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Johann Georg Neidhardt (Composer, Music Theorist)

Born: c1685 - Bernstadt, Silesia
Died: toward the end of 1739 - Königsberg [Kalingrad}, Prussia


Johann Georg Neidhardt was a German theorist and composer. At first Neidhardt was a student in Altdorf and Wittenberg and at the University of Jena he studied theology. It is possible that he also had some musical instruction from the university organist, Johann Nicolaus Bach (1669-1753) - known more commonly as the “Jena” Bach. While still studying theology at the university, Neidhardt wrote a treatise on the problems of setting a musical temperament (1706), composed for performance at the university a celebratory composition to honor Duke Friedrich of Saxony (he mentions this in the dedication of his book on “The Best and Easiest Temperament on a monochord” and received permission from J.N. Bach to try out the equal temperament he had suggested on one stop/register of the newly-built organ of the Jena City Church. Having failed in this experiment (the temperament which J.N. Bach set by ear was judged to be more usable/singable), Neidhardt spent the rest of his life, nevertheless, trying to resolve the problem of temperament.

Beginning in 1710, the date of his wedding composition for the Kantor G. F. Cibrovius in Königsberg, and thereafter, Johann Georg Neidhardt maintained connections in Königsberg, but had primarily returned to Bernstadt after he had completed his studies (Johann Balthasar Reimann (born 1702) gives evidence in a documented report that he had met Neidhardt there). Reimann also reports that, shortly thereafter, he attended a Latin lecture on composition which Neidhardt gave in Breslau. On September 2, 1720 Neidhardt was appointed Court Music Director (Kapellmeister) in Königsberg, after this position had been vacant since 1707. At his installment the primary court pastor, Bernhard von Sanden ceremoniously delivered the sermon. In addition to his normal duties as music director at the court, a position which he retained until his death, and his activities as a writer, he also taught at the university such subjects as versification and organ playing, while occupying himself with mathematical-acoustical calculations.


Johann Georg Neidhardt’s importance in musical history is not due to his compositions, but rather due to his writings on the subject of musical temperaments. Along with Andreas Werckmeister, Neidhardt perfected the art of practical temperaments in the early 18th century. Taking the books by Werckmeister as a springboard, Neidhardt, as early as his first treatise which calculates “The Best and Easiest Temperament on a Monochord”, presents equal temperament in which the syntonic comma is divided equally among all 12 fifths. In his next book, Sectio Canonis Harmonici, begins with the notion of a closed circle of fifths and addresses the problem of distributing the Pythagorean comma. His thinking, research, and calculations result in establishing three unequal temperaments (of which one has been commonly called “Neidhardt’s temperament”) and a fourth which is equal temperament in which the Pythagorean comma has been equally distributed throughout all 12 fifths. This would be, at least theoretically, the first time that equal temperament, with its 12 equally-spaced tones in one octave was described mathematically, a temperament which has maintained its validity up to the present day. Later, however, Neidhardt viewed equal temperament only as a special instance of a particularly elegant solution to a problem, whereas he continued presenting ever new suggestions involving various unequal temperaments ('circulating' temperaments: those intended to be most consonant in the more frequently used keys, and progressively less so in the remoter ones) for practical use. He wanted his more than two dozen temperaments to be flexibly applied, as may be judged from his recommendation of specific temperaments for a village, a town, a city, and the court (the last assigned an equal temperament). Adlung, the editor of a musical dictionary, had high regard for Neidhardt and incorporated much of the latter’s materials in his article on “Musical Calculations” (in Musicalische Gelahrtheit Chapter 5). Johann Mattheson refers to a manuscript of his lectures on composition (probably from Neidhardt’s presentations in Breslau).

Johann Georg Neidhardt was apparently an active composer throughout his life; his few extant works include chorale settings (RUS-KA), and some published psalm settings and sacred songs. His extant compositions barely rise above the average, occasional music presented in his day.



Beste und leichteste Temperatur des Monochordi (Jena, 1706)
Sectio Canonis Harmonici, zur völligen Richtigkeit der Generum Modulandi (Königsberg, 1724)
Gäntzlich erschöpfte mathematische Abteilungen des diatonischchromatischen, temperirten Canonis Monochordi (Königsberg, 1732, 2/1734; Latin translation, 1735)
Systema generis diatonico-chromatici, ex numeris serie naturali procedentibus evolutum (Königsberg, 1734; German translation, 1734)
Canon monochordus Temperamenta generis diatonico-chromatici omnia arithmetice & geometrice edocens (Königsberg, 1735)
Compositio harmonica problematice tradita, lost

Ihr Sterne laßt den goldnen Ball" for Solo-Soprano, Viola & bc., on the occasion of the wedding of cantor G. F. Cibrovius from Sackheim on Nov 27, 1710
Die Sieben Buß-Psalmen. des Königs und Propheten Davids Deutsche Oden gebracht (Königsberg 1715)
Das schöne Kirchenlied: »Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht« ...vor den General-Baß ...gesetzt (Königsberg, 1722)
Festkantate zum 200-jährigen Jubiläum der Augsburger Konfession (1730); Königsberg (text only, music lost)


Source: Translation of the article by on Neidthardt in the MGG1 (Bärenreiter, 1986; Author: Arno Forchert), English translation by Thomas Braatz (May 2006); Grove Music Online, © Oxford University Press 2006, acc. 5/12/06 (Author: Cecil Adkins)
Contributed by
Thomas Braatz (May 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Das schöne Kirchenlied:Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht ...vor den General-Baß ...gesetzt, Chorale (or solo?) setting with bc.

Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht


Links to other Sites



MGG1 (A. Forchert)
J. Adlung: Anleitung zu der musikalischen Gelahrtheit (Erfurt, 1758/R, 2/1783), 276
A. Mayer-Reinach: ‘Zur Geschichte der Königsberger Hofkapelle in den Jahren 1578–1720’, SIMG, vi (1904–5), 32-79
H. Güttler: Königsbergs Musikkultur im 18. Jahrhundert (Königsberg, 1925)

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