A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Keiser, Reinhard
KEISER, Reinhard, an eminent German opera-composer, born 1673 near Weissenfels, Leipzig. He was grounded in music by his father, a sound church composer, and afterwards attended the Thomas-schule and the University of Leipzig, at the same time coming frequently before the public at the many concerts renowned even then for their excellence. In 1692 he was commissioned to set a pastoral, 'Ismene,' for the court of Brunswick, and its success procured him the libretto of 'Basilius.' In 1694 he removed to Hamburg, and there remained for 40 years a favourite with the public. 'Irene' (1697) was the first of a series of 116 operas composed for the Hamburg theatre, each containing from 40 to 50 airs, besides operas in collaboration with others, and sacred music. Keiser was luxurious and self-indulgent, and led an adventurous life, but without sacrificing his love of art or his taste for intellectual enjoyments. In 1700 he opened a series of winter-concerts, which formed a remarkable combination of intellectual and sensual gratification; the most accomplished virtuosi, the finest and best-looking singers, a good orchestra, and carefully selected programmes, furnishing the former, and a banquet of choice viands and wines the latter. In 1703 he assumed the direction of the opera in conjunction with Drüsicke, but his partner absconded, and the whole burden fell upon the shoulders of Keiser. He proved equal to the emergency, for in one year (1709) he composed 8 operas, married the daughter of a Hamburg patrician, and musician to the municipality 'Oldenburg,' and having completely reinstated his affairs, plunged into all his former extravagant indulgence. In 1716 he resumed his concerts; in 1722 visited Copenhagen and was appointed Capellmeister to the King of Denmark; in 1728 was made Cantor and Canon of the cathedral, and again turned his attention to sacred music. He composed his last opera, 'Circe,' in 1734, and died in 1739 [App. p.689 "Sept. 12"]. His wife and daughter are said to have been accomplished singers.Keiser exercised an important though not a permanent influence on German opera. The perfection to which at first he raised the opera at Hamburg, speedily degenerated into mere outward show and trivial if not vulgar farce, but the sensation he produced at first is described by his contemporaries as extraordinary. Matheson, who was not likely to exaggerate the successes of a rival, in his life-like picture of the musical condition of Hamburg, calls Keiser the first dramatic composer in the world, and says that no other music than that of 'dieser galante Componist' was either sung or listened to. His melodies were smooth and graceful, and fell upon the ear 'like charmed accents after the dull pedantries of the contrapuntists of the day.' That his melody was spontaneous his facility itself proves, and he was the first who endeavoured to convey the sentiment of the character in the music. This was the secret of his success, and it was by this that he enabled German opera to hold its own against the declamation of the French, and the melody and fine singing of the Italians. In sacred music he shines chiefly in oratorio, which he treated dramatically, but with an earnestness and dignity surprising in a man of his character. In judging Keiser in this department we must not forget that Bach's Passions, and Handel's Oratorios were then not known, scarcely even composed; yet notwithstanding his want of models, his works compare favourably with the insipid sacred music of the latter half of the 18th century, produced under far greater advantages than were open to him. His sacred compositions include 'Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus'; 'Der verurtheilte und gekreuzigte Jesus' (poem by Brockes of Hamburg); a Passion according to St. Mark, said to be fine; and other historical oratorios, motets, cantatas, and psalms. He published extracts from the two first named works, viz. 'Auserlesene Soliloquia' (1714), and 'Selige Erlösungs-Gedanken' (1715); airs from various operas, cantatas for a single voice, and several vocal collections with various titles, such as 'Divertimenti serenissimi,' 'Kaiserliche Friedenspost,' 'Musikalische Landlust,' etc. Important portions of his operas and sacred works have been published by Lindner, in his 'Erste stehende Deutsche Oper,' ii. 3–15; Reissmann, in his 'Allg. Geschichte der Musik,' iii. 54–73 and App. Nos. 7 and 8; and von Winterfeld in his 'Evangelische Kirchengesang,' vol. iii. Adam Hiller included an unaccompanied motet—'Kindlich gross'—in his 'Vierstimmige Motetten,' etc. vol. ii, and there is a fugue for 4 voices, 'Gott ist offenbaret,' in the 'Auswahl vorzüglicher musikwerke.'
[ A. M. ]