Johann Kaspar Kerll (April 9, 1627 ? February 13, 1693) was a German baroque composer and organist. Son of an organist, he showed outstanding musical abilities at an early age, and was taught by Giovanni Valentini, court Kapellmeister at Vienna. Kerll became one of the most acclaimed composers of his time, known both as a gifted composer and an outstanding teacher. He worked at Vienna, Munich and Brussels, and also travelled widely. His pupils included Agostino Steffani, Franz Xaver Murschhauser, and possibly Johann Pachelbel, and his influence is seen in works by Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach: Handel frequently borrowed themes and fragments of music from Kerll's works, and Bach arranged the Sanctus movement from Kerll's Missa superba as BWV 241, Sanctus in D major.
Although Kerll was a well-known and influential composer, many of his works are currently lost. The losses are particularly striking in vocal music, with all 11 known operas and 24 offertories missing. The surviving oeuvre shows Kerll's mastery of the Italian concerted style, employed in almost all of his masses, and his highly developed contrapuntal technique. He was influenced by Heinrich Schütz in his sacred vocal music, and by Girolamo Frescobaldi in keyboard works.
Kerll was highly regarded by his contemporaries: many of his works were published during his lifetime. Particularly important are the many printed concerted masses, a collection of motets and sacred concertos entitled Delectus sacrarum cantionum (Munich, 1669) and Modulatio organica super Magnificat octo ecclesiaticis tonis respondens (Munich, 1686), which contains liturgical organ music. Kerll wasn't an especially prolific composer, so the surviving works are relatively few. Much of his music was lost, including 11 operas (which he was most famous for during his lifetime), 25 offertories, four masses, litanies, chamber sonatas and miscellaneous keyboard works.
Keyboard music The surviving keyboard music is cast in the typical southern German style, combining strict German counterpoint with Italian styles and techniques; Frescobaldi and especially Froberger were the most important influences. Most of Kerll's keyboard works are playable on both pipe organ and harpsichord, the exceptions are four dance suites composed for harpsichord and two organ toccatas: Toccata quarta Cromatica con Durezze e Ligature and Toccata sesta per il pedali. Partial chronology can be established using Kerll's (incomplete) catalogue of his own works which is included in the 1686 Modulatio organica (it is the earliest surviving thematic catalogue of a specific composer's works): it lists 22 pieces, 18 of which were composed by 1676 at the latest. The earliest known composition by Kerll, Ricercata ŕ 4 in A (also known as Ricercata in Cylindrum phonotacticum transferanda), was published in 1650 in Rome.
Kerll's eight toccatas (that correspond to the eight church modes) alternate between free and strict contrapuntal sections, sometimes in contrasting meters. Frequent use of 12/8 gigue-like endings is similar to Froberger's toccatas. The four dance suites are also reminiscent of Froberger's suites, yet two of them contain variation movements. Kerll's canzonas consist, typically for the time, of several fugal sections; some also have toccata-like passagework embedded in the development of cadences. Two ostinato works survive, a passacaglia and a chaconne, both built on a descending bass pattern; the passacaglia is perhaps Kerll's most well-known work.
The two best known keyboard pieces by Kerll are both programmatic, descriptive pieces. Battaglia is a descriptive piece in C major, over 200 bars long and featuring numerous repeats of fanfare-like themes, it is also attributed to Juan Bautista Cabanilles. Capriccio sopra il Cucu is based on an imitation of cuckoo's call, which is heard more than 200 times in the piece. It is modelled after Frescobaldi's piece based on the same idea, Capriccio sopra il cucho, but is more structurally and harmonically complex. The idea of repeating a particular theme in Kerll's music reaches its extreme in the Magnificat tertii toni, where a fugue subject consists of sixteen repeated E's).
Vocal and chamber music Kerll wrote numerous non-keyboard works, especially during the Munich years: while he was reviving the court chapel ensemble of the Munich court, Kerll must have composed a wealth of chamber music, and all operas (around 10 or 11) were also all composed in Munich, starting with the 1657 Oronte. Kerll's chamber works include a canzona for two violins, viola da gamba and basso continuo and three sonatas. Most vocal works employ an advanced concertato technique; the requiem mass Missa pro defunctis from 1669, scored for five voices with no accompaniment, is a notable exception. The works of Delectus sacrarum cantionum, motets and sacred concertos for 2-5 voices, are sectional compositions alternating between imitative writing and free, highly ornamented parts. They are reminiscent of Heinrich Schütz's pieces from Kleine geistliche Concerte.
Six of the surviving masses were published during Kerll's lifetime as Missae sex, cum instrumentis concertantibus, e vocibus in ripieno, adjuncta una pro defunctis cum seq. Dies irae (Munich, 1689). The complex imitative counterpoint that dominates Kerll's chamber music is also present in most of his sacred vocal works: in Missa non sine quare every movement ends with a grand fugue, a similar technique is seen in Missa Renovationis (which is almost entirely based on five themes used for the Kyrie movement), where every division of the mass also closes with a large fugal section. Stretto entries of a highly chromatic subject in works like Missa in fletu solatium result in strong dissonances (the mass in question, commemorating the events of a Turkish siege that cost Kerll's friend, Alessandro Poglietti, his life, contains a continuo part that includes an 'avoid consonances' warning from the composer).
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