S. Bach studies in the discovery of the Birkmann 1728 book, is the existence of eight solo or dialogue cantata librettos, because Birkmann can be identified as their author with a high degree of probability. It is striking that the texts form a group of stylistically homogenous works, which was expanded by two further works that seem to continue the series after New Year in 1727.

Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 169

18th Sunday after Trinity

20 Oct 1726


Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56

19th Sunday after Trinity

27 Oct 1726


Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 49

20th Sunday after Trinity

3 Nov 1726


Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, BWV 98

21st Sunday after Trinity

10 Nov 1726

4 Soli

Ich armer Mensch, ich Sndenknecht, BWV 55

22nd Sunday after Trinity

17 Nov 1726


Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht, BWV 52

23rd Sunday after Trinity

24 Nov 1726


Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, BWV 58

Sunday after New Year

5 Jan 1727


Ich habe genung, BWV 82

Feast of Purification of Mary

Feb 2, 1727


Until now no author has been identified for any of these eight texts from 1726/1727. By contrast, it has long been established that passages from extant librettos (Johann Friedrich Helbig, Erdmann Neumeister, Picander 1725) were copied and reworked in the preceding settings from the post trinity-period of 1726.48

This now raises two questions: Firstly, how do these pieces of poetry which are, in all probability, Birkmann’s work, differ from extant texts by other authors and, secondly, is it possible—or at all conceivable—to identify characteristic markers of style in the Sabbaths-Zehnden that are shared between the eight works in question. A few observations on the formal design in Birkmann’s collection may be useful here to help clarify some of these issues.

Statistically speaking the standard form in the 71 cantatas in the Sabbaths-Zehnden is predominantly for works with five or six movements: in 30 cases these begin with a dictum, in 18 cases they begin with an aria, in 15 cases they begin with a chorale and in 6 cases they begin with a recit. In two cantatas the opening movement was designed in a mixed form (chorale/aria, see BWV 58, and aria/recitative, see BWV 169). In most cases—i.e. for 60 cantatas and the passion—the work ends with a chorale. Given that the alternation between recitatives and arias is primarily a style-historical norm, and also standard in the Sabbaths-Zehnden, the most important question about form appears to be whether a cantata begins with a biblical word, or with original poetry. The group with an introductory dictum in the Sabbaths-Zehnden should, for the purposes of stylistic investigation, be left to one side because its cantatas frequently also have numerous borrowings from other cycles. There is a distinctive group of 19 cantatas that begin with an original poetic text. This group includes the aforementioned eight solo- and dialogue cantatas, from late 1726 to early 1727. A further shared feature is that the literary voice that speaks/sings is a subjective ‘I’. This correspondence in the narrative reflects a shift in the text, which moves from stereotypical theological content towards events within the Soul. This is typical of Pietist thinking, and quite a rarity in cantata texts used by J.S. Bach. We encounter ‘I’-Cantatas in cycles by G.C. Lehms, S. Franck and Picander,49 but there is a fine distinction between the surroundings of the ‘I’ in these poetic cycles and those by Birkmann. For example the ‘I’ can address an external, idealised interlocutor (i.e. ‘God’) as in the Weimar cantatas by Salomo Franck (especially in the arias ‘Ich wollte dir, o Gott, das Herze gerne geben’ from BWV 163 and ‘Hilf, Jesu, da ich auch dich bekenne’ in BWV 147); alternatively, it may also speak objectively about, or of itself, as in Picander’s text ‘Ich fürchte mich vor tausend Feinden nicht’ (BWV 149), or in G.C. Lehms’s ‘Geist und Seele sind verwirret, ... ich wundre mich’ (BWV 35). By contrast, Birkmann’s ‘I’ reflects on itself subjectively. It is always talking to itself.

