Johann David Heinichen was a German Baroque composer and music theorist who brought the musical genius of Venice to the court of Augustus the Strong in Dresden. Although Heinichen's music is original, rhythmically exuberant and imaginative, it was inexplicably little known for a long time.
Johann David Heinichen was born in the small village of Krössuln, near Weißenfels. His father Michael Heinichen had studied music at the celebrated Thomasschule Leipzig associated with the Thomaskirche, served as Kantor in Pegau and was pastor of the village church in Krössuln. Johann apparently was a gifted child; he claimed that he had composed and conducted sacred music in local churches before the age of 12. In 1695, Johann David also attended Thomasschule Leipzig. There he studied music with Johann Schelle and later received organ and harpsichord lessons with Johann Kuhnau. The future-composer Christoph Graupner was also a student of J. Kuhnau at the time. J.D. Heinichen enrolled in 1702 to study law at the University of Leipzig and in 1705-1706 qualified as a lawyer (in the early 18th century the law was a favoured route for composers; J. Kuhnau, C. Graupner and Georg Philipp Telemann were also lawyers). After completing his degree, J.D. Heinichen moved to Weißenfels, where he practised law until 1709.
However, the law apparently held little allure for J.D. Heinichen; he began composing occasional music for Duke Johann Georg's court, and in 1709 gave up the law altogether and moved to Leipzig to write for the opera house there. In 1710, he published the first edition of his major treatise on the thorough-bass. J.D. Heinichen was quite successful in Leipzig, but decided he needed to learn how to write Italian opera firsthand, and abruptly left behind Leipzig for Venice in 1710. He spent in Italy seven formative years there, mostly in Venice. He met numerous composers in that city, including Antonio Vivaldi, and apparently picked up the Italian style quickly, writing two successful operas for the S Angelo Theater. In 1717, J.D. Heinichen became a colleague of J.S. Bach at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. His fame spread all the way to the Prince-Elector of Saxony, Augustus II, in Dresden. Augustus hired J.D. Heinichen to share Kapellmeister duties with Johann Christoph Schmidt at his court in 1717. J.D. Heinichen spent the rest of his life there.
Augustus II's court was an ideal situation for a composer. It boasted the greatest orchestra in Europe, for which scores of composers (including A. Vivaldi, G.P. Telemann, and Tomaso Albinoni) spontaneously wrote concerti; it employed numerous other eminent composers, like Johann Joachim Quantz, Francesco Veracini, and Jan Dismas Zelenka; and it had a patron who was determined to keep the music playing. Apart from a disastrous quarrel in the Italian opera company between Heinichen and the singers Senesino and Berselli, which eventually resulted in the dissolution of the company, J.D. Heinichen's tenure was peaceful and productive. He only wrote one opera there, but wrote much instrumental and sacred vocal music which combined elements of the Italian, French and German styles into a recognisable, coherent, personal style. His music revels in the instrumental colours the Dresden orchestra could create, and moves along with splendid rhythmic spring and vigour. If his music is occasionally too extroverted, it is a forgivable excess. While he was at Dresden, J.D. Heinichen also had the opportunity to rewrite his treatise Der General-Bass in der Composition (Dresden, 1728), which provides much more than its title would indicate; it is a manual for composition, a discussion of the proper expression of the affections in music, and a compendium of footnotes and asides which sound like an eager professor instructing his students. It was one of the most respected texts of its day, and it is still used by scholars seeking a better understanding of Baroque performance practice. His pupils included Johann Georg Pisendel.
In 1721, J.D. Heinichen married in Weißenfels and the birth of his only child is recorded in January 1723. In his final years Heinichen's health suffered greatly and on the afternoon of July 16, 1729, he was buried in the Johannes cemetery after finally succumbing to tuberculosis.
Although Johann David Heinichen was well known and respected both as a theorist and as a composer during his lifetime, his name would not have been recognised by most classical music listeners until scholar/conductor Reinhard Goebel began championing his music during the 1990s. Since then, more and more listeners have become acquainted with Heinichen's sprightly, colourful, charming music. His music is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, with some of his masses and his final work, a Magnificat, now receiving some attention in the recording world.