Walther, Johann Gottfried

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Walther, Johann Gottfried

Walther, Johann Gottfried, eminent German organist, music scholar, pedagogue, and composer; b. Erfurt, Sept. 18, 1684; d. Weimar, March 23, 1748. He studied organ in Erfurt with Johann Bernhard Bach and Johann Andreas Kretschmar. He became organist of the Thomaskirche there in 1702 and concurrently studied philosophy and law briefly at the Univ. of Erfurt. He studied composition with Johann Heinrich Buttstett; after travel in Germany, he continued his studies with Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel in Nuremberg (1706), then became organist of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Weimar (1707), a post he held for the rest of his life. He also served as music master at the ducal court and was made Hofmusicus of the ducal Court Orch. in 1721. Walther assembled a valuable library of music and books on music, which prompted him to pursue diligent musical research. This culminated in his great Musicalisches Lexicon (1732), the first music dictionary to encompass biographies of musicians of the past and present, musical terms, and bibliographies. He also left in MS the important treatise Praecepta der musicalischen Composition (1708), which was not publ. until the 20thcentury. He composed much sacred vocal music, but only one work, Kyrie, Giuste, Kyrie eleison über Wo Gott zum Haus nicht giebt sein Gunst, has survived. However, over 100 chorale preludes for organ are extant. These place him next to J. S. Bach—his distant relation and lifelong friend—as a master of the genre. He also prepared valuable MS copies of works by other composers, many of which remain the only known sources. For his organ music, see M. Seiffert, ed., /. G. Walther: Gesammelte Werke für Orgel, in Denkmäler Deutscher Tonkunst, XXVI-XXVII (1906; this ed. includes some works now known not to be by Walther); other works for keyboard are also extant.


Praecepta der musicalischen Composition (1708; ed. by P. Benary, Leipzig, 1960); Alte und neue musicalische Bibliothek (Weimar and Erfurt, 1728; only entries under the letter A publ. as a preliminary to the following); Musicalisches Lexicon, oder Musicalische Bibliothec (Leipzig, 1732; facsimile, with bibliographical notes, ed. by R. Schaal, Kassel, 1953).


H. Egel, /. G. W.s Leben und Werke (diss., Univ. of Leipzig, 1904); O. Brodde, /. G. W.: Leben und Werk (Kassel, 1937); K. Beckmann and H.-J. Schulze, eds., /. G. W.: Briefe (Leipzig, 1987).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire