Johann Mattheson (1681 – 1764) was a German composer,
singer, writer, lexicographer, diplomat and music
theorist. He was born and died in Hamburg. He was a
close friend of George Frideric Handel, although he
nearly killed him in a sudden quarrel, during a
performance of Mattheson's opera Cleopatra in 1704.
Handel was saved only by a large button which turned
aside Mattheson's sword. The two were afterwards
reconciled and remained in correspondence for life:
shortly after his friend's death, Mattheson translated
John Mainwaring's Handel biography into German and had
it published in Hamburg at his own expense ("auf Kosten
des Übersetzers") in 1761.
The son of a well-to-do tax collector, Mattheson
received a broad liberal education and, aside from
general musical training, took lessons in keyboard
instruments, violin, composition and singing. By age
nine he was singing and playing organ in church and was
a member of the chorus of the Hamburg opera. He made
his solo debut with the Hamburg opera in 1696 in female
roles and, after his voice changed, sang tenor at the
opera, conducted rehearsals and composed operas
himself. He was cantor at St. Mary's Cathedral from
1718 until increasing deafness led to his retirement
from that post in 1728.
Mattheson's chief occupation from 1706 was as a
professional diplomat. He had studied English in school
and spoke it fluently. He became tutor to the son of
the English ambassador Sir John Wich and then secretary
to the ambassador. He went on diplomatic missions
abroad representing the ambassador. In 1709 he married
an English woman. After his death in 1764, Johann
Mattheson was buried in the vault of Hamburg's St.
Michaelis' Church where his grave can be visited.
Mattheson is mainly famous as a music theorist. He was
the most abundant writer on performance practice,
theatrical style, and harmony of the German Baroque. He
is particularly important for his work on the
relationship of the disciplines of rhetoric and music,
for example in Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre and Der
vollkommene Capellmeister. However his books raise more
and more attention and suspicion because Mattheson was
a brilliant polemist and his theories on music are
often full of pedantry and pseudo-erudition.
The bulk of his compositional output was vocal,
including eight operas, and numerous oratorios and
cantatas. He also wrote a few sonatas and some keyboard
music, including pieces meant for keyboard instruction.
All of his music, except for one opera, one oratorio,
and a few collections of instrumental music, went
missing after World War II, but was given back to
Hamburg from Yerevan, Armenia, in 1998. This includes
four operas and most of the oratorios. The manuscripts
are now located at the Staats- und
Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, the former Hamburg
Stadtbibliothek (City Library).
Although originally written for Solo Piano, I created
this Interpretation of the Suite Premicre pour le
Clavecin (No. 1) for String Quartet (2 Violins, Viola &