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Johann Balthasar Erben (Composer)

Born: 1626 - Danzig [now Gdańsk]
Died: 1686 (buried: October 3, 1686) - Danzig

(Johann) Balthasar Erben was a German composer. Mattheson stated, probably incorrectly, that he taught Christoph Bernhard, who was only a year younger than himself. When he applied in 1653 for the post of Kapellmeister of the Marienkirche, Danzig, the city council decided instead to give him a grant so that he could travel for the purposes of study. He went to Regensburg where, according to his accounts of his travels, he met Froberger. On the latter’s recommendation he considerably extended his journey, not only through the towns of south and west Germany but as far as the Netherlands, England, France and Italy. According to Eitner, Georg Neumark (in RISM 16573) described him as town organist at Weimar, but this does not seem to be so. The news that the post of Kapellmeister at the Marienkirche, Danzig, had again become vacant reached him in Rome in 1657, whereupon he returned and in 1658 applied for the post for a second time, this time successfully. He held it until his death and was in effect ‘Kapellmeister of the City of Danzig’, for this was the leading position in the centrally organized musical life of the city: in addition to the church music at the Marienkirche he was also responsible for the civic music at the Artushof. He carried out his duties with great diligence, as is demonstrated not only by his own reports but also by a choir regulation of 1659 stipulating that the civic musicians must take part in the church hymns. His efforts as both composer and organizer meant that Danzig church music reached new heights. In his later years, however, he had to battle against the unpropitious times, and his ever worsening position is reflected in repeated petitions to the council.

A number of Balthasar Erben’s works must have been lost. In 1688 his widow offered the Danzig city council a ‘fair quantity of musical works written in his own hand and most of them his own compositions’, but the council declined them. As well as a few instrumental pieces, however, enough of his church music survives to indicate his importance for the development of the genre in Danzig. His inclination towards rich scoring, supported by expressive harmony, affective chromaticism and intensive counterpoint is particularly noticeable. Most of his sacred concertos are settings of biblical texts, in particular from the psalms, while the others use hymn texts; the two types of words are never found in the same work. Chorale variations per omnes versus, previously not found in church music, are a speciality of Erben.


MS works in S-Uu unless otherwise stated.

Halt auff! grosses Himmelsliecht, aria (L. Knaust), lv, 3 va, bc (Königsberg, 1668) [on the abdication of King Jan Kazimierz of Poland]
8 melodies, 16526, 16573
Ach, dass ich doch in meinen Augen, lv, 2 vn, va, violetta, 2 va da gamba, bc (tablature); Ante oculos tuos Domine, lv, 3 va, bc (tablature); Audite gentes, 6vv, 2 violettas, bc (tablature); Confitebor tibi Domine, 3vv, 2 vn, bc (tablature); Dixit Dominus, 6vv, 2 vn, 3 violettas, va da gamba, bc; Domine Jesu Christe exaudi, 5vv, bc; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, 5vv, 4 va, bc, D-Bsb; Es woll uns Gott genädig sein, 5vv, 4 insts, bc; Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, 5vv, 2 vn, 3 insts, violetta, bn, bc (tablature); Habe deine Lust an dem Herren, 3vv, 2 vn, bc, Bsb; Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes Sohn, 5vv, 5 insts, bc, ed. F. Kessler, Danziger Kirchenmusik: Vokalwerke des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts (Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1973); Ich freue mich im Herrn, 1v, 5 va, bc (tablature); Laudate Dominum, 6vv, 2 vn, 2 va da gamba, bc; Magnificat, 6vv, 2 vn, 3 va, vle, bc (hpd) Bsb; Miserere mei Deus, 6vv, 4 va, bc; Nisi Dominuus, lv, 6 insts, bc (tablature); O Domine Jesu Christe, adoro te, 4vv, bc; Peccavi super numerum arenae maris, 6vv, 3 va, vle, bc (tablature); Quam dilecta tabernacula tua, 5vv, 2 vn, 2 va da gamba, bc; Salve suavissime Jesu, 1v (later version, 2vv), 2 vn, 2 va, bc; Sei getreu bis in den Tod, 3vv, 2 vn, bc, Bsb; Solvite jam grates, 6vv, 2 vn, 2 violettas, vle, bc (tablature); Sustinuimus pacem, 6vv, 4 va, bc (tablature)
For lost works see Seiffert and Rauschning

Passacaglia, courante and sarabande, kbd, US-NH
Sonata sopra ‘ut re mi fa sol la’, 2 vn, bc


Source: Grove Music Onlin © Oxford University Press 2006, acc. 5/21/06 (Author: Susette Clausing)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (December 2005), Thomas Braatz (May 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Es woll uns Gott genädig sein for Soprano, Alto, 2 Tenors, Bass, 4 Instruments and bc

Es woll uns Gott genädig sein

Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ, set for 5 [S, 2 A, T, B] voices, 2 violins, 3 instruments, violetta, bassoon, bc (in tablature)

Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ

Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes Sohn, Cantata for 5 voices, 5 instruments, bc

Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn

Links to other Sites



ApelG | EitnerQ | GerberL | MatthesonGEP | NDB (H. Sočnik)
M. Seiffert: ‘Die Chorbibliothek der St. Michaelisschule in Lüneburg zu Seb. Bach’s Zeit’, SIMG, ix (1907–8), 593–621
H. Rauschning: Geschichte der Musik und Musikpflege in Danzig (Danzig, 1931)
C.-A. Moberg: ‘Drag i Östersjöområdets musikliv på Buxtehudes tid’ [Sketch of musical life in the Östersjö area in Buxtehude’s day], STMf, xxxix (1957), 15-88
F.W. Riedel: Quellenkundliche Beiträge zur Geschichte der Musik für Tasteninstrumente in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts (
Kassel, 1960, 2/1990)
B. Grusnick: ‘Die Dübensammlung: ein Versuch ihrer chronologischen Ordnung’, STMf, xlvi (1964), 27–82; xlviii (1966), 63-186
F. Krummacher: Die Überlieferung der Choralbearbeitungen in der frühen evangelischen Kantate (Berlin, 1965)
H. Kümmerling: Katalog der Sammlung Bokemeyer (
Kassel, 1970)

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