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Christian Friedrich Witt (Composer)

Born: c 1660 - Altenburg, Germany
Died: April 13 (or 3), 1716 - Altenburg or Gotha, Germany

Christian Friedrich Witt [Witte] was a German composer, music editor and teacher. He was first taught music by his father, Johann Ernst Witt, who was Altenburg court organist in succession to Gottfried Scheidt and had come from Denmark when a Danish princess married into the ruling house of Saxe-Altenburg about 1650. The Altenburg male heirs having all died out, the succession passed in 1672 to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, Friedrich I, who, probably in 1676, gave Witt a scholarship to study in Vienna and Salzburg. He also paid for him to study composition and counterpoint with Georg Kaspar Wecker in Nuremberg in 1685-1686.

On June 1, 1686 Christian Friedrich Witt was appointed chamber organist at the Gotha court. In 1688 he was again sent to study with Georg Kaspar Wecker. In 1694 he was appointed substitute for the Kapellmeister, W.M. Mylius, and he succeeded him after his death, in 1713. He was well thought of as a teacher, not only within the Dukedom of Gotha; the future Duke Friedrich II was among his pupils. He was also admired as an able keyboard player (in J.P. Treiber’s Der accurate Organist im General-Bass, 1704) and Kapellmeister (in Georg Philipp Telemann’s Beschreibung der Augen-Orgel, 1739). He enjoyed good relations with neighbouring courts, including those of Ansbach-Bayreuth, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Saxe-Weißenfels, and several works by him are listed in inventories from there.

Christian Friedrich Witt was one the best composers of his time. He was a versatile composer of both vocal and instrumental music. His vocal music consists largely of church cantatas (many of which appear to be lost), prominent among which are those forming the so-called Rentweinsdorf cycle, for every Sunday and festival of the church’s year, which survive in partbooks emanating from the church at Rentweinsdorf, Lower Franconia. The cantatas are in a rather old-fashioned style without recitatives. There is often an instrumental introduction, and the vocal sections include fully scored concerto movements, solos and duets, and homophonic chorale choruses crowned by an instrumental part. He compiled collection of chorale texts and melodies: Psalmodia sacra, Oder: Andächtige und schöne Gesängeund schöne Gesänge…(Gotha, 1715). This is one of the most important hymnals of the early 18th century; Marpurg praised it as the best hymnal he knew. Of its 762 hymns, 351 are furnished with melodies and figured basses, and an appendix includes 12 hymns and five melodies. Apart from tunes by 16th- and 17th-century composers from Thuringia and elsewhere, there are over 100 new ones, most of which are doubtless by Witt himself. His Whitsuntide hymn Schmückt das Fest mit Maien is still found in Protestant hymnbooks.

Christian Friedrich Witt also wrote 3 French overtures, a 7-part sonata, 4 suites, organ and harpsicord pieces (Riemann; Q.-L.). His instrumental music includes both ‘ouvertures’ (or suites) in the French style and italianate, concerto-like sonatas, mainly in four to seven parts, whose textures include the three-part concertino typical of the concerto grosso. His varied output of keyboard works, many of them now lost, includes several harpsichord suites and a passacaglia in D minor once wrongly attributed to J.S. Bach.

In 1717 J.S. Bach was asked to present a musical Passion at the Palace Church of Gotha, where the kapelmeister to the Duke of Saxe Gotha lay dying. On Good Friday, March 26, J.S. Bach subtitued for the fatally ill Christian Friedrich Witt. He received 12 tallers for this guest performance. No copies of that Passion have survived, leaving us in the dark about the exact nature of the text and the music. It is also possible that J.S. Bach was a candidate for the kapellmeistership at the ducal court of Gotha.


