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Christian Henrich Postel (Poet)

Born: October 11, 1658 - Freiburg, near Stade, Germany
Died: March 22, 1705 - Hamburg, Germany

Christian Heinrich Postel was a German poet, librettist and lawyer. His father was a Protestant minister and writer who left Freiburg with his family in 1676 to become pastor at the Heilige Geist-Kirche in Hamburg. His friendship with Gerhard Schott, founder and first director of the Hamburg Opera, undoubtedly led to Postel's later association with the Opera. He received his early education from his father and later attended the Johanneum Lateinschule in Hamburg. In 1680 he went to Leipzig University to study law but was forced by an outbreak of the plague to move to Rostock University, from which he received a licentiate in law in 1683. Following a number of extended educational tours, which enabled him to cultivate a lifelong interest in languages and literature, he returned to Hamburg in about 1688 and began an illustrious career as a lawyer. In 1700 he spent the summer in Switzerland and Italy, where he became acquainted with the Arcadian movement and met L.A. Muratori, an exponent of Italian neo-classicism.

Christian Heinrich Postel was the most important and prolific writer of librettos for the Hamburg Opera towards the end of the 17th century. He wrote texts for the major composers there, including Johann Georg Conradi, Fürtsch , Reinhard Keiser and Kusser, but after Schott's death in 1702 he apparently severed his association with the Opera. His librettos are fine examples of dramatic poetry, generally patterned on conventional Italian models and full of somewhat complex German Baroque imagery. He naturally based his operatic dramas on the standard Baroque concept of alternating affective states. However, many of them, such as Die schöne und getreue Ariadne (set by J.G. Conradi), do not present simply a pastiche of contrasting emotional statements; rather, within the limitations of a fairly stereotyped plot, the characters are permitted distinctive, dramatic development as personalities. He was frequently criticized in the 19th century for being a typical representative of the Second Silesian School which was overfond of Marinism, but this view is not substantiated by his texts. He was a transitional figure in German libretto writing, standing between such writers as Lucas von Bostel and Friedrich Christian Bressand on the one hand and Barthold Feind on the other. As such he strove for a simpler poetic language, abandoned the previously favoured alexandrine metre for the simpler, more effective iambic in recitatives, and successfully varied his metres in the arias for affective purposes. His poetry is highly expressive and colourful in the Baroque sense but without excessive bombast. His intensely dramatic works were the perfect vehicles for the music of composers such as J.G. Conradi, Fürtsch and R. Keiser. All his librettos survive in Weimar (D-WRtl).

Two of the arias in J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion (BWV 245) are settings of text by Christian Heinrich Postel. His texts were also used by Georg Philipp Telemann.


Source: Grove Music Online, © Oxford University Press 2006, acc. 5/24/06 (Author: George J. Buelow); London Bach Society Database
Contributed by
Thomas Braatz & Aryeh Oron (May 2006)

Texts of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works

BWV 245

Chorale Texts used in Bach’s Vocal Works





Durch dein Gefängnis, Gottes Sohn

Links to other Sites



N. Wilckens: Hamburgischer Ehrentempel (Hamburg, 1770)
D.I. Lindberg : Literary Aspects of German Baroque Opera: History, Theory, and Practice (Christian H. Postel and Barthold Feind) (diss., UCLA, 1964)
G. Flaherty: Opera in the Development of German Critical Thought (Princeton, NJ, 1978)
B. Plachta : ‘Plagiat oder Neuschöpfung?: zum Einfluss der galanten Lyrik Christian Hofmann von Hofmannswaldaus auf Libretti von Christian Heinrich Postel’, Mf, xxxiv (1981), 11-24
W. Braun : Vom Remter zum Gänsemarkt: aus der Frühgeschichte der alten Hamburger Oper (1677-1697) (Saarbrücken, 1987)
H.J. Marx and D. Schröder:
Die Hamburger Gänsemarkt-Oper: Katalog der Textbucher (Laaber, 1995)

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