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Reinhard Keiser (Composer)

Born: January 9, 1674 - Teuchern (about 8 km south of Weißenfels), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
Died: September 12, 1739 - Hamburg, Germany

Reinhard Keiser [Kayser] was a popular German opera composer based in Hamburg. He wrote over a hundred operas, and in 1745 Johann Adolph Scheibe considered him an equal to Johann Kuhnau, Georg Friedrich Händel and Georg Philipp Telemann (also related to the Hamburg Opera), but his work was largely forgotten for many decades.

Reinhard Keiser was the son of the organist, composer and teacher Gottfried Keiser (b c1650). His father abandoned his mother and her two sons while Reinhard was still a youth, and Reinhard was educated by other organists in the town. From age 11 he studied at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where his teachers included Johann Schelle (music) and most probably also Johann Kuhnau (composition), both direct predecessors of J.S. Bach.

In 1694, Reinhard Keiser became court-composer to the duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, though he had probably come to the court already as early as 1692 to study its renowned operas, which had been going on since 1691, when the city had built a 1200-seater opera-house. Johann Kusser was in charge of the Brunswick opera, and it was due to his early influence that R. Keiser began having operas produced for the theatres in Brunswick and Hamburg. R. Keiser put on his first opera Procris und Cephalus there and, the same year, his opera Basilius was put on at Hamburg and, as the musicologist Johann Mattheson noted, "received with great success and applause." This was a fruitful period for him - composing not only operas, but arias, duets, cantatas, sérénades, church music and big oratorios, background music - all for the city's use.

By 1697, Reinhard Keiser had already written several operas for the Hamburg stage, and moved there permanently. He became the chief composer at the highly renowned Hamburg Opera House, also known as the Gänsemarkt Theater of Hamburg, from 1697 to 1717. From 1703 to 1709, he managed the Gänsemarkt Theater, moving it from being a public institution to a commercial entity with two to three representations per week, in contrast to the operas intended for nobility. Between the years 1705 and 1718, he produced countless new works. Financial difficulties soon followed, supposedly due to his own extravagances.

In 1718, with the Hamburg Opera defunct, the management changed hands, and Reinhard Keiser was dropped as musical director. He left Hamburg to seek other employment, going to Thuringia and then Stuttgart. He did not again work steadily for any theatre until 1722. From this period three manuscripts of sonatas in trio for flute, violin and bass continuo survive. During the summer 1721, he returned to Hamburg, but only a few weeks later made a rapid exit to Copenhagen with a Hamburg opera troop, probably because of the growing influence of Georg Philipp Telemann, engaged by the city magistrate in R. Keiser's absence. Between 1721 and 1727, R. Keiser travelled back and forth between Hamburg and Copenhagen, receiving the title of Master of the Danish Royal Chapel.

After the dissolution of the opera troop, Reinhard Keiser was brought back to the Gänsemarkt under G.P. Telemann, and the two composers worked side by side, with R. Keiser the dominant force in operatic composition and production. Changes in its modus operandi made repeating past success difficult. Three operas from the period between 1722 and 1734 survive. Personal relations with G.P. Telemann remained good, with G.P. Telemann programming several productions of R. Keiser's operas. On December 28, 1728, R. Keiser became the Kantor of the Hamburg Cathedral, and retired from operatic composition altogether. He wrote largely church music there until his death in 1739.


Reinhard Keiser was, to his contemporaries, the pre-eminent German composer of opera of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Although he did not create a truly German national opera, the quality of his compositions raised German operatic art to a new, higher level. He was known especially for his prolific melodic inspiration, his adventuresome orchestrations, and his versatility as a composer and dramatist. He composed music in many genres, including sacred music, chamber music, and French ballet, but opera was his first love, and he devoted most of his energies to dramatic vocal works. He composed operas on all kinds of subjects, including pastoral, comic, biblical, romantic, historical, and mythological. One of his finest works was an operatic character study of the Neapolitan revolutionary Masagniello, and he also set a story based on the escapades of two Hamburg pirates. He treated each of his subjects individually, changing his musical approach to fit the dramatic content of the libretti. His view of opera was that the music should express the changing emotions and motivations of the characters of the drama. To this end, he made a study of musical declamation, and turned his recitatives into highly expressive lines reflective of the oratorical and rhetorical nature of the texts. J. Mattheson and J.A. Scheibe both considered him the finest and most original of the contemporary German composers, and G.F. Händel pirated Keiser's scores repeatedly, using Keiser's smooth, graceful melodies in countless of his own operas and oratorios. Earlier musicologists numbered Keiser's operas in the hundreds, and there were also numerous occasional works, ballets, and serenatas. Only a portion of these works survives today.

