A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Kirnberger, Johann Philipp

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KIRNBERGER, Johann Philipp, composer and writer on the theory of music, born April 24, 1721, at Saalfeld in Thuringia; learnt the rudiments of music at home, the organ from Kellner of Gräfenrode, and the violin from Meil of Sondershausen. Gerber, court-organist there, taught him to play Bach's fugues, and recommended him to Bach, who received him as his pupil. Several years were passed at Leipsic, in Poland, and at Lemberg. On his return to Germany he resumed the study of the violin under Zickler of Dresden, and in 1751 entered the capelle of Frederic the Great at Berlin as violinist. In 1758 he became Capellmeister to Princess Amalie, and remained with her till his death after a long and painful illness July 27, 1783. During these 25 years he formed such pupils as Schulz, Fasch, and Zelter, and devoted his leisure to researches on the theory of music. Of his many books on the subject 'Die Kunst des reinen Satzes,' 2 vols. (Berlin 1774–76) alone is of permanent value. He also wrote all the articles on music in Sulzer's 'Theorie der schönen Künste' in which he warmly criticises Marpurg's 'Kritische Briefe.' He prided himself on the discovery that all music could be reduced to two fundamental chords, the triad and the chord of the seventh—which is obviously wrong; and invented a new interval bearing the relation of 4:7 to the key-note and which he called I:—but neither of these have stood the test of time. Indeed in his own day the theory of the even temperament steadily gained ground. As a composer he had more fluency than genius; his most interesting works are his fugues, remarkable for their correctness. In 1773–74 he edited a large collection of vocal compositions by Graun, who was a kind friend to him, and 'Psalmen und Gesänge' by Leo (Leonhard) Hassler. The autograph scores of several motets and cantatas, and a quantity of fugues, clavier-sonatas, and similar works, are preserved in the Imperial library at Berlin. Kirnberger was of a quarrelsome temper, and fond of laying down the law, which made him no favourite with his fellow musicians.

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