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Justin Heinrich Knecht (Composer)

Born: September 30, 1752 - Biberach an der Riss, Suabia (Baden-Württemberg), Germany
Died: December 1, 1817 - Biberach an der Riss, Suabia (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

Justin [Justinus] Heinrich Knecht was a German composer, organist, and music theorist. He received a good education, both musical and general (Boeckh was one of his masters). He learnt to play the organ, keyboard, violin, and singing in Biberach. He attended a Lutheran collegiate institution in Esslingen am Neckar from 1768 to 1771.

In 1771 J.H. Knecht became Lutheran preceptor (professor of Literature) and music director in Biberach, which was a free imperial city until 1803, and had a rich cultural life. He became organist of St Martin's church in 1792, which was used simultaneously by Lutherans and Catholics. He led an energetic, busy musical life; he composed for the theatre and church, organised subscription concerts, and taught music theory, acoustics, aesthetics, composition, and instruments at the Gymnasium, which was affiliated to the Musikschule in 1806. By degrees he gravitated to music, and December 1806 went to Stuttgart in the hopes of a post there as Kapellmeister or similar. In April 1807 he was appointed Direktor beim Orchester (director of the opera and of the court concerts) by King of Württemberg in the April 1807. Owing to successful intrigues against him, in a couple of years he resigned the post and returned to his former life in Biberach (1808), where he remained for the rest of his life. He died there where he died, with a great reputation as organist, composer and theoretician.

As a theoretician J.H. Knecht was an adherent of G.J. Vogler. The list of his productions as given in Q.-L. embraces many compositions, sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, and eight theoretical and didactic works. Two of the former have an historical interest, and that from an accidental cause. The first is 'Le Portrait Musical de la Nature,' a grand symphony for two violins, viola and bass, two flutes, two oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums ad lib., in which is expressed:

(1) A beautiful country, the sun shining, gentle airs and murmuring brooks; birds twitter, a waterfall tumbles from the mountain, the shepherd plays his pipe, the shepherdess sings, and the lambs gambol around.
(2) Suddenly the sky darkens, an oppressive closeness pervades the air, black clouds gather, the wind rises, distant thunder Is heard, and the storm approaches.
(3) The tempest bursts in all Its fury, the wind howls and the rain beats, the trees .groan and the streams rush furiously.
(4) The storm gradually goes off, the clouds disperse and the sky clears.
(5) Nature raises its joyful voice to heaven in songs of gratitude to the Creator (a hymn with variations).

The second (if it be not an arrangement of a portion of the preceding) is another attempt of the same kind with a German title - 'The Shepherds' pleasure interrupted by the storm, a musical picture for the organ.' These are precisely the subjects which L.v. Beethoven has treated, and Fetis would have us believe that Knecht actually anticipated not only the general scheme of the Pastoral Symphony but some of its figures and passages. But this is not the case. Sir George Grove purchased the score and parts of J.H. Knecht's work at Otto Jahn's sale, and is able to say that beyond the titles the resemblances between the two works are obviously casual, Knecht's being in addition commonplace, entirely wanting in that' expression of emotions' which L.v. Beethoven enforces, and endeavouring to depict the actual sights and sounds, which he deprecates.

Collections are in the Wieland-Archiv, Biberach, and the Kick collection at the library of Eberhard-Karls-Universität, Tübingen. A full thematic catalogue is in Ladenburger (1984).


Psalm XXIII (Leipzig, 1783)
Psalm VI (Speyer, 1788)
Magnificat (1790–1791)
Psalm I (Speyer, 1792)
Herr Gott, dich loben wir (Stuttgart, 1816)
Vollständige Sammlung ... vierstimmiger Choralmelodien für das neue wirtembergische Landesgesangbuch, ed. Knecht and J.F. Christmann (Stuttgart, 1799)
Dixit Dominus (1800)
10 cantatas (c.1800)
Te Deum (Offenbach, 1801)
Wechselgesang der Mirjam und Debora (F.G. Klopstock: Der Messias) (
Leipzig, 1781)

Opera and stage:
Die treuen Köhler (operetta, G.E. Heermann), 1786
Jupiter und Ganymed (prologue and epilogue), 1783
Die Entführung aus dem Serail (comic opera, C.F. Bretzner), 1787
Der lahme Husar (comic opera, F. Koch), 1788
Der Schulz im Dorfe, oder der verliebte Herr Doctor (comic opera, C.L. Dieter), 1789
Der Kohlenbrenner (Lustspiel mit Gesang, L. Ysenburg von Buri), 1789
Der Musenchor (prologue, Knecht), 1791
Die Glocke (melodrama, F. Schiller), 1807
Die Aeolsharfe, oder Der Triumph der Musik und Liebe (romantic opera, N. Remmele), 1807–1808
Feodore (singspiel, A. von Kotzebue), 1812
Ubaldo (incidental music, Kotzebue), 1818