printed works published in Gotha:
65 cants., Rentweinsdorf cycle, 4vv, 2 vn, 2 viols, bc, 1 with 2 clarinos, some with bn/vle, D-Nla, 2 in F-Ssp, full titles in Krummacher
12 cants., 3 in D-Bsb, 2 in F, 1 in LUC, 6 in F-Ssp
Funeral ode (Wer kan des Höchsten Rath), 5vv, 1697
Psalmodia sacra, oder Andächtige und schöne Gesänge, containing 356 melodies, c100 by Witt, 1v, bc (1715, 2/n.d. as Neues Cantional mit dem Generalbass); 104 ed. in ZahnM
Das neuerbaute … Lust-Schloss Friederichswerth … in nachgesetzten Gespräch-Spielvorgestellt (1689); Friedensteinische Freuden-Bezeugung (1691); Unterthänigster Glückwunsch … in einer Tafel-Music (1692); Salomonisches Regentengebet und dessen Erhörung (1693); Das gute Vernehmen zwischen Haupt und Gliedern (1694); Das glückliche Pentalpha, oder Fünffeckigter Grund-Stein wohlgerathener Heyrath (1696); Erbauliche Übereinstimmung der Sonn- und Festtags-Evangelien, cantata cycle for a year (1696); Unterthänigstes Denck- und Danck-Mahl (1696); Ich will den Herren loben (Ps xxxiv), double choir, formerly D-WRtl; cants., mentioned in inventories of Ansbach Hofkapelle, 1686, Rudolstadt Hofkapelle, St Peter’s Church, Strasbourg

3 ouvertures, a 4, 6, D-Kl
3 suites, a 4–6, 2 in WRtl, 1 in Kl; 1 ed. in HM, xcix (1952)
7 sonatas, a 4–7, 10, 5 in WRtl, 2 in Kl
3 marches, a 4, JE; ed. P. Rubardt (Kassel, 1954); ed. G. Zahn (Zürich, 1992)
Conc., tpt, insts, WRz
6 suites, kbd, 3 in Bsb, 3 in JE (dated, 1704); selection ed. L. Cerutti and F. Rima (Padua, 1994–5)
Canzona, capriccio, chaconne, kbd, Lem
Prelude, 2 fugues, menuet, kbd, Bsb
Passacaglia, org, Kl; ed. E. Naumann, J.S. Bach: Werke, xlii (Leipzig, 1894/R1947) [formerly attrib. J.S. Bach, bwv Anh.182]
Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn, chorale prelude, org, Bsb; ed. in EDM, 1st ser., ix (1937)
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, chorale prelude, org, ed. G.W. Körner, Der Orgelfreund, viii (Erfurt, n.d.) [known only from edn]
Lost kbd:
Aus tiefer Not, chorale prelude, org, formerly D-Bds, USSR-KAu; 2 canzonas, 2 fugues, formerly D-Bds; 3 suites, 2 fugues, chaconne and fugue, formerly Hs; 12 preludes, 3 fugues, 3 preludes and fugues, formerly Fürstliche Bibliothek, Wernigerode; 2 fugues, 2 preludes and fugues, formerly D-MY; Chaconne and vars., chorale vars., mentioned in GerberNL; works in J.G. Graff, Themata, clausulae atque formulae virtuosorum musicorum (MS dated 1698), formerly in A.G. Ritter’s private collection


Source: Cyber Hymnal Website; German Wikipdeia Website; Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1952 Edition); Grove Music Online © Oxford University Press 2006 acc. 5/20/06 (Authors: Bernd Baselt, Karl-Ernst Bergunder)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2006), Thomas Braatz (May 2006)

Works previously attributed to J.S. Bach

Passacaglia for keyboard in D minor, BWV Anh 182

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Aus tiefer Not, Chorale Prelude for keyboard instrument

Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir

Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn, Chorale Prelude for Organ

Herr Christ, der einge Gottessohn

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, Chorale Prelude for Organ

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland

Links to other Sites

Biography and music of Christian Friedrich Witt (1660-1716) (Cyber Hymnal)

Christian Friedrich Witt (Wikipedia) [German]


EitnerQ | FrotscherG | GerberNL | MatthesonGEP | MeyerMS | WaltherML | WinterfeldEK | ZahnM
F.W. Marpurg: Kritische Briefe über die Tonkunst, ii (Berlin, 1761/R)
R. Buchmayer: Drei irrtümlich J.S. Bach zugeschriebene Klavierkompositionen, SIMG, ii (1900–01), 253–78
H. Klenk: Christian Friedrich Witt: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Kirchenkantate, Zeitschrift für evangelische Kirchenmusik, v (1927), 6ff, 79ff, 103ff
F. Krummacher: Die Überlieferung der Choralbearbeitungen in der frühen evangelischen Kantate (Berlin, 1965)
D.P. Walker and P. Walker: German Sacred Polyphonic Vocal Music between Schütz and Bach (Warren, MI, 1992)
A. Glöckner: Neue Spuren zu Bachs “Weimarer” Passion, Passionmusiken im Umfeld Johann Sebastian Bachs: Leipzig 1994, 33–46

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Last update: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 16:03