The 300th Anniversary of Joachim Gerstenbüttel’s Death

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Gerstenbüttel is a locality in the district of Gifhorn (Lower Saxony, Germany) - but not only. The name Gerstenbüttel also stands for the composer and cantor Joachim Gerstenbüttel, who died on April 10, 1721 in Hamburg. Born in Wismar in 1647, he first studied theology in Rostock and Wittenberg, to eventually settle in Hamburg as music teacher and home tutor for keyboard instruments and the violin in 1672. Three years later he became cantor at the Johanneum and Director musices of the city’s main churches. Gerstenbüttel saw it as his prime duty to reorganize church music, and consistently objected to performances of the opera company active in Hamburg since 1678. The emergence of concert performances he also viewed as a threat.

Unsurprisingly, no instrumental or theatrical music by Gerstenbüttel can be traced. Many of his vocal works appear to be lost. Thirty-two cantatas have been preserved in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, which originally belonged to the collection of Heinrich Bokemeyer (1679-1751). The compositions are closely connected to their liturgical function and context, exhibiting little expressivity or artful design. This approach of Gerstenbüttel contrasts sharply with that of several contemporaries, most notably his successor in office Georg Philipp Telemann.

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