Saturday 28 September 2013

The Lamp-Black Merchant's Son: Johann Peter Kellner

Johann Peter Kellner (Gräfenroda, Thuringia, Germany, 28th September 1705 – Gräfenroda, Thuringia, Germany, 19th April 1772)

We have had a fair bit of tragedy of late, so a little triumph seems in order. It's a musical trip to Germany today to meet Johann Peter Kellner, a German organist and composer who rose from unremarkable beginnings to join the circle of Johann Sebastian Bach, moving through most illustrious salons of German nobility.

Born to a lamp-black merchant, Kellner's parents expected their son to continue his father's business but the young man had other, more musical ideas. Whilst at school in Gräfenroda he excelled in music studies, immersing himself in vocal training with Johann Peter Nagel and discovering a love of organ music under the tuition of Nagel's son, Johann Heinrich. It soon became clear to the Nagels that Kellner had an extraordinary talent, one that could not be set aside in favour of lamp-black!

At Nagel's urging, Kellner's parents agreed to send their 15 year old son to Zella, where he continued his organ studies as a pupil of Hieronymus Florentius Quehl. Quehl recognised Kellner's talent and encouraged him to pen compositions of his own, even introducing him to Bach, with whom he became friends. After seven years in Zella, Kellner returned home to Gräfenroda and established himself as a music tutor, still working on his own compositions at every available opportunity.

He became cantor of Frankenhain in 1725 and two years later was assistant cantor in Gräfenroda, eventually assuming the role of cantor in 1732 when the elder Nagel died. Famed for his keyboard skills, he was in great demand in the finest houses of Germany, travelling the country and encouraging an audience for Bach, whose works he transcribed and handed out on his travels.

Kellner continued as cantor until his death, leaving behind a rich body of work; his music is still played today and the list of friends, pupils and clients in his 1754 autobiography is a who's who of the German music world of the 18th century. Not a bad legacy for a lad who was expected to sell lamp-black!


Unknown said...

Yes, an uplifting tale, at last! No guillotines, hangings, murders or poverty. :) I'm not a great fan of organists, I have to admit, but this does show how skilled these very important functionaries of 18th Century church music were. Bravo!

Catherine Curzon said...

A tale of actual triumph with no nasty sting in the tail... I thought we were due one!