This inner self-talk can also be of a conversational nature, when two ‘souls’ speak to each other in a dialogue. Alternatively, the procedure can be developed into a dialogue between a ‘faithful soul’ and Jesus. In Birkmann’s cycle we encounter this concept in the two groups of cantatas mentioned above. The first, which is the Trinity group from 1726, has already been highlighted. Scheduled between the 18th and 23rd Sundays after Trinity, these ‘I’-Cantatas are placed as a concluding group in the liturgical year of 1725/1726.50

In view of this stylistic classification, and the direct succession of the cantatas, it seems safe to say that we are presented here with newly-written poetry that was created by a single author. This observation is confirmed by various scholarly readings of the texts that belong to this 1726 Trinity group. Alfred Dürr, for example, attests to the ‘exceptional proximity’ of the six librettos to the content of Gospel readings on the Sundays in question, which implies indirectly that they are the work of one author.51 This corresponds, incidentally, to a remark by Birkmann, which may well be taken literally (even though it may appear on first reading to be unremarkable). In the preface of the Sabbaths-Zehnden, he writes that he preferred speaking ‘with Scripture’, than to speaking with ‘pretentious poetic sentiment’.52

Four further librettos, in addition to the two works that are safely attributed to J.S. Bach (emphasis in bold print), belong to a second group of Sabbaths-Zehnden, scheduled for Epiphany in 1727.




Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid BWV 58

Sunday after New Year


Verschmähe nicht das schlechte Lied

Feast of Epiphany (Jan 6) [Epiphany]

Ich bin betrbt; Ach, wenn ich dich

1st Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 1]

Ihr Sorgen, lasset mich zufrieden

2nd Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 2]


Ich will, so, wie mein liebster Gott

3rd Sunday after Epiphany [Epiphany 3]


Ich habe genung BWV 82

Feast of Purification of Mary (also 4th Sunday after Epiphany in 1727)


There is much to suggest here that at the beginning of 1727 J.S. Bach continued the series of solo cantatas he had begun at the end of the Trinity term in 1726. That is, J.S. Bach seems to have been able to present sophisticated, and almost exclusively soloistic Figuralmusik at Leipzig’s principal churches, possibly owing to the participation of skilled students such as Birkmann. Indeed, he could evidently rely on experienced hands from among his students to provide the necessary, contrasting instrumental forces.

Could it be more than a coincidence that Georg Philipp Telemann published the first part of his cycle of solo-cantatas in his Harmonischer Gottesdienst at nearly the same time? Again, the six cantatas of the Epiphany group 1727 are soloistic conceptions in all of their movements, and place a dialogue between Anima and Vox Christi, or a consistent ‘I’ at the centre of each work—a direct continuation of the Trinity group of 1726.53 Both series hold a particular position among the entire body of texts in Sabbaths-Zehnden. The next three consecutive cantatas following the 4th Sunday after Epiphany (which could not have been intended for Leipzig performances in 1727, as these Sundays did not occur in the church calendar during Birkmann’s stay) again have the ‘normal form’ mentioned above with a dictum as their first movement. Obviously Birkmann wrote these cantata texts sometime after leaving Leipzig. And from this we can assume that he preferred the traditional cantata form with a dictum.

The evidence above puts beyond any doubt that Christoph Birkmann was more than just a collector of texts written by others. He was a poet in his own right. Using his biography and an illustration, I would now like to substantiate the hypothesis that this student of J.S. Bach was indeed an author of cantata-texts. If we can show that the text for Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56) points clearly to Birkmann as author, then by analogy we can surmise that his authorship also applies to the entire body of texts of introspective ‘I’ cantatas. Details in Birkmann’s biography add such weight to the case for his authorship of the text of BWV 56, that one may even read it as a personal expression of his stay in Leipzig.

The motif of the cross-staff highlights a connection between Birkmann’s strong mathematical and geographical54 interests, and his theological ambitions, whideveloped during this time. But what exactly is the titular cross-staff? According to conventional readings, it is believed to be a symbol of Christ’s cross, similar also to J.S. Bach’s habit of spelling the word as Xstab, with the Greek letter Χ for Christus in the autograph score. In theological J.S. Bach studies, this reading has attracted several interpretations, and the terminology has become closely linked with the theologians Heinrich Müller and Johann Olearius.55

Illustration 5: Autograph score of Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen, BWV 56 (title page written by J.S. Bach’s copyist Christian Gottlob Meißnerand close-up of the bass motif) D-B, Mus. ms. Bach P 118

But already in 1985, the J.S. Bach anniversary year, Gustav Adolf Theill pointed out a further symbolic dimension. He explained that the cross-staff was a nautical device used to determine distances and positional co-ordinates. It was a precursor of the sextant, which was not invented until about 1730.56 Theill linked the description of a cross-staff with J.S. Bach’s succession of notes in the bass motif of the first movement.

