A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Graun

GRAUN. The name of three brothers, one of whom made his mark on German music, sons of an Excise collector at Wahrenbrück near Dresden.

The eldest, August Friedrich, born at the end of the 17th century, was at the time of his death cantor of Merseburg, where he had passed the greater part of his life, 1727–1771.

Johann Gottlieb, born 1698, was an eminent violinist, and composer of instrumental music much valued in his day. He was a pupil of Pisendel. After a journey to Italy, where he had instruction from Tartini, he became Concertmeister at Merseburg, and had Friedemann Bach for some time as his pupil. In 1727 he entered the service of Prince von Waldeck, and in 1728 that of Frederick the Great, then Crown Prince at Eeinsberg. On the King's accession he went to Berlin, and remained there till his death in 1771 as conductor of the royal band. Of his many compositions only one, '6 Klavier-trios mit Violine,' has been printed. Burney in his 'Present State' (ii. 229) testifies to the great esteem in which he was held. The excellence of the then Berlin orchestra is always attributed to him.

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The most celebrated of the three is the youngest, Karl Heinrich, born May 7, 1701. He was educated with Johann Gottlieb at the Kreuzschule in Dresden, and having a beautiful soprano voice, was appointed, in 1713, 'Raths-discantist,' or treble-singer to the town-council. Grundig the cantor of the school, the court-organist Petzold, and the capellmeister Joh. Christoph Schmidt, were his early musical instructors, and he profited by the friendship of Ulrich König the court-poet, and of Superintendent Löscher, who defended him from the pedantic notions of an inartistic Burgomaster. His career both as a singer and composer was largely influenced by his study of the vocal compositions of Keiser, the then celebrated composer of Hamburg, and of the operas of the Italian composer Lotti, who conducted in person a series of performances in Dresden, with a picked company of Italian singers. Even during this time of study, Graun was busily engaged in composing. There still exist a quantity of motets and other sacred vocal pieces, which he wrote for the choir of the Kreuzschule. In particular may be cited a 'Grosse Passions-Cantata,' with the opening chorus 'Lasset uns aufsehen auf Jesum,' which, as the work of a boy of barely 15, is very remarkable. Upon König's recommendation he was appointed tenor to the opera at Brunswick when Hasse was recalled to Dresden in 1725. The opera chosen for his first appearance was by Schurmann the local capellmeister, but Graun being dissatisfied with the music of his part replaced the airs by others of his own composition, which were so successful that he was commissioned to write an opera, and appointed vice-capellmeister. This first opera 'Pollidoro' (1726) was followed by five others, some in Italian, and some in German; and besides these he composed several cantatas, sacred and secular, two 'Passions-Musiken,' and instrumental pieces. His fame was now firmly established. In 1735 he was invited to Reinsberg, the residence of the Crown-Prince of Prussia, afterwards Frederic the Great. This powerful amateur continued Graun's friend and patron till his death. Here he composed about 50 Italian cantatas, usually consisting each of two airs with recitatives. They were highly valued at the time, and contain ample materials for an estimate of Graun's style of writing for the voice. When Frederic came to the throne in 1740, he gave Graun the post of capellmeister, with a salary of 2000 thalers, and despatched him to Italy to form a company of Italian singers for the opera at Berlin. In Italy he remained more than a year, and his singing was much appreciated. After his return to Berlin with the singers he had engaged, he spent some years of remarkable activity in composing operas. Those of this period amount to 27 in all (a complete list will be found in Fétis); 'Rodelinda, Regina di Longobardia' appeared in 1741, and 'Merope,' his last, in 1756. In his operas he gave his chief consideration to the singer, as indeed was the case with all Italian operas at that time. His forte, both in singing and in composition, resided in the power he possessed of executing adagios, and of expressing, tenderness and emotion. Although his operas, as such, are now forgotten, they contain airs which merit the attention of both singers and public, a good instance being 'Mi paventi' from 'Britannicus' (1752), with which Mme. Viardot-Garcia used to make a great effect. A collection of airs, duets, terzettos, etc., from Graun's operas was edited by the celebrated theorist Kirnberger, in 4 vols. (Berlin 1773).

Towards the close of his life Graun again devoted himself to church-music, and two of the works belonging to this period have carried his name down to posterity; and are indeed those by which he is now almost exclusively known. These are the 'Te Deum' which he composed for Frederic's victory at Prague (1756)—first performed at Charlottenburg at the close of the Seven Years War, July 15, 1763—and still more, 'Der Tod Jesu,' or Death of Jesus, a 'Passions-Cantata,' to words by Ramler, a work which enjoyed an unprecedented fame, and placed its author in the rank of classical composers. In Germany the Tod Jesu holds in some degree the position which is held by the Messiah in England. It was first executed in the Cathedral of Berlin on March 26, 1755, and has since then been annually performed in Passion-week. A centenary performance took place in 1855 in presence of Frederic William IV. Of late years some opposition has been raised to this continual repetition of an antiquated work, but it may to a great extent be justified by the complete and masterly form in which it embodies the spirit of a bygone age. Looked at from a purely musical point of view, and apart from considerations of age or taste, the 'Tod Jesu' contains so many excellences, and so much that is significant, that no oratorio of the second half of the last century, excepting perhaps Mozart's 'Requiem' and Haydn's 'Creation' can be compared to it. Graun was a master of counterpoint; his harmony—as his biographer, J. A. Hiller, says—was always 'clear and significant, and his modulation well regulated.' His melodies may be wanting in force, but they are always full of expression and emotion. That he possessed real dramatic ability may be seen from his recitatives, and these are the most important parts of the 'Tod Jesu.' An English edition of the work has recently been published by Messrs. Novello, so that it has now a fair chance of attaining that popularity in England to which its merits entitle it. Hitherto we are not aware of its having ever been performed here in public. [App. p.654 "the 'Tod Jesu' was performed at an orchestral concert given by the Royal Academy of Music on April 1, 1887, under the direction of Mr. Barnby."]

Graun's instrumental compositions, trios, pianoforte concertos, etc., have never been published and are of little value. He wrote 31 solfeggi, which form an excellent singing method, and he invented the so-called 'Da me ne satio' a putting together of the syllables, da, me, ni, po, tu, la, be, for the practice of solfeggio, which however has been little used. Graun died at Berlin 8 August 1759, in full enjoyment of the king's favour, illustrious among his contemporaries, and, after Hasse, undoubtedly the chief composer of Italian opera of his time.

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