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A scene at the Oper am Gänsemarkt

A scene at the Oper am Gänsemarkt

Born in 1683, two years before J. S. Bach, to a family of Kirchberg clothmakers, Christoph Graupner displayed an unusual facility for sight-singing at a young age. His uncle, organist Nikolaus Küster, provided Graupner his early musical training and convinced the boy’s parents that he should accompany him to his new post in Reichenbach, also in Saxony, for further education. Graupner was admitted to the St. Thomas School in Leipzig in 1696, long before Bach’s arrival, studied under Johann Kuhnau and collaborated with Telemann, and, upon exmatriculation in 1704, began to study law at the University of Leipzig.

The invasion of Saxony by Swedish troops in 1706 cut short his advanced studies and forced Graupner to flee to Hamburg where he found safety in a position as harpsichordist in an opera orchestra where Handel was a violinist. Between 1707 and 1709, Graupner composed five operas for the Oper am Gänsemarkt in an ecelctic musical style, combining French and German elements, that were well-received by the Hamburg audience.

Then, in 1709, Graupner’s life took another important turn when he accepted the position of Assistant Kapellmeister at the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, rising to the top position in 1712. At first he focused on operatic composition at the Darmstadt Hofkapelle, at one point supervising some forty musicians, but after financial cutbacks in 1717, Graupner abandoned opera, cut the size of his staff and turned his attention to instrumental music and cantatas. Tempted, however, by the thought of returning to Saxony, Graupner competed for the position of cantor of the main churches in Leipzig that had opened up as the result of Kuhnau’s death, but when the Landgrave raised his pay and gave him other incentives to remain in Darmstadt, Graupner turned down the position that Bach finally accepted in 1723.

Now firmly entrenched in Hesse, Graupner composed more than one hundred “symphonies” (three-movement sinfonias or multi-movement dance suites in major keys), half as many concertos (mainly for woodwinds, half in the three-movement Vivaldi pattern and the others in four movements), and a sizable number of chamber works and keyboard suites that fused French and Italian styles. Highly regarded as a harpsichordist and for his accurate, elegant copies of the scores of other popular composers of the day, Graupner composed more than 1,400 Lutheran church cantatas, many of which reflect an awareness of compositional innovations originating elsewhere.

As with Bach, blindness ended Graupner’s career, but Graupner outlived Bach by a decade, dying in Darmstadt in 1760.

Christoph-Graupner-Gesellschaft e. V.

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