Looking more specifically at the possible significance of the cross-staff, the object is a measuring device for trigonometrical angles that facilitates the calculation of geographical lengths and distances, and had been known since medieval times. For centuries, it was used also in astronomy, known as ‘Jacob’s staff’.57

In his academic disputation dated August 26, 1726, Birkmann had dealt extensively with trigonometrical calculations requiring the use of cross-staffs/Jacob’s staffs. Only a few weeks separate this date from the conception of the cantata text, the first performance of which can be determined precisely to 27 October of that same year.

A further excerpt from Birkmann’s autobiography reads:

Professor Hausen would have liked me to turn my attention to mathematics and been present at his observations, but when I disclosed my poor financial circumstances to him, he ceased pressing me. Nevertheless, he still persuaded me to write a thesis de motu solis circa proporiam exam58 [the motion of the sun around its own axis], which I defended under him.59

If one reads this text in light of Birkmann’s biography, one can appreciate an additional interpretative dimension that would have been known only to a small circle of his trusted acquaintances at the time. Both planes are interconnected in a particular situation: Birkmann found himself torn between different fields of academic study. Indeed, this subtle interweaving of distinct levels of meaning is characteristic of the high poetic quality of his texts, that has been noticed by many scholars .

Before I conclude, the libretto of a St. John Passion (BWV 245) positioned in the Sabbaths-Zehnden immediately before the Easter cantatas ought to be mentioned. The passion text has a German title not transmitted by any other historical source: Das schmählich- und schmertzliche Leiden Unsers HErrn und Heylandes JEsu Christi (The shameful and painful suffering of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ), with its addendumsung as a dramatic oratorio’. It corresponds to the version of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) that J.S. Bach performed on Good Friday, 1725. Consequently, the question arises, whether Birkmann may have worked for J.S. Bach as a librettist already in 1725 and whether he, therefore, also authored the following three aria texts, which do not feature in the 1724 version but were added when J.S. Bach revised the work a year later: ‘

‘Himmel reie, Welt erbebe’ (BWV 245/11+)
‘Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hgel’ (
BWV 245/13II)
‘Ach, windet euch nicht so, geplagte Seelen’ (
BWV 245/19II)

Until now J.S. Bach scholars have not found a satisfactory answer to the question why there was a theologically conceptual reconfiguration of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) just one year after its first performance.60 Considering Birkmann as a possible author of the added material may well yield new insights. The three arias clearly show the marks of Birkmann’s writing style; for example in their ‘I’-centred subjectivity and hidden, mathematical connotations.61 Further, the new movements included in this 1725 version show a modern outlook in their adoption of subject ideas from the early-modern philosophy—an enlightened idealism, which in theology manifests itself as Pietism.62 The problematic nature of sin is shifted into a personalised soul (as in ‘O Mensch, bewein dein Snde gro’, the opening chorus of the 1725 version), while its final chorale, ‘Christe, du Lamm Gottes, der du trägst die Snd der Welt, erbarm dich unser’ is both a crowning conclusion and framework that supports this line of argument. Events that bring about salvation are not yet complete, or are only positively accessible to mankind in hindsight, a point illustrated by the opening chorus of the 1724 version, ‘Herr, unser Herrscher, dessen Ruhm in allen Landen herrlich ist’. On the contrary, salvation needs to be grasped anew by Man, time and again.

With regard to the two series of cantata librettos for 1726 and 1727, it seems reasonable to assume that the remarkably productive collaboration between J.S. Bach and Birkmann did not immediately lead to the production of complete cantatas. It is conceivable that Birkmann prepared librettos for J.S. Bach before the autumn of 1726. It is significant that the year 1726 and a large part of J.S. Bach’s so-called ‘Third Annual Cycle’ have been described as textually and formally heterogeneous, not only as a whole—especially compared to the cycle of chorale-cantatas for 1724/1725—but also that it was shaped by the greatest variety of literary voices. And that it was only from the 18th Sunday after Trinity in 1726, that J.S. Bach appears to have realised a new concept, by introducing liturgical music in solo- or dialogue-form,with sophisticated instrumental arrangements (for example, with obbligato organ).