Le portrait musical de la nature, ou Grande sinfonie (Pastoralsymphonie) (Speyer, 1784–1785), modern edition in The Symphony 1720-1840, series C, XIII (New York, 1984) - this work was much admired and anticipates the programme of L.v. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony

Sonata, for harpsichord, violin and cello ad libitum (Speyer, 1790)
3 Duos, for 2 flutes (Speyer, 1791)
Diverses danses, for piano/(flute and guitar) (Mainz, 1817)

Neue vollständige Sammlung ... für ... Klavier- und Orgelspieler (Speyer 1791-1795)
Die durch ein Donnerwetter unterbrochne Hirtenwonne (Darmstadt, 1794), modern edition by H.W. Höhnen (Wiesbaden, 1982)
90 kurze und leichte neue Orgelstücke (Augsburg, 1794)
Vollständige Orgelschule (
Leipzig, 1795–1798/1989) - L.v. Beethoven owned a copy of this work
Sammlung progressiver Orgelstücke (Biberach, 1805)
Königlich württembergisches ... Choralbuch (Stuttgart, 1816)
Caecilia (Freiburg, 1817-1819)

12 variationen (Leipzig, 1785)
Kleine praktische Klavierschule (Munich, 1799–1802)
Kleine theoretische Klavierschule (Munich, 1800–1801)
Bewährtes Methodenbuch beim ersten Klavierunterricht (Freiburg, 1820)

Erklärung einiger … missverstandenen Grundsätze aus der Voglerschen Theorie (Ulm, 1785)
Gemeinnützliches Elementarwerk der Harmonie und des Generalbasses, part 1 (Speyer, 1792), parts 2–4 (Stuttgart, 1793–1797)
Kleines alphabetisches Wörterbuch der vornehmsten und interessantesten Artikel aus der musikalischen Theorie (Ulm, 1795)
Knechts allgemeiner musikalischer Katechismus (Biberach, 1803)
Luthers Verdienste um Musik und Poesie (Ulm, 1817)
Theoretisch-praktische Generalbassschule (Freiburg, c1817)

Source: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition; Author: Sir George Grove); Wikipedia Website (from ichael Ladenburger: 'Knecht, Justin Heinrich', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy; accessed June 13, 2007)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Works previously attributed to J.S. Bach

Fugue for organ in B major on B-A-C-H, BWV Anh 45

J.H. Knecht completed The Art of Fugue
BWV 1080 (for organ, 1803), but this has been lost.

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Herr Gott, dich loben wir, a vocal composition

Herr Gott, dich loben wir [The German Tedeum]

before 1799

Links to other Sites

Justin Heinrich Knecht (Wikipedia)
Justin Heinrich Knecht (

Biography and music of Justin Heinrich Knecht (Cyber Hymnal)


Lebensbeschreibung Herrn Justin Heinrich Knecht, evangelischen Schullehrers und Musikdirektors der freien Reichstadt Biberach, in Musikalische Real-Zeitung (February 10, 17 & 24, 1790)
F. Schlegel: Justinus Heinrich Knecht (Biberach, 1980)
M. Ladenburger: Justin Heinrich Knecht: Leben und Werk: thematisch-bibliogVerzeichnis seiner Kompositionen (dissertation, University of Vienna, 1984)
J. Eppelsheim: Justin Heinrich Knechts 'Orgelschule' als Zeugnis süddeutscher Vorstellungen von Orgelklang und Orgelspiel um 1800, in Beiträge zu Orgelbau und Orgelmusik in Oberschwaben im 18. Jahrhundert (Ochsenhausen, 1988)
H. Musch: Zu den Cantabile-Stücken in der Orgelschule von Justin Heinrich Knecht, in Beiträge zu Orgelbau und Orgelmusik in Oberschwaben im 18. Jahrhundert (Ochsenhausen, 1988)
H.M. Miller: Die Orgelwerke von Justin Heinrich Knecht (Munich, 1990)
H. Jung: Zwischen Malerey und Empfindung: zu den historischen und Ausdruck der ästhetischen Voraussetzungen von Justin Heinrich Knechts Le portrait musical de la nature (1785), in Studien zur Musikgeschichte: eine Festschrift für Ludwig Finscher, ed. A. Laubenthal and K. Kusan-Windweh (Kassel, 1995)

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