A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Gerber, Heinrich

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GERBER, Heinrich Nicolaus, born 1702 in the principality of Schwarzburg; son of a peasant, studied at the University of Leipzig, where his love of music found encouragement in the teaching and conversation of Sebastian Bach; in 1728 he was organist at Heringen, and 1731 court organist at Sondershausen. Here for the first time he felt himself safe, as, on account of his extraordinary height, he had been constantly pursued by the recruiting officers of Frederic William I. He composed much for clavier, organ, and harp; a complete Choralbuch, with figured basses; and variations on chorales, long and widely used. He also made musical instruments, and planned many improvements and new inventions. Among others a kind of rebeck, harpsichord-shape, with a compass of 4 octaves; the keys liberated wooden balls which struck on bars of wood, and thus produced the notes. From 1749 Gerber was also court-secretary. He died Aug. 6, 1775.

His son Ernst Ludwig, was born at Sondershausen Sept. 39, 1746; learned singing and clavier from his father, and studied music from an early age. In 1765 he went to the University of Leipzig, but returned home in order to assist his father in his office, and succeeded him on his death. He then entered on those labours which finally conducted him to an end he himself scarcely contemplated, and by which he has earned the gratitude of all lovers of music. His love of musical literature suggested to him the idea of making a collection of portraits of musicians, for which he wrote biographies, mainly on the authority of Walther's Lexicon (1732). As Walther was at that time out of date, he procured the necessary additions, obtained biographical sketches of living musicians, took journeys, and tried to fill up the gaps by consulting all the books then in existence on the subject. Thus the idea suggested itself of adapting Walther's work to the wants of the time, and of writing a completely new work of his own, which eventually became the 'Historisch biographische Lexikon der Tonkünstler' (2 vols, Leipzig, Breitkopf, 1790 & 92) translated into French by Choron (1810, 11). While writing musical articles and reviews for various periodicals (Erfurter Gelehrten Zeitung; Leipziger Allg. Musik. Zeitung from 1798, etc.; Becker's 'Literatur der Musik' contains a list of his scattered articles) he received from all quarters corrections and information of all kinds, which enabled him, or rather made it his duty, to prepare an enlarged edition. Accordingly his 'Neues hist, biogr. Lexicon der Tonkünstler' appeared in 4 vols. with 5 appendices (Leipzig, Kühnel, 1812, 14). This new edition did not supersede the former one, to which it often refers the reader; but rather completed it. Gerber took pains to keep up with the times, recorded events for after use, was continually making additions to his collection of books and music, and composed industriously pianoforte sonatas and organ preludes. Hoping to keep together the collection he had made at the cost of so much labour and pains, he offered it for sale to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, with the solitary stipulation that he should retain it during his own life. The price was fixed, and the negotiation completed in January 1815, but he still continued his additions, encouraged doubtless by the knowledge that his treasures would be in safe keeping, in a city so famed for its musical tastes. He was still court secretary at Sondershausen when he died, June 30, 1819, in universal respect: leaving behind him the reputation of one who, with singular disinterestedness and out of a true love for music, had devoted the energies of his whole life to a single end. His Lexicon forms the foundation of all future undertakings of the same kind; and if new Dictionaries are to satisfy the wants of the age to the same extent that his did, their authors must possess industry as persevering, knowledge as eclectic, and a love of music as devoted, as that which inspired Gerber.

[ C. F. P. ]