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Johann Christoph Demantius (Poet, Composer)

Born: December 15, 1567 - Reichenberg (now Liberec, in the Czech Republic, north of Prague near the border with Germany)
Died: April 20, 1643 - Freiberg, Saxony, Germany

Johann [Johannes] Christoph Demantius was a German composer, music theorist, writer and poet. He was an exact contemporary of Monteverdi, and represented a transitional phase in German Lutheran music from the polyphonic Renaissance style to the early Baroque.


Johann Christoph Demantius was born in Reichenberg, and probably received his early training there, though little information is available about his early life. By the early 1590's he was in Bautzen, where he wrote a school textbook, in 1952 he was an instructor at the St. Lorenz Academy and in 1593 he received a degree from the University of Wittenberg. In 1594-1595 he was living in Leipzig, and in 1597 he acquired the post of Kantor at Zittau, where he probably taught the young Melchior Franck.

His next post was in 1604 when he became Kantor at Freiburg Cathedral (Freiberg). He was soon granted citizenship, a proof of his local success and renown. Like J.S. Bach in Leipzig, once he had landed a satisfactory job he stayed there until the end of his days. While he was able to keep his position, the Thirty Years War was disruptive to his life, and most of his children, of four different marriages, died due to the hardships imposed by the war.


Johann Christoph Demantius was a hugely prolific composer, though many of his works have been lost. Stylistically he was a successor to Lassus, who was also working in Germany during the first part of Demantius's life.

In the realm of sacred music Demantius wrote motets, masses, Magnificat settings, Te Deums, Introits, Psalm settings, hymns, and a splendid setting of the St. John Passion in 6 parts, one of the most significant passion settings of the late Renaissance. He also wrote secular music: several sets of Polish and German dances and gaillards, with and without words, arranged for 4 and 5 voices - but also some for instruments, a set of German madrigals ans canzonets wit a 6-part Villanelle, funeral songs and epithalamiums, and a Tympanum Militare (a collection of 21 Songs of Triumph and Battle for 5, 6, 8 and a voices), threnodies, and numerous other occasional works. Most likely he wrote the poetry for his own music.

Despite his sharing birth and death dates with the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi (who shepherded the Baroque period and the new modern style into the Italian music scene), Demantius’ music sounds dramatically different, conservative and, of course, more Germanic. For example, while after the 1590's virtually all music by Monteverdi contained a basso continuo line, only one piece by Demantius uses the new baroque technique. Similarly, while most modern music was associated with the concertato style of joining vocal and instrumental forces, no sacred concerti by Demantius are known to exist.

His motets are of a late Renaissance type, and all Lutheran; some are in German and others Latin. They are conservative in that they avoid some of the Italian Baroque innovations such as the concertato style and the basso continuo, both of which were becoming widely used in Germany by 1610; but he also created a highly individual musical language using traditional forms and means, quite distinct from the Palestrinian polyphony adopted by the other composers of the time commonly regarded as "conservative." His motets are notable especially for their scoring: where most other composers, such as Melchior Vulpius and Melchior Franck, composed such motets for four voices at most so that churches with limited resources could perform them, Demantius scored them for a 6-voice ensemble, thus availing himself of the numerous musicians present in affluent Freiburg. All of his motets, despite being formally in an older style, have great emotional depth and are crafted to express the text extremely effectively. In this he is clearly a worthy successor of the great composer Orlando di Lasso.

As a music theoretician he is famous for compiling the first alphabetical dictionary of musical terms in the German language, which took Michael PraetoriusSyntagma musicum as a stepping-stone, but revised and almost doubled the number of definitions.


Source: Wikipedia Website; Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition, by Jeffrey Mark, Esq.); San Francisco Bach Choir Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2005)

Texts of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

BWV 19, BWV 70

Chorale Texts used in Bach’s Vocal Works





Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele

Links to other Sites

HOASM: Johannes Christoph Demantius
Christoph Demantius (Wikipedia)
San Francisco Bach Choir: Johannes Christoph Demantius Demantius

Christoph Demantius (ChoralWiki)
Christoph Demantius (Biologie) [German]
Christoph Demantius (adLexikon) [German]
DEMANTIUS, Christoph (BBKL) [German]


Article "Christoph Demantius", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. )London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980(
Gustave Reese: Music in the Renaissance (New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954)
Manfred Bukofzer: Music in the Baroque Era (New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947)

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