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Engraving of Johann Nicolaus Forkel

Johann Nicolaus Forkel, portrait

Johann Nicolaus Forkel (1749–1818) studied at the University of Göttingen and went on to spend his most of his life there, as organist, music director, and professor of the history and theory of music. Forkel’s university career is somewhat unusual among early scholars of music, most of whom held jobs outside the academy. Heinrich Glarean, whose Dodekachordon is also on display in this exhibit, was an even earlier example, but he specialized in classics and theology as well as music. John Mainwaring, an older contemporary of Forkel who wrote a biography of Handel, was a professor of divinity.

Forkel wrote books dealing with many branches of music, including theory, bibliography, and various aspects of history. His most ambitious project was the Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, a general history of music published in two volumes in 1788 and 1801. A projected third volume, which would have examined the music of the 17th and 18th centuries, was never completed. (Fétis’s Histoire générale de la musique and Ambros’s Geschichte der Musik likewise remained unfinished at the time of the authors’ deaths.) Forkel did have the opportunity to discuss more recent music in his book about Italian opera and in his famous biography of J.S. Bach.


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