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Johann Knöfel (Composer)

Born: 1525-1530 - Lauban, Silesia [Lubiń, Poland]
Died: after 21 April 1617 - Prague

Johann Knöfel [Knefelius, Knöfelius, Knefel, Knöbel, Knöpflin], was a German composer and organist. Biographical details of the organist Kaspar Krumbhorn (b 1542) reveal that Knöfel was Kantor at the Valentin Trotzendorff Lateinschule, a Lutheran institution, at Goldberg (now Złotoryja), Silesia, when he was about 30 years old and Krumbhorn was his pupil. By the time of his marriage, on June 21, 1569, he had become Kapellmeister to Duke Heinrich V of Liegnitz, Brieg and Goldberg. In the preface to his Dulcissimae cantiones (1571), which he dedicated to the duke, he affirmed his allegiance to the Lutheran doctrine that had been adopted by the churches of Breslau (now Wrocław) in the earliest years of the Reformation, and in 1575 he dedicated his Cantus choralis (1575) - a complete setting of the Proper chants for the festivals of the church year ? to the Breslau town council. The dedication of his mass on Lassus's In me transierunt (1562) shows that by 1579 he was Kapellmeister to the Elector Palatine Ludwig VI at Heidelberg; he stated in the dedication to his Cantiones piae (1580) that he had been appointed a short while before. In 1583, after the death of Ludwig VI, the Elector Johann Casimir restored Calvinism to the Palatinate, and the Lutheran Knöfel was deprived of his post and returned to Silesia. Not long afterwards he moved to Prague: in 1592 he wrote in the preface to his Novae melodiae that he had already been living there for some time. In that year he was organist and Kantor at St Heinrich, the school of which was renowned for its choir. Nothing further is heard of him until 1617 when a note in the civic records at Klagenfurt confirms that he was still alive: on April 21 that year the authorities in Carinthia approved a payment of '30 florins to Johann Knöfelius for his dedication', which does not preclude the possibility that he continued to live in Prague.

Knöfel's musical style is modelled on that of Lassus. Except for the Newe teutsche Liedlein (1581) and a few hymns, which are also in German, he set only Latin texts. Apart from the one to the 1581 collection, all his prefaces too are in Latin, an indication of his humanist upbringing (at the school at Goldberg, moreover, Latin was the language of everyday conversation). It is therefore easy to understand why he was such a staunch advocate of Latin music in Protestant worship. In the preface to the Cantus choralis (1575) he expressed surprise at the way in which the singing of Gregorian chant was at that time 'in many places either seldom practised or else completely discontinued' and the liturgical text replaced more and more often with free hymns. He sought to counteract this development by using Gregorian melodies as the basis of the pieces in this volume. The short, choral psalm verses, which are set homophonically, are rounded off by a restatement of the material by the organ; such alternation with congregational or choral singing was a common practice in Breslau churches. The full title of the Newe teutsche Liedlein shows that Knِfel did not resign himself entirely to the lighthearted elegance of the secular musical world to which his duties as court Kapellmeister obliged him to pay some tribute: 'New German songs, most of which describe and unmask the way of the world, the treachery of mankind, promising much and rendering little, fine words and false hearts. With, too, some cheerful songs appropriate to collations and celebrations' The texts are mostly of a reflective and even moral character, as were the mottoes adopted by the various branches of the palatine household. The collection also includes settings of texts that were widely known at the time, and two folktales: one is about the 'Handschuhsheimer Esel', an amusing incident from the life of the palatinate huntsmen and peasants; the other - 'Ein Gedicht, wie man der Welt kann recht tun nicht', concerning the inability of Man to do justice to the world - is in the manner of Hans Sachs and in style is close to the homophonic canzonetta. Wunder bin ich is in the chromatic style, then the latest fashion in madrigal composition. Though he sometimes adopted modern techniques such as cori spezzati writing, chromaticism and the canzonetta style, Knöfel nevertheless remained firmly entrenched in the conservative tradition of Protestant sacred music.


Dulcissimae quaedam cantiones, numero xxxii, 5–7vv … tum musicis instrumentis aptae esse possint (Nuremberg, 1571); 1 (with Ger. text) ed. in Michael Praetorius: Gesamtausgabe, v (Wolfenbüttel and Berlin, 1937)
Cantus choralis … 5vv … quo per totum anni curriculum praecipuis diebus festis in ecclesia cantari solet (Nuremberg, 1575)
Missa, 5vv, ad imitationem cantionis Orlandi ‘In me transierunt’ (Nuremberg, 1579)
Cantiones piae, 5, 6vv … quam instrumentis musicis accommodae (Nuremberg, 1580); 1 ed. F. Commer, Musica sacra, xix (Regensburg, 1878)
Newe teutsche Liedlein, 5vv, welche den mehrern Theil den Brauch dieser Welt beschreiben (Nuremberg, 1581); ed. in EDM, Sonderreihe, xvi (in preparation)
Novae melodiae, 5–8vv … instrumentali pariter musicae accommodatae (Prague, 1592)
Christ ist erstanden, motet, 6vv, D-Mbs

Source: Grove Music Online © Oxford University Press 2006 (by Lini H܂Sch-Pfleger)
Contributed by
Thomas Braatz (February 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Christ ist erstanden, Motet for 6 voices

Christ ist erstanden

Links to other Sites



EitnerQ | GerberNL
H.A. Sander
: Geschichte des lutherischen Gottesdienstes und der Kirchenmusik in Breslau (Breslau, 1937)
W. Scholz: ‘Zu Johannes Knöffel’, AMf, vii (1942), 228–9
H. Federhofer: ‘Beitr
?ge zur ?lteren Musikgeschichte K?rntens’, Carinthia, i: Mitteilungen des Geschichtsvereins für K?rnten , cxlv (1955), 372–409
H.J. Moser:
Die Musikleistung der deutschen St?mme (Vienna and Stuttgart, 1957)
F. Feldmann: ‘ Der Laubaner Johannes Kn
?fel, insbesondere sein “Cantus choralis”’, Die schlesische Kirchenmusik im Wandel der Zeiten (Lübeck, 1975), 40–52

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