Suite Nos. 1 & 2 



Johann Peter Kellner was born in Gräfenroda, Thuringia, on the 28 or 29 September 1705, and died in the same German town on 19 April 1772.  The scarce information we have about his life is found in the abridged autobiography published in F.W. Marpurg’s“Historische-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik” (Berlin, 1754-78/R, i, 439-45). It appears that his parents wanted him to be a coal merchant like his father, but he was determined to study music. His teachers were not important names, and he did not attend any university.

His received his initial musical tuition in his hometown, where he studied singing under kantor Johann Peter Nagel and organ and harpsichord with the latter’s son Johann Heinrich. Later he studied organ with J.C. Schmidt, organist at St. Blasii in Zella, probably in 1720-1. During that period he also got tuition in composition by Hieronimus Florentius Quelh (or Kelh) in Suhl.

After 1722 Kellner went back to Gräfenroda, where he worked as assistant tutor of minister Jeremias Schneider until 1725, when he was selected for the post of kantor in nearby Frankenhain. In 1727 he went back again to his hometown, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Initially he was assistant kantor of his first teacher Nagel, succeeding him after his death in 1732. Kellner is likely to have sponsored the fine church organ with two manuals and 24 stops built by Johann Anton Weise in 1736 at St. Laurentius, also in Gräfenroda.

Kellner’s fame did not extend beyond Thuringia, but he is most likely to have met both J.S: Bach and Handel. Possible contacts with Bach occurred in Leipzig in 1729, and in the same year—during a trip to Halle—with Handel. The link with Bach has never been demonstrated and it is not known how he was able to copy 90 Bachian manuscripts, notably including BWV 535, 538, 540, 549, 550, 578 and 579. Kellner’s copy of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin has generated many controversies, because of the omission of several movements and the complete Partita in b minor, as well as other divergences from the well known original MS, extant in the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Kellner’s son Johann Christoph Kellner (1736-1803), who had a more significant musical career than his father and also a remarkable output as a composer, once said—most likely exaggerating—that his father was “a close friend of Bach’s”.

It is significant that Kellner’s Fuga in c minor was for a long time attributed to W.F. Bach and also included by C.P.E. Bach and Michael Christian Bock in the “Musikalisches Vielerley”, Hamburg 1770. Well known and once attributed to J.S. Bach was the choral Herzlich tut mich verlangen (now BWV Anh. 47). He also transcribed for organ the chamber-music sonatas BWV 1027 e 1039. In the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, vol. 36, Kellner’s Fugue in d minor is attributed to J.S. Bach (now BWV Anh. 180).

Different musicological arguments (by Peter Williams, David Humphreys and Rolf Dietrich Claus) attribute to Kellner the authorship of the famous Toccata and Fugue BWV 565, including among the evidence the fact that the sources originate exclusively in a copy by Johann Ringk, a student of Kellner’s, as well as diverse important style considerations. Among other pupil’s of Kellner’s we find names such as Johann Philipp Kirnberger and J. E. Rembt, both outstanding among J.S. Bach-inspired musicians.

Kellner’s musical output includes several works for the organ, harpsichord and 36 cantatas. Unfortunately a complete cantata cycle with obbligato organ, composed in 1753, is now lost. The structure of his cantatas is always the same: Chorus-Recitative-Aria-Choral. A wedding cantata includes a second Recitative before the final Choral, and some Arias have an obbligato part for the organ. His organ works show similarities with the style of Johann Ludwig Krebs, and occasionally show a virtuoso pedal part, as in the Prelude and Fugue in d minor. Other organ works are simpler and in the gallant style.

The present publication is the world’s first critical edition of Kellner’s “Certamen Musicum”, six harpsichord suites first printed in Arnstadt, of which a copy is extant in Berlin’s Staatsbibliothek. This collection includes many obvious engraving errors: our corrections follow a clear harmony and counterpoint logic, leaving no doubts whatsoever about the composer’s intentions.

Every one of these Suites is preceded by a frontispiece which includes a date: Suite I 1748, Suite II 1743, Suite III 1748, Suite IV 1748, Suite V 1748, Suite VI 1749. The total number 6 is also found in many collections of music for harpsichord, organ and orchestra by J.S. Bach and other contemporary composers.

A particular feature of these Suites is that each one begins with a Prelude and Fugue. The succeeding movements include always an Allemande and a Courante, but we also find Sarabandes, Andantes,  Minuets, Gigues, Allegros, one Aria, Marches and a peculiar “par Plaisier” ending the Third Suite. The manual range only rarely descends below C and never exceeds the d »’, no doubt to allow playing the music on keyboards with a range smaller than the typical five octaves of contemporary harpsichords.

Movements derived from dance forms have a linear simple structure, mainly in two voices. There are few written embellishments, and nowhere do we find any allusion to the French style (exception: the Sarabande in Suite III). The hints at a “gallant” style suggests that Kellner was acquainted with the work of C.P.E. Bach: this is noticeable in the Prelude (with a “Da Capo”) and Andante of Suite II, and in the Prelude (marked “Adagio”) and succeeding Adagio of Suite V. The “forte” and “piano” (or else “f” and “p”) markings in the Prelude of Suite II, the Allegro of Suite IV and the final Allegro of Suite V, suggest the use of either a second manual or a clavichord. The disarming simplicity of the Prelude of Suite VI is followed by one of the longest pieces in the whole collection, a Fugue in 3 voices with a 5-bar subject and a total of 108 bars. The Fugue in 3 voices of Suite II is even more peculiar, with a 10-bar long subject and a total of 127 bars, ending with a short 4-bar adagio.

At the end of the work we notice the abbreviation S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria), also used by other German 18th century composers.


Franz Silvestri (translation by Claudio Di Veroli)


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