University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Some Publications of Johann Mattheson

Volume XVII · Spring 1962 · Number 3
Some Publications of Johann Mattheson

Johann Mattheson has been called the first professional music critic. His writings constitute an important source of technical and background information about that period in which Johann Sebastian Bach was setting down his prodigious contribution to musical literature. Mattheson was himself a composer, keyboard performer, and improviser--a thoroughly trained and competent musician. Before his voice had changed, he was already associated with the Hamburg Opera, following a course parallel to that of his slightly younger colleague and rival in the company, Georg Friedrich Handel. But Mattheson was destined to be remembered more for what he would write about music than for his own operas, oratorios, and keyboard pieces. In 1704, he obtained a post as tutor to Cyril Wich, son of the English Resident in Hamburg. Handel had apparently sought the position also, and Mattheson ascribes a duel between himself and Handel, which occurred at this time, to Handel's chagrin at being passed over. His account is probably biased, but, in any event, Mattheson went on to become tutor to the diplomat's young son and then secretary to the ambassador himself, while Handel proceeded with his tumultuous career as an opera composer and entrepreneur. Thus, in his twenty-third year, Mattheson was cast in the role of critic and spokesman for the last generation of Baroque musicians. He remained in the secretaryship for forty-five years and it proved an excellent vantage point for surveying the complex musical practice of his time.

Mattheson's first musical treatise was published in 1713. Das neueröffnete Orchestre represented a forthright challenge to established musical authority in Germany. The style of writing is in itself a sly satire on the ponderous, Latinized prose common in learned treatises of that time; Mattheson's text is loaded with French nouns and verbs. Among the more important of his targets were the ossified systems of musical instruction maintained by the guilds of town musicians and by the Lutheran school system. The latter, offering the only formal musical education in Protestant Germany, based its entire program on a theory of tonal relationships which had been taught to Palestrina and all his predecessors back to the year 1000 A.D. Mattheson's review of the empirical findings of nearly seven centuries was moderate in tone, but his recommendations involved him in the last of the great polemics concerning the antiquated Guidonian solmization system.

In the same year, Mattheson made his first venture into serial publication. His employment at the English legation had brought him into contact with the popular journalism emanating from London at this period and he had been publishing his own translations of isolated political articles, sermons, and essays by English writers since 1708. In the spring of 1713, Mattheson began to issue translations of essays taken from the Tatler and theSpectator--the first imitations of Addison and Steele's famous journals to appear in Germany. In translating the pieces, Mattheson adapted them to the local scene in Hamburg with such skill that they were widely taken for original essays (as seven of them actually were). Consequently, when prominent Hamburgers began to see real or imagined satirical references to themselves, public indignation was aroused, "lampoons were got out," and Mattheson terminated the series. A collected edition, published in 1721, bears the title, Die Vernünftler.

Between 1722 and 1725, Mattheson published another serial which was probably the first music periodical to appear in any language. Called Critica musica, the journal came out in two volumes of twelve issues each. The series seems to have been conceived as a forum for the learned discussion of musical topics, for each subject is treated in three successive issues, with a section devoted to current news and letters appended to every number.

Der musicalische Patriot also came out as a periodical of sorts, although it is probably better described as a book published in weekly installments. Mattheson brought it out in 1728, during a heated controversy over the style of music proper for ecclesiastical use. Many composers were employing musical devices originally developed in operatic practice for underlining the emotional content of Biblical texts; the texts themselves were frequently corrupt, sentimentalized adaptations of the Bible. Mattheson had himself composed a number of highly dramatic oratorios for the Hamburg Domkirche, where he was musical director. In fact, he had gone so far as to introduce women singers into the formal music of the Dom--a practice unheard of in the Lutheran churches of Hamburg prior to his time. The extreme position which he adopted in the argument provoked the most acrimonious rebuttals of any ever directed at him, including slurs on his musical abilities and pointed references to his increasing deafness.