It is also conceivable that Johann Abraham Birnbaum (1702–1748) may have played a greater part than thus far recognised. The nature of his relationship with J.S. Bach in his early years at Leipzig—a long time before the conflict with Johann Adolph Scheibe in 1737—has remained unclear until now. Birkmann’s autobiography, specifically the passage which highlights the significance of the lecturer in rhetoric for Birkmann’s decision in favour of theology,63 poses two questions when seen in light of the 1724 and 1725 versions of the St. John.64 Who might have been a discussion partner in Leipzig for J.S. Bach in questions such as how to position his first passions theologically and musically? The fact, that Birnbaum exposed himself to the stressful literary exchanges with Scheibe in 1737 indicates the existence of a close relationship with J.S. Bach. And this leads to the question of whether the lecturer of rhetoric had been a trusted friend to J.S. Bach over a longer period, and including discussions relating to conceptual issues in music.

Several scenarios are conceivable: J.S. Bach may have been introduced to musically inclined students via Birnbaum’s collegium; or the other way around, Birnbaum may, perhaps, have recommended a rhetorically-gifted poet-theologian to J.S. Bach, who already knew him as a member of a collegium musicum.65 In the end, neither Birnbaum nor other students of his collegium can be excluded as J.S. Bach’s librettists. It is appropriate to discuss Birnbaum’s role as spiritus rector for gifted students and for J.S. Bach. The suspected ‘triangle’ of J.S. Bach-Birkmann-Birnbaum can, possibly, also shed new light on J.S. Bach’s relationship to university-based and academic circles, which may well have been closer than thus far shown.

Regardless of the many as yet unanswered questions, Christoph Birkmann turns out to be a figure who belonged to Leipzig’s academic sphere, and, thanks to the discovery of his 1728 Sabbaths-Zehnden we can now see that his importance for J.S. Bach far exceeded that of a mere delivery-man for poetic texts. To date, this makes him the only one of all J.S. Bach’s librettists whose biography overlaps significantly with J.S. Bach’s activities. Evidently, Birkmann had received a comprehensive musical education from notable Nuremberg musicians; he had played in Leipzig’s collegia musica and he was active as a composer in his own right. This opens up numerous possibilities for further research into Birkmann, and the related areas of J.S. Bach’s relationships to musicians from Nuremberg.



