Zelter, Carl Friedrich

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Zelter, Carl Friedrich

Zelter, Carl Friedrich, eminent German composer and teacher; b. Berlin, Dec. 11,1758; d. there, May 15,1832. The son of a mason, he was brought up in the same trade, but his musical inclinations soon asserted themselves. He began training in piano and violin at 17, and from 1779 he was a part-time violinist in the Doebbelin Theater orch. in Berlin; was a pupil of C.F.C. Fasch (1784-86). In 1786 he brought out a funeral cantata on the death of Frederick the Great. In 1791 he joined the Singverein (later Singakademie) conducted by Fasch, often acting as his deputy, and succeeding him in 1800. He was elected associate (“Assessor”) of the Royal Academy of the Arts in Berlin in 1806, becoming a prof, in 1809. In 1807 he organized a Ripienschule for orch. practice, and in 1809 he founded in Berlin the Liedertafel, a pioneer men’s choral society that became famous; similar organizations were subsequently formed throughout Germany, and later in America. Zelter composed about 100 men’s choruses for the Liedertafel. In 1822 he founded the Royal Inst. for Church Music in Berlin, of which he was director until his death (the Inst. was later reorganized as the Akademie für Kirchen-und Schulmusik). His students included Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Loewe, and Nicolai. Goethe greatly admired Zelter’s musical settings of his poems, preferring them to Schubert’s and Beethoven’s; this predilection led to their friendship, which was reflected in a voluminous correspondence, Briefwechsel zwischen Goethe und Zelter (ed. in 6 vols, by F.W. Riemer, Berlin, 1833-34; ed. in 3 vols, by L. Geiger, Leipzig, 1906; ed. in 4 vols, by M. Hecker, Leipzig, 1913; Eng. tr. by A.D. Coleridge, London, 1887). His songs are historically important, since they form a link between old ballad types and the new art of the lied, which found its flowering in Schubert and Schumann. Zelter’s settings of Goethe’s König von Thule and of Es ist ein Schuss gefallen became extremely popular. He publ. a biography of Fasch (Berlin, 1801). Zelter’s autobiography was first publ. under the title C.F. Zelter. Eine Lebensbeschreibung nach autobiographischen Manuscripten, ed. by W. Rintel, then as C.F. Zelter. Darstellungen seines Lebens (Weimar, 1931).


vocal: Lieder: 22 Lieder am Klavier zu singen (Berlin and Leipzig, 1796); 12 Lieder am Klavier zu singen (Berlin, 1801); Sammlung kleiner Balladen und Lieder (Hamburg, c. 1802); Sämmtliche Lieder, Balladen und Romanzen (4 vols., Berlin, 1810-13); Neue Liedersammlung (Zürich and Berlin, 1821); 6 deutsche Lieder for Bass and Piano (Berlin, c. 1826); 6 deutsche Lieder for Alto and Piano (Berlin, c. 1827); Täfellieder für 4Männerstimmen (Berlin, n.d.); 10 Lieder für Männerstimmen (Berlin, c. 1831); Liedertafel-Gesänge (6 vols.); etc. OTHERVOCAL: Many other works, including sacred and secular choral pieces. OTHER: Viola Concerto (1779); various keyboard pieces.


.I W. Bornemann, Die Z.sche Liedertafel in Berlin (Berlin, 1851); L. Sieber, CF. Z. und der deutsche Männergesang (Basel, 1862); G. Kruse, Z. (Leipzig, 1915; 2nd ed., 1921); A. Morgenroth, CF. Z.(diss., Univ. of Berlin, 1922); G. Schünemann, CF. Z., der Begründer der preussischen Musikpflege (Berlin, 1932); G. Wittmann, Das klavierbegleitete Sololied K.F. Z.s (diss., Univ. of Giessen, 1936); G. Schünemann, CF. Z.: Der Mensch und sein Werk (Berlin, 1937); S. Holtzmann, ed., CF. Z. im Spiegel seines Briefwechsel mit Goethe (Weimar, 1957); W Reich, ed., CF. Z., Selbstdarstellung (Zürich, 1958); K. Taubert, CF. Z.: Ein Leben durch das Handwerk für die Musik (Berlin, 1958); M. Victor, CF. Z. und seine Freundschaft mit Goethe (Berlin and Weimar, 1958); R. Barr, CF. Z.: A Study of the Lied in Berlin during the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries (diss., Univ. of Wise, 1968); D. Fischer-Dieskau, CF. Z. und das Berliner Musikleben seiner Zeit: Eine Biographie (Berlin, 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire