Graun, Karl Heinrich


Celebrated German composer for church and stage; born at Wahrenbruck; studied at the Kreuzschule m Dresden, under Petzold for organ and piano, and Grundig for voice, and at twelve was appointed soprano singer to the Rathskapelle, or town council. When his voice began to change he took up composition under Schmidt in place of vocal work, and attended the opera performances directed by Lotti. He also studied the vocal works of Keiser of Hamburg, at that time a noted composer. During these years he composed considerable music for the choir of the Kreuzschule, including a passioncantata, written at the age of fifteen, said to be truly remarkable for one so young. In 1725, having developed into a tenor, he was engaged for the opera at Brunswick. He soon became known also as a dramatic composer; Pollidoro, produced the next year, being his first operatic success. Five others followed within the next nine or ten years, Sancio; Iphigenia en Aulis; Scipio Africano; Timareta; and Pharao. In 1735 Graun went to Rheinsberg at the request of the Crown Prince Frederick, whose verses he used as librettos for numerous cantatas, and who, on his succession to the throne in 1740, made Graun musical director and commissioned him to establish Italian Opera at Berlin. For this purpose Graun went to Italy in search of singers. He remained there for over a year, appearing as vocalist in the chief cities and much applauded for his singing. On his return with the company he had rare opportunities for the production of his compositions, Hasse being the only other dramatic composer in the field for years. Of his twenty-eight operas performed during this period, a fairly representative group comprises Rqdelinda; Artaserse; Catone in Utica; Alessandro nell' Indie; Adriano in Siria; Galatea, in collaboration with others; Mitridate; Semiramide; Ezio; and Merope.

Though prominent in his day as an operatic composer, Graun's works in that line are now of historical interest only, while his church-music is the basis of his present reputation. The passion-music of his youth foreshadowed the best work of his riper years, Der Tod Jesu (The Death of Jesus), which is said to stand in German oratorio where Handel's Messiah ranks in English. Since its first production at Berlin in 1755 it has been given every year, a strong test of its classic worth. A Te Deum, written for King Frederick's victory at Prague, in 1756, stands second of his sacred works, which include about twentyfive other contatas, mostly for the orchestra; motets for four voices without accompaniment; funeral music for Duke August Wilhelm of Brunswick, and King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia; and two sets of church melodies for every day in the year. His instrumental music, comprising organ fugues; trios; flute-concertos; and concertos for other instruments, remains in manuscript and is considered of little importance.