3 Ehren-Denkmal, 19. Nicolaus Deinl was an organist at the Holy-Spirit-Infirmary from 1694, became Collega at Spitalists’ School in 1699, and cantor at the same place from 1701.
Cornelius Heinrich Dretzel (1697–1775) became organist of the Church of Our Lady at Nuremberg in 1712, and in 1719 succeeded Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel at St Giles. According to Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart he was one of J.S. Bach’s pupils–a claim that is at present insufficiently documented. (‘Drexel, ein Schüler des großen Sebastian Bach, und zwar einer seiner besten.’ See BDok III, no. 903a).
5 The Stadt- und Ratsmusikus Gabriel Fischer (1684–1749) was a sales-agent for
J.S. Bach’s Partitas BWV 826-827 from Clavier-Übung I. See BDok II, no. 224.
6 Francisco Ludovico Tonelli, Der Wohlinformierte Italiänische Scholär, Welcher, Als ein Teutscher, die Welsche Sprach in kurtzer Zeit zu erlernen sich angelegen seyn lässet
… (Nuremberg 1723). Tonelli (†1738) was a teacher of Italian since 1720 at Nuremberg, later also at Jena. Georg Philipp Platz, Sehr leichte neuerfundene Art, die Kinder das Frantzösische A, B, C. buchstabiren und die Ortographie besagter Sprache in kurtzer Zeit zu lehren (Nuremberg [1720]); Exercice très utile de la langue françoise (Nuremberg 1721). It is uncertain whether Birkmann studied with Platz or Tonelli, or only studied their grammar books.. He writes elsewhere that he could not afford private tuition. So far, it has not been possible to ascertain the identity of Kleemann in greater detail. Several organists and cantors of that name are listed in records in Nuremberg, as are practitioners of the visual arts, alongside a tutor for arithmetic, by the name of Johann Kleemann, Professor at Altdorf, Das große Nürnbergische Rechen=Buch (Nuremberg and Altdorf, 1715).
7 ‘Mein musicalisch Talent wollte auch gern anwenden, und fortsetzen, was ich bey Herrn Deinl gelernt hatte. Drezel, Fischer und andere wackere Meister, die mir den Zutritt verstatteten, zeigten mir, was mir noch fehlte, und machten mir gute musicalische Bcher bekant, die ich aber ohne Kenntni der italiänischen und französischen Sprache nicht wohl nutzen konnte
. Tonelli, Plaz und Kleemann gaben mir in genannten Sachen die nöthige Unterweisung, worauf mich an die Composition wagte, und meine Aufsätze Herrn Drezel zur Prfung unterweilen mitbrachte. Bey Herrn Fischer lernte ich noch mehr welsche Meister kennen und nachahmen, dadurch wurde gar zeitig in den Stand gesetzt, andere in der Musik gründlich zu unterweisen und daraus Nutzen zu ziehen. Nun stunde an, welche Lebensart ich einschlagen sollte. Ich hatte Lust, die schönen Wissenschaften zu studieren, aber keine Mittel. Ich hofte auf der hohen Schule ein Subsidium zu erlangen, und bezog das liebe Altdorf A. 1723. nach dem Pfingstfeyertagen, um das Iubilaeum Academicum mit begehen zu können. Ich besuchte die Collegia publica und privata.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 20 f. (original emphases). The handwritten version includes the following addendum: ‘... but then I fell into oblivion in Nuremberg. However, I had placed my trust in God and resolved to live on the 80 f[lorin] I had scantly saved for as long as it would last.’ (D-Nst, Will III.88.2°, fol. 4r).
8 Michael Kelsch (1693–1742), Mathematician at the University of Altdorf and musician.
9 ‘Eine besondere Neigung zur Mathematik trieb mich zu M[agister]. Kelsch, der auch ein Musicus war. Wir übten uns in der Composition, stellten Collegia musica an, und durch solchen Trieb kam in kurzen so weit, daß bey jährlicher Veränderung des
Rectoris Magnifici zwo vollständige Musiken componirte und mit Beyfall aufüführte.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 21.
10 ‘… noch nicht gewiß, ob daraus mein Hauptstudium machen, oder mich stärker an die Bücher halten sollte.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 21.
11 He enrolled on 23 December
1724. Cf. Georg Erler, Die iüngere Matrikel der Universität Leipzig, 1559–1809 als Personen- und Ortsregister bearbeitet und durch Nachträge aus den Promotionslisten ergänzt, vol. 3: Die Immatrikulationen vom Wintersemester 1709 bis zum Sommersemester 1809 (Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1909), 197. He was listed as ‘Kirckmann’ here).
12 Johann Abraham Birnbaum (1702–
1748), Magister of rhetoric at Leipzig University from 1721. He was a member of the Vertraute Deutsche Redner-Gesellschaft (founded by Johann Christoph Gottsched) at Leipzig.
13 Johann Gottlob Pfeiffer (1667–1740). In he became 1707 professor of oriental languages and of the Talmud, in
