Zelter, Carl Friedrich



Born in Berlin, and apprenticed to his father, who was a mason. Through very fond of music he carried out his father's wishes in applying himself diligently to his studies at the Gymnasium. He received some instruction from the oreranist there and later studied under Kirnberger and Fasch. When he became a master mason in 1783 he gave up the trade for the sake of his music. He composed a funeral cantata on the death of Frederick the Great, which was performed in the Garrison Church three years later. He became violinist in Rellstab's amateur concerts, later acting as leader, and in 1791 was made accompanist for the Berlin Singakademie, his former teacher, Fasch, being conductor. He frequently acted as deputy for Fasch, on whose death in 1800, he became director, which position he held until his death. He was appointed associate of the Akademie in 1806 and professor in 1809. In 1807 he undertook the conductorship of a school for orchestral practise. The next year there was a gathering in honor of Otto Grell, a singer who was leaving for Vienna and from this meeting grew the first Liedertafel, a society made up of musicians and poets and founded by Zelter. It instituted a new era of male choral singing and has been imitated many times. He also founded, in 1819, the Royal Institute for Church-music, of which he remained director until his death. One of the most beautiful things in Zelter's life was his friendship with the poet Goethe, who was attracted to the musician by some melodies which he had composed to Goethe's lyrics. Zelter was an enthusiastic worshiper of Bach and his influence on music is of national importance because of his songs and male choruses. Among his pupils was Felix Mendelssohn, in whose ability he had unbounded faith. Besides the cantata mentioned he composed an oratorio, The Ascension; a requiem; a Te Deum; choruses; songs and part-songs, and many piano compositions. He also wrote a biography of Karl Friedrich Christian Fasch; and Briefwechsel zwischen Goethe und Zelter, in six volumes.