Johann Jakob Froberger

The German composer and organist Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667) transmitted to Germany important style elements of Italian and French keyboard music.

Johann Jakob Froberger was the son of Basilius Froberger, musical director at the court in Stuttgart. Of Basilius's 11 children, 6 are known to have been musicians and, except for Johann Jakob, were employed at the court. Johann Jakob apparently received some musical instruction from his father and some from other court musicians. These included French, Italian, and English musicians as well as German ones, so that Froberger was probably well acquainted with the prevailing styles.

At some point Froberger went to Vienna, possibly as early as 1631. In 1637 he was employed as an organist there, and that year the court awarded him a stipend which allowed him to go to Rome to study with Girolamo Frescobaldi. Froberger returned to Vienna in 1641 as court organist and supervisor of chamber music and remained there until 1645.

Of Froberger's activities between 1641 and 1649 and of his whereabouts from 1645 to 1654 very little is known. Perhaps there occurred between 1641 and 1649 the reported competition in organ playing with the German musician Matthias Weckmann, which probably led to the extensive correspondence and exchange of compositions between the two. In 1649 Froberger dedicated a book of compositions to Emperor Ferdinand III, which would suggest that he was in Vienna. In 1650 he may have been in the service of Archduke Leopold, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands. During this period he probably made a trip to Paris, since a concert in his honor took place there in 1652.

In 1653 Froberger was back in Vienna, and again there is little information about his activities. In 1658 he was apparently dismissed from imperial service, probably on the accession of Leopold I. A trip to England is reported, but with such fantastic details as to be of doubtful authenticity. Froberger finally sought asylum with the dowager duchess Sibylla of Württemberg and spent the rest of his days at her residence at Héricourt in Burgundy.

Froberger's peripatetic career, together with his creative abilities, made him uniquely capable of shaping the future of German keyboard music. Through him the elements of the Italian style that he had learned from Frescobaldi were transferred to southern Germany. Through Froberger's connections with Weckmann and the Dutch musician Christian Huygens, these style elements were transmitted to the north as well, thus influencing composers down to the time of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederick Handel. Few of Froberger's works were published during his lifetime, but they were widely disseminated in manuscript (thus did Bach transmit them to his pupils).

Except for two vocal works, only Froberger's keyboard compositions are preserved. He employed forms similar to Frescobaldi's, but with French influences leading to more symmetrical structures and with his Germanic proclivity for counterpoint very evident.

Formerly Froberger was credited with giving to the keyboard suite its classical sequence of movements: allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue. But this sequence was imposed on his suites at the time of the publication of his complete works in 1693. His true contribution, and it is an important one, is the synthesis of French, German, and Italian elements into a unique style that was influential for the entire baroque era.


Further Reading on Johann Jakob Froberger

No extensive study of Froberger exists in English. His significance is discussed in Manfred F. Bukofzer's excellent Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach (1947).