1723 Professor ordinarius of theology and licentiate, and in 1724 doctor of theology. Pfeiffer is also believed to have been a compoin his spare time. I wish to express my gratitude at this point to Martin Petzoldt (†), whom I was fortunate to be able to consult on questions relating to Birkmann’s teachers in theology; concerning biographies of most theologians mentioned here. See Martin Petzoldt, ‘Johann Sebastian Bach in theologischer Interaktion: Persönlichkeiten in seinem beruflichen Umfeld’, in Christoph Wolff (ed.), Über Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke: Aspekte musikalischer Biographie: Johann Sebastian Bach im Zentrum [Festschrift Hans-Joachim Schulze zum 65. Geburtstag] (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1999), 133–59.
14 Johann Gottlob Carpzov (1697–1767). In
1714 he became licentiate and Archidiaconus (senior deacon) at St. Thomas, in 1719 Professor ordinarius of Hebraic, and in 1724 he was awarded a doctorate. He was godfather to two of J.S. Bach. and Anna Magdalena Bach’s children, Ernestus Andreas, 30 October 1727 and Christiana Benedicta, January 1, 1730.
15 Adam Bernd (1676–
1748). In 1711 he became senior catechist at St. Peter’s Church, in 1728 he was suspended after publishing a controversial theological paper. He authored a widely-read autobiography, published in 1738.
16 Urban Gottfried Sieber (1669–1741). In
1711 he became deacon and in 1714 preacher for prayer services at St. Thomas; in 1714 he gained a licentiate of theology, and in 1715 first chair-holder of a professorial lectureship of Ecclesiastical History (Kirchen-Altertümer). Sieber baptised three children by J.S. Bach. and A.M. Bach.
17 ‘Weil bey M[agister]. Birnbaum einige Zeit im Hause war, bediente mich der schönen
Gelegenheit, die sich wöchentlich in Red=Uebungen und Vertheidigung vermischter Sätze darbot, da es mich denn öfters traf, daß ex tempore peroriren muste. Von dem an, trieb die Theologie mit Ernst, hörte Pfeiffern, Carpzoven, Bernd, Sibern und andere berühmte Lehrer auf beeden Cathedern, versuchte auch ein paarmal zu predigen, stellte aber die fernere Uebung bis auf bequemere Zeit aus, und ließ mir in Exegesi sacra et dispositione textuum sacrorum Hoffmans und Tellers Anleitung gefallen, weil beyde nach Wunsch geniessen konnte.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 22. Romanus Teller the Younger (17031750), 1721 magister of philosophy, 1723 Baccalaureus of theology and catechist at St. Peter’s, 1726 Saturday-Preacher at St. Thomas; later numerous posts. Who is meant here with ‘Hoffmann’ has, presently, to remain an open question. Of the same age as Teller, and consequently a candidate for predominantly private colloquia would be Carl Gottlob Hof(f)mann (1703–1774), 1725 magister of the liberal arts and Baccalaureus of medicine, preacher at prayer services at the university church (later preacher at Sunday-prayers at St. Nicolai; professor at Wittenberg, where he was also a Superintendent). Birkmann also lived in the same building as Hoffmann, which may explain the phrase ‘nach Wunsch geniessen’ (enjoy as I so wished).
18 ‘Dabey ließ ich doch die Musik nicht ganz liegen, sondern hielte mich fleißig zu dem grossen Meister, Herrn Director Bach und seinem Chor, besuchte auch im Winter die Collegia musica, und erlangte hiedurch Gelegenheit, etlichen Studiosis mit Hülfe der welschen Sprache weiter zu helfen.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 22 f.
19 Ehren-Denkmal, p. 24.
20 At first he was a pastor for members of the military (Miliz), for the prison- and workhouse and pastor at the Infections-Haus or Pestilentiarium at Nuremberg.
21 Birkmann’s first wife, Sophia Magdalena n
ée Bickelmann († 1733), died several months after the wedding. He had seven children with his second wife, Sybilla Magdalena née Oehm († 1771), all save the eldest, died before reaching adulthood.
22 John Flood, Poets Laureate in the Holy Roman Empire: A Bio-bibliographical Handbook, (
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2006), vol. 1, 129.
23 GOtt-geheiligte Sabbaths-Zehnden/ bestehend aus Geistlichen Cantaten auf alle Hohe Fest- Sonn- und Feyer-Täge der Herspruckischen Kirch-Gemeinde zu Gottseeliger Erbauung gewiedmet, von Christoph Bürckmann/ Rev. Minist. Candid. Nürnberg, gedruckt bey Lorenz Bieling, n. d. [Preface October 26,
24 In addition, Nuremberg cantata cycles differ in other details from the
Leipzig’s practice as follows: 1) In Advent, a cantata was performed every Sunday instead of only on the 1st Sunday; 2) For the high feasts, two instead of three cantatas were performed, and 3) A cantata was included for Palm Sunday.
25 In addition, this confirms Alfred Dürr’s chronology of Cantatas (‘Zur Chronologie der Leipziger Vokalwerke J. S. Bachs’, Bach-Jahrbuch, 44 (1957), 77–95; a revised and updated version is published by Bärenreiter
in 1976). For details of the chronology see also the very conveniently organised Kalendarium zur Lebensgeschichte Johann Sebastian Bachs, extended new edition, ed. Andreas Glöckner (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, and Stuttgart: Carus, 2008).

