Johann Pachelbel was a German composer in the mid-17th and the early 18th century. At that time, there were two major organ schools in Germany, the North School, and the South School. So, Pachelbel was the most famous representative of the latter.
He became nationally-famous during his lifetime with the large number of sacred and secular music compositions that he produced. Without any doubt, Johann Pachelbel was the most famous organist of the middle Baroque period. Today, Pachelbel ‘s Canon in D and the Chaconne in F minor are his two most famous works.
Johann Pachelbel Facts
1. For an organist, Pachelbel’s music was very light and ear-friendly
A distinctive feature of all of Pachelbel’s musical composition is that they are very clear, light and fun to listen to. He was a champion of the contrapuntal style and relied heavily on melodic and harmonic clarity to communicate his artistic ideas, an interesting fact about Johann Pachelbel.
His chamber and vocal compositions both feature an exuberant variety of instrumental combinations and musical techniques. Johann Pachelbel was greatly influenced by Southern German composers Johann Jakob Froberger and Johann Caspar Kerll. To a lesser extent, he also found artistic inspiration in the works of Italian composers Girolamo Frescobaldi and Alessandro Poglietti.
2. Johann Pachelbel spent less than a year at university
The initial musical training that Pachelbel received was practical rather than formal. His first two teachers in his hometown, Nuremberg, were church organists, Heinrich Schwemmer and Georg Caspar Wecker. He enrolled at the University of Altdorf in 1669 to study music.
An interesting fact about Pachelbel is that he dropped out only a year later, as his middle-class family could not support him financially. His father, Johann Hans Pachelbel, was a small wine dealer in Nuremberg. Little is known of Johann Pachelbel’s mother apart from her name, Anne Maria Mair. Because of his exceptional talent and deep understanding of organ music, Pachelbel was allowed to complete his studies the following year at the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg.
3. Pachelbel’s Vienna period
This period of Johann Pachelbel’s life is scarcely and scantily documented. However, it is known for a fact that by 1673 Pachelbel was already living in Vienna and held a high office as a deputy organist at the Saint Stephen Cathedral. In the 1600s, Vienna was the heart of the Habsburg empire and had significant cultural and religious importance.
During his stay in Vienna Johann Pachelbel was greatly influenced by the music of Johann Caspar Kerll. Music scholars and historians sometimes suggest that some of Pachelbel’s pieces show striking similarities with the works of Haydn, who also worked as a musician at Saint Stephen Cathedral at the time.
4. In Erfurt, Pachelbel established himself as one of Germany’s leading composers and organists
In June 1678, Pachelbel found a job as an organist of the Protestant Church in Erfurt. By that time, he had established excellent ties with the Bach family. For a time, he was a private tutor of Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Sebastian’s eldest brother, and moved in Johann Christian Bach’s house. It was in Erfurt where the creative potential of Pachelbel fully developed, and where his talent and technique reached its peak. The chorale prelude became one of his signature compositions of the Erfurt period. Pachelbel’s contract with the Protestant Church in the city specifically required him to regularly compose a number of different preludes for church services.
Pachelbel knew the inner workings of the church’s organ and maintained the instrument in excellent condition throughout his appointment. Every year, he would compose a new large-scale work to prove that his professional development as a composer had not stalled, an interesting fact about Johann Pachelbel.
Each new piece that Pachelbel composed showed significant improvements on its predecessor. By the time Pachelbel’s landlord Johann Christian Bach died in 1682, he had saved enough money to purchase the house he’d been occupying from Bach’s widow the following year.
5. Johann Pachelbel’s two marriages
During his twelve-year Erfurt period, Johann Pachelbel tied the knot twice. His first choice was Barbara Gabler, Erfurt Mayor’s daughter. The wedding reception was organized in the mayor’s mansion in 1681. Only two years later, he lost his wife Barbara and their only child to the Black Death. That year, he poured out his deep grief and sorrow in his collection of chorale variations called Musical Thoughts on Death.
Less than a year after Barbara’s death, Pachelbel married Judith Drommer, daughter of a wealthy merchant. His second marriage proved far happier than his first attempt at family life. Judith and Johann had a total of seven children – five sons and two daughters.
Two of his sons, Wilhelm Hieronymus Pachelbel and Charles Theodore Pachelbel, followed their father’s footsteps and also became organ composers. Their brother, Johann Michael, became an internationally-recognized maker of musical instruments.
6. Pachelbel’s final years in Nuremberg
Pachelbel’s first music teacher Georg Caspar Wecker died in 1695 in the city of Nuremberg. At that time, he was the chief organist at the St. Sebaldus Church. The city councilors decided that there wasn’t a better candidate for the recently vacated position than Wecker’s former disciple.
That same year, Pachelbel was invited to accept the position without any preliminary interviews or review of recommendations. This was an offer that the aging organist could not refuse. All of his daily expenses, utilities and accommodation were paid by the city council.
Towards the end of his life, in 1699, Johann Pachelbel released his fundamental work Hexachordum Apollinis. It is a collection of six keyboard arias with complicated variations. This work was followed by a witty and lively suite in six parts called Musical Delight. He died some years later in Nuremberg and was interred at the St. Rochus Cemetery.
Pachelbel’s music was very popular in his lifetime. However, towards the end of the Baroque era, his name had somehow faded even in Nuremberg. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that music critics and performers started rediscovering Pachelbel’s charming works. Unfortunately, most of Pachelbel’s compositions had been lost for good before his death, because he did not have the money to have them published.
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