Kapellmeister (pronounced [kəˈpɛlmaɪstər]) is a German word designating a person in charge of music-making. The word is a compound, consisting of the roots Kapelle (“choir”, “orchestra”, or literally, “chapel”) and Meister (“master”). Kapelle derives from the Latin word capella. Thus, originally, the word was used to refer to somebody in charge of music in a chapel. However, the term has evolved considerably in its meaning in response to changes in the musical profession.
In German-speaking countries during the approximate period 1500-1800, the word Kapellmeister often designated the director of music for a monarch or nobleman. This was a senior position and involved supervision of other musicians. Johann Sebastian Bach worked from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Joseph Haydn worked for many years as Kapellmeister for the Eszterházy family, a high-ranking noble family of the Austrian Empire. George Frideric Handel also served as Kapellmeister for George, Elector of Hanover (who eventually became George I of Great Britain).
A Kapellmeister might also be the director of music for a church. Thus, Georg Reutter was the Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where his young choristers included both Joseph and Michael Haydn.
Becoming a Kapellmeister was a mark of success for professional musicians of this time. For instance, Joseph Haydn once remarked that he was glad his father (a wheelwright) had lived long enough to see his son become a Kapellmeister. As society evolved and the prestige of the nobility declined, composers came to value their freedom more highly, and being a Kapellmeister became less prestigious. For example, Beethoven never worked as a Kapellmeister, instead pursuing a career as a freelance musician.
For English speakers, it is this historical sense of the term that is most often encountered, since it appears frequently in biographical writing about composers who worked in German-speaking countries.
The case of Mozart
Mozart never was a Kapellmeister in the sense given above. In 1787 he was given a paid position in the court of the Austrian Emperor, as Kammercompositeur ("chamber composer"), but authority in matters musical at the court was exercised primarily by Antonio Salieri. However, in reviews, diaries, and advertising, Mozart was commonly referred to as "(Herr) Kapellmeister Mozart". It seems that Mozart's prestige, along with the fact that he frequently appeared in public directing other musicians, led to the use of "Kapellmeister" as a term of respect.
In April 1791, Mozart did apply to become the Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral, and was in fact designated by the City Council to take over this job following the death of the then-ailing incumbent, Leopold Hofmann. However, this never took place, since Mozart died (December 1791) before Hofmann did (1793).
In contemporary German, the term “Kapellmeister” has become less common in favor of the term Dirigent (“conductor”). When used today, however, it designates the director or chief conductor of an orchestra or choir. It suggests involvement in orchestra or choir policy (for example, selecting repertoire, concert schedules, choosing guest conductors and so on) as well as conducting. In military settings it refers to a bandmaster. The music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra traditionally holds the old-fashioned title Gewandhauskapellmeister. In other German opera houses, the term generally refers to a deputy conductor reporting to the Generalmusikdirektor (General Music Director, usually also the chief conductor). An opera company may have several Kapellmeisters, ranked as Erste Kapellmeister, Zweite Kapellmeister, etc.
Similar terms and equivalents
The word Hofkapellmeister specified that the Kapellmeister worked at a nobleman's court (Hof); a Konzertmeister held a somewhat less senior position.
The equivalent terms for Kapellmeister in other European languages are maestro di cappella (Italian), maître de chapelle (French), chapel master (English), mestre de capela (Portuguese), and maestro de capilla (Spanish).
Classical composers who worked in Kapellmeister positions
(ordered chronologically by date of birth)
- Arnold von Bruck (c. 1500–1554) was Kapellmeister in Vienna for Archduke Ferdinand from 1527 to 1545.
- Jacob Regnart (1540s – 1599) was Kapellmeister at Innsbruck from 1585 to about 1596.
- Michael Praetorius (1571–1621) was Kapellmeister at Wolfenbüttel from 1604.
- Heinrich Schuetz (1585–1673) was Kapellmeister to Johan Georg I, Elector of Saxony from 1619.
- Samuel Scheidt (1587–1653) was Kapellmeister to the Margrave of Brandenburg.
- Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644–1704) was Kapellmeister in Salzburg from 1684.
- Georg Muffat (1653–1704) was Kapellmeister to the bishop of Passau from 1690 to his death.
- Agostino Steffani (1653–1728) was Kapellmeister from 1688 to 1698 at the court of Hanover.
- Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (died 1746) was Kapellmeister to Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden from at least 1695.
- Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731), a second cousin of J. S. Bach, was Kapellmeister at Meiningen.
- Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) served as Kapellmeister for 16 years, starting in 1705, for the court of Count Erdmann II in Hamburg.
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) worked from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen.
- George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) served as Kapellmeister from 1710 to 1712 for George, Elector of Hanover.
- Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was maestro di cappella at St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome from 1715 to 1719.
- Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) was Kapellmeister from 1722 at Zerbst.
- Carlo Grua (ca. 1700–1773) was Kapellmeister at the court of Mannheim under the Electorship of Karl III Philip.
- Carl Heinrich Graun (1704–1759) was Kapellmeister starting in 1740 for Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great)
- Giuseppe Bonno (1711–1788) was Kapellmeister to the Prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen in the 1750s and 1760s.
- Giacomo Matteo Ignazio Cirri (1711–1787) was Kapellmeister (Maestro di Cappella) in the Cathedral of Forlì, in Italy, from 1759.
- Ludwig van Beethoven (Lodewijk) (1712–1773), grandfather of the celebrated composer Ludwig van Beethoven, served as Kapellmeister in the Electoral court of Bonn.
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788) also worked in Frederick II's court, but not as Kapellmeister. He later became Telemann's successor as Kapellmeister at Hamburg, starting in 1768.
- Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787) was Kapellmeister starting 1754 for Maria Theresa of Austria in Vienna.
- Niccolò Jommelli (1714–1774) served Duke Karl-Eugen of Württemberg in Stuttgart from 1753 to 1768.
- Giovanni Battista Cirri (1724–1808) was Kapellmeister (Maestro di Cappella) in the Cathedral of Forlì, in Italy: from 1780, with Ignazio Cirri; after his death, alone.
- Christian Cannabich (1731–1798), Kapellmeister of the legendary Mannheim court orchestra from 1774.
- Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) had two Kapellmeister positions: first, from (probably) 1757 to 1761 for Count Morzin, then from 1761 on for the Eszterházy family, a high-ranking noble family of the Austrian Empire. (He was Vice-Kapellmeister from 1761 to 1766.)
- Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736–1809) was Kapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
- Michael Haydn (1737–1806) was Kapellmeister at Großwardein and, starting in 1762, at Salzburg.
- Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739–1799) was Kapellmeister to the Prince-Bishop of Breslau from 1770 to 1795.
- Andrea Luchesi (1741–1801) was the last Kapellmeister in the Electoral court of Bonn from 1774 to 1794.
- Antonio Salieri (1750–1825) was Royal and Imperial Kapellmeister to Joseph II of Austria from 1788 to 1824.
- Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792) was Kapellmeister (Ordinarie Capellmästere) in Stockholm at the court of king Gustav III of Sweden.
- Christian Kalkbrenner (1755–1806) was Kapellmeister of the Prussian Queen (1789) and since 1790 Kapellmeiter of Prince Henry of Prussia at Rheinsberg castle.
- Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) was Joseph Haydn's successor, starting in 1804, at the Esterházy court. He held this post for seven years before being dismissed for neglecting his duties.
- ^ Griesinger 1810, 16
- ^ For extensive discussion of the use of "Kapellmeister" to describe Mozart, see Deutsch 1965, 306-307.
- ^ Deutsch 1965, 393-395
- ^ Peter Terrell, ed. Collins German-English English-German dictionary. 2nd edition, pp.380.
- ^ "Riccardo Chailly". Gewandhausorchester. 2005. http://www.gewandhaus.de/gwh.site,postext,riccardo-chailly.html?PHPSESSID=aupg0hpdl7u22eanc3rfct4n60&PHPSESSID=aupg0hpdl7u22eanc3rfct4n60. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
- ^ "Aus der Geschichte des Gewandhausorchesters". Gewandhausorchester. 2007. http://www.gewandhaus.de/gwh.site,postext,geschichte-gewandhausorchester,artikel_id,395.html?PHPSESSID=aupg0hpdl7u22eanc3rfct4n60. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
- ^ Peter Terrell, ed. Collins German-English English-German dictionary. 2nd edition, pp.356, 405.
- Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965) Mozart: A Documentary Biography. English translation by Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1965.
- Griesinger, Georg August (1810) Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel. English translation by Vernon Gotwals, in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits, Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.