47 For the dates in question, see for example Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: the Learned Musician, updated edn. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), 281 ff.
48 Robin A. Leaver, ‘Oper in der Kirche: Bach und der Kantatenstreit im frühen 18. Jahrhundert’, Bach-Jahrbuch, 99 (2013), 171 f. Leaver draws attention to motivic allusions in
J.S. Bach’s aria ‘Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen’ to Gottfried Ephraim Scheibel’s aria ‘Schlummert ein, ihr Augenlider’ (no. 5 in the cantata Licht des Lebens, leuchte mir—also a cantata for the Marian holiday, Feast of the Purification—from the cycle Poetische Andachten, Leipzig/Breslau 1725). The borrowings/quotations by Picander (BWV 19), E. Neumeister (BWV 27) and J.F. Helbig (BWV 47) in the cantatas for the Trinity-period of 1726 mentioned also by Leaver are hitherto well reported.
49 See Michael Märker
, Die protestantische Dialogkomposition in Deutschland zwischen Heinrich Schütz und Johann Sebastian Bach: Eine stilkritische Studie, Kirchenmusikalische Studien, 2 (Köln: Studio, 1995), 105–49. The publication describes different types of musico-spiritual dialogues.
BWV 98, with its solos for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, seems to differ from this group. But it actually blends in well with the stylistic environment outlined above, on account of its personal, soloistic character in arias, such as, ‘Hört, ihr Augen, auf zu weinen! Trag ich doch mit Geduld mein schweres Joch’. Here too, we listen to a self-talk, even though four voices participate successively.
51 Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach. Die Kantaten, 9th edn. (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2005), 636 and
646. For English, Cf. Alfred Drr, The Cantatas of J. S. Bach. With their Librettos in German-English Parallel Text, rev. and trans. Richard Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 572 and 582.
52 Preface, Sabbaths-Zehnden, 8–9.
53 Ferdinand Zander noted a (textually-motivic and stylistic) kinship between
BWV 58 and the Cross-staCantata already in 1968. See Ferdinand Zander, ‘Die Dichter der Kantatentexte Johann Sebastian Bachs: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Bestimmung’, Bach-Jahrbuch 54 (1968), 57 f.
54 At present, this can only be gleaned from the handwritten version of the autobiography, which contains the following: ‘I have, since 1741, served Weigel senior, dealer in arts, as well as historical items, genealogical and geographical records, and have contributed several articles to Köhler’s Instructions in ancient and medieval geography, which was newly edited in
1745.’ (‘Seit 1741 habe der ältern Weigel[schen]. Kunsthandl[ung]. so wohl in historicis, genealogicis, und geographicis gedienet, auch die A. 1745 neu edirte Köhlerische Anleitung zur alten und mitlern Geographie, mit sehr vielen Articeln vermehrt.’ (D-Nst, Will III.88.2°, fol. 11v). The mentioned publication appears to refer to: Johann David Köhler, Kurtze und gründliche Anleitung Zu der Alten und Mittlern Geographie ... (Nuremberg 1745), which was published by Johann Christoph Weigel the Elder (and his heirs).
55 Heinrich Müller, Evangelische Schlu=Kette Und Kraft=Kern Oder Gründliche Außlegung der gewöhnlichen Sonntags=Evangelien
(Frankfurt a. M. 1672), 1111 f.; and also Renate Steiger, Gnadengegenwart: Johann Sebastian Bach im Kontext lutherischer Orthodoxie und Frömmigkeit, Doctrina et Pietas: Zwischen Reformation und Aufklärung: Texte und Untersuchungen, II/2 (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 2002), 103; Johannes Olearius, Biblische Erklärung: Darinnen nechst dem allgemeinen Haupt-Schlüssel der gantzen heiligen Schrifft zu finden, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Tarnov, 1678), 459 quoted from Martin Petzoldt, Bach-Kommentar: Theologisch-musikwissenschaftliche Kommentierung der geistlichen Vokalwerke Johann Sebastian Bachs, vol. 1: Die geistlichen Kantaten des 1. bis 27. Trinity-Sonntages, Schriftenreihe der internationalen Bachakademie Stuttgart, 14/1 (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2004), 553 f.
56 Gustav Adolph Theill, ‘Neues zur Kreuzstabkantate’, Musik & Kirche, 55/5 (1985), 226–30.