In the following decade, Mattheson turned from critical to didactic writing, publishing several books of instructions for playing figured basses between 1731 and 1735. The most important of his preceptive treatises appeared in 1739; Mattheson set forth the practical, theoretical, and aesthetic principles which he regarded as indispensable for the well-trained director of musical organizations in an encyclopedic volume entitled Der vollkommene Capellmeister. In the next year, a volume planned by Mattheson for a full quarter-century was completed and published. Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte is a collection of autobiographical sketches of Mattheson's contemporaries. J. S. Bach was the only important musician of the time who failed to supply information at Mattheson's request.

The two last-named works mark the zenith of Mattheson's efforts in musical criticism and instruction. During the next two decades, he published--along with numerous literary works--an examination of opera as an art form, an analysis of Biblical passages relating to the use of music in Heaven, a further defense of dramatic church music, several collections of essays on various musical subjects, and finally, in 1761, a translation of Mainwaring's biography of Handel. Mattheson died at Hamburg in 1764, during his eighty-third year.

Contemporaneous editions of books and scores by Mattheson owned by the Sibley Music Library are listed below. All items were published in Hamburg, except as noted.

  • Matthesons harmonisches Denckmahl. . . London, 1714. A collection of keyboard suites.
  • Das beschützte Orchestre. . . 1717. A defense of the positions adopted by Mattheson in his first treatise,Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre. This volume is notable for the first reference to J. S. Bach put into print.
  • Exemplarische Organisten-Probe... 1719. Mattheson's first book of instructions for the playing of figured bass accompaniments.
  • Critica musica... 1722-1725. The twenty-four issues of the periodical are collected in two volumes of twelve numbers each.
  • Der neue göttingische aber viel schlechter. . . Ephorus... 1727. A defense of dramatic church music, written in answer to an attack by Joachim Meyer, a professor at the University of Göttingen. Mattheson's title is an insulting reference to Meyer's veracity.
  • Der musicalische Patriot. . . 1728.
  • Johann Matthesons grosse General-Bass-Schule. .. 1731. A rewritten and expanded version of theExemplarische Organisten-Probe.
  • Johann Matthesons. . . kleine General-Bass-Schule... 1735.
  • Die wol-klingende Finger-Sprache in zwölf Fugen... 1735 and 1737. The collection appeared in two volumes of six fugues each, here bound in one volume.
  • Kern melodischer Wissenschaft.. . 1737. Mattheson's theory and analysis of melody as the fundamental element of music. His insistence on the greater importance of melodic as opposed to chordal theory placed him in direct opposition to J. P. Rameau, the most distinguished theorist of the Baroque period.
  • Der vollkommene Capellmeister. . . 1739. Representing a synthesis and elaboration of Mattheson's previously expressed convictions about music and musical instruction, this work is one of the most important sources of information about Baroque musical practice extent.
  • Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte.. . 1740. A collection of biographies drawn from the musicians' own accounts of their lives and from other sources. Mattheson had started collecting the material at least as early as 1714.
  • Die neueste Untersuchung der Singspiele. . . 1744. An investigation of the moral and aesthetic value of opera as an art form.
  • Behauptung der himmlischen Musik. . . 1747. An analysis of Biblical statements concerning the existence of music in Heaven.
  • Matthesons philologisches Tresespiel. . . 1752.
  • Matthesonii plus ultra... 1754-1755. Parts one and two of a four-part series of essays on various musical subjects.

The following editions in the Sibley Music Library are also associated with Mattheson, as described below.

  • Georg Friedrich Handels Lebenschreibung ... 1761. Mattheson's translation of the biography by John Mainwaring.
  • Niedt, Friedrich Erhardt. Friedrich Erhardt Niedtens musicalischer Handleitungdritter Theil... 1717. Mattheson edited this work and Christoph Rauspach's Veritophili deutliche Beweis-Grunde, bound here in a single volume, in the same year.
  • Abhandlung von den Pantomimen.. . 1749. The Gesamtkatalog of the Prussian Library attributes this volume to Mattheson; the British Museum catalog names J. Chr. Strodtmann as the author.
  • Das forschende Orchestre. . . 1721. The third of Mattheson's "orchestra" treatises, the work is represented in the collection by a Microcard reproduction.