Reinhard Keiser's personality was both extravagant and self-indulgent, while his work habits were exacting. His later operas show increasingly the influence of Italian opera on his own works; he adapted aria forms, scenic structures, and much of his musical language from the Italians. He introduced, in the 1720's and 1730's, the practice of interpolating into his German operas, pre-composed Italian arias. Because Italian music was so popular and well loved in Hamburg, this soon became a standard practice with all German composers. The interpolations were many, but the other composers were always acknowledged in the libretti.

J.S. Bach Connection

J.S. Bach probably became acquainted with J. Keiser's music when he visited Hamburg during his years at Michelisschule in Lüneburg. In Weimar, and again in Leipzig, he performed Markus-Passion by J. Keiser (composed c1710) (this work is now attributed to Friedrich Nicolaus Brauns).

Major Operas

(First performances in Hamburg, unless stated otherwise)

Der königliche Schäfer oder Basilius in Arkadien (probably Braunsc1693)
Cephalus und Procris (Braunschweig 1694)
Der geliebte Adonis (1697)
Der bei dem allgemeinen Welt-Frieden von dem Großen Augustus geschlossene Tempel des Janus (1698)
Die wunderbar errettete Iphigenia (1699)
Die Verbindung des großen Herkules mit der schönen Hebe (1699)
La forza della virtù oder Die Macht der Tugend (1700)
Störtebeker und Jödge Michels (2 sections, 1701)
Die sterbende Eurydice oder Orpheus (2 sections, 1702)
Die verdammte Staat-Sucht, oder Der verführte Claudius (1703)
Der gestürzte und wieder erhöhte Nebukadnezar, König zu Babylon (1704)
Die römische Unruhe oder Die edelmütige Octavia (1705)
Die kleinmütige Selbst-Mörderin Lucretia oder Die Staats-Torheit des Brutus (1705)
Die neapolitanische Fischer-Empörung oder Masaniello furioso (1706)
Der angenehme Betrug oder Der Carneval von Venedig (1707)
La forza dell'amore oder Die von Paris entführte Helena (1709)
Desiderius, König der Langobarden (1709)
Der durch den Fall des großen Pompejus erhöhete Julius Caesar (1710)
Der hochmütige, gestürzte und wieder erhabene Croesus (1710, revised edition 1730)
L'inganno fedele oder Der getreue Betrug (1714)
Fredegunda (1715)
L'Amore verso la patria oder Der sterbende Cato (1715)
Das zerstörte Troja oder Der durch den Tod Helenens versöhnte Achilles (1716)
Die großmütige Tomyris (1717)
Jobates und Bellerophon (1717)
Ulysses (Copenhagen 1722)
Bretislaus oder Die siegende Beständigkeit (1725)
Der lächerliche Printz Jodelet (1726)
Lucius Verus oder Die siegende Treue (1728)


Source: All Music Guide (Author: Rita Laurance): Wikipedia Website (incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica); Malcom Boyd, editor: Oxford Composer Companion J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999, Article author: Tim Crawford)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Reinhard Keiser: Short Biography | Brockes-Passion | F.N. Brauns: Markus-Passion

Works arranged / performed by J.S. Bach

Markus-Passion (c1710), including movements composed by J.S. Bach, BC D5 (Text: ?)
- 1st performance by J.S.Bach in
Weimar on March 30, 1714 or 1713 or earlier (OCC)
- 2nd performance by J.S. Bach at Nikolaikirche in
Leipzig on April 19, 1726; additional chorales were included for this performance.
Pasticcio Passion, imcorporating music by
Georg Friedrich Händel & R. Keiser - performed by J.S.Bach at Thomaskirche in Leipzig on April 12, 1748 (?).
The composer of this
Markus-Passion is now acknowledged as Friedrich Nicolaus Brauns

Links to other Sites

The Reinhard Keiser Society [German]
Reinhard Keiser (Wikipedia)
HOASM: Reinhard Keiser
Reinhard Keiser (Sojurn)

Reinhard Keiser (Britannica)
Reinhard Keiser (Grainger)
Reinhard Keiser (
Reinhard Keiser (Nation Master)



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