57 ‘The same is needed by mariners at sea, to determine the height of the sun and the stars.’ (‘Es brauchen dasselbe die Schiffer zur See, die Höhe der Sonne und der Sterne zu messen.’), Vollständiges Mathematischen Lexicon, Darinnen alle Kunst=Wörter und Sachen, Welche In der erwegenden und ausbenden Mathesi vorzukommen pflegen, deutlich erkläret
, Erster Theil (Leipzig: Gleditsch, 1747), cols. 683 f. Further names used for the cross-staff are, among others, Crux geometrica, Baculus astronomicus and Radius astronomicus.
58 Theoria motvs solis circa proprium axem, qvam dispvtationem pro loco in amplissima facvltate philosophica obtinendo... (
Leipzig: Schniebes, 1726), with dedications to pastors from Nuremberg.
59 ‘Herr Professor Hausen hätte gerne gesehen, wenn meine Zeit auf die Mathematik gewendet, und seinen Beobachtungen ordentlich beygewohnet hätte: als ich ihm aber meine schlechten
[finanziellen] Umstände entdeckte, drang er nicht weiter in mich, überredete mich aber gleichwol, daß eine Dissertation de motu solis circa propriam axem, unter ihm vertheidigte.’ Ehren-Denkmal, 22.
60 Cf. the r
ésumé of the current state of research in: Richard Douglas Jones, The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach, vol. 2: 1717–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 157–161.
61 For results in this regard see the announcement in the opening footnote on p. 9.
62 Birkmann’s theological stance, his allegiance to Pietism reveals itself in all its sharpness only in later writings (for example in the collection Bündlein der Lebendigen/ oder frommer Knechte und Kinder Gottes letzte Reden vor ihren [sic] Ubergang aus der Zeit in die selige Ewigkeit auf redlicher Seelen Verlangen sorgfältig gesammlet und mitgetheilet von C. B. D. E
. (Nuremberg 1744–1748) and also in his letters. During his time at Leipzig, it is still comparatively moderate, perhaps owing to the varied theological stances of teaching staff at the university and Leipzig pastors (Birkmann gives numerous names in his autobiography).
63 See p. 13 above.
64 A further biographical article about Birkmann contains a more precise remark: ‘Since Magister Birnbaum had opened a college for debate and practical oration, and in the latter received good applause for his various speeches, he persuaded the hard-working members of his household to make theology their main occupation.’ (‘Da M. Birnbaum ein Collegium disputatorium und oratorio-practicum eröfnete, und er im letztern, verschiedene Reden, mit guten Beyfall abgeleget, so überredete er seinen fleissigen Haußgenossen, die Theologie zum Haupt=Werk zu machen.’) Andreas Würfel, Diptycha Ecclesi
æ Egydianæ das ist: Verzeichnüß und Lebensbeschreibungen er Herren Prediger, Herren Seniorum und Herren Diaconorum, welche seit der gesegneten Reformation biß hieher an der Kirche zu St. Egydien in Nürnberg gedienet, nebst einer Beschreibung der alten und neuen Kirche ... (Nuremberg 1757), article ‘Christoph Birkmann’ [by Georg Andreas Will], 116 f. On Leipzig’s customary private collegia that were institutionally distinct from the university (and often exercises for disputations and frequently organised by young university teachers) see Ewald Horn, Die Disputationen und Promotionen an den Deutschen Universitäten vornehmlich seit dem 16. Jahrhundert, Beihefte zum Centralblatt fr Bibliothekswesen, 11 (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1893), 38 ff.
65 See Birkmann’s autobiographical account on pp.10, 13-14 above. On the subject of Birkmann’s role in
Leipzig ‘s collegia musica and his alleged students and friends, I point towards future publications.


Source: Article "A Cantata-Text Cycle of 1728 from Nuremberg: a Preliminary Report on a Discovery relating to J. S. Bach’s so-called ‘Third Annual Cantata Cycle" by Christine Blanken, published in Understanding Bach, 10, 9–30 © Bach Network UK 2015
Contributed by
Christine Blanken (October 2017)

Texts of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

BWV 49, BWV 52, BWV 55, BWV 56, BWV 58, BWV 82, BWV 98, BWV 169. part from BWV 245 (1725 version)

Links to other Sites

Christoph Birkmann (Wikipedia) [German]



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