Johann Pachelbel

The German composer and organist Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) helped to introduce the south German organ style into central and north Germany. Through his close connections to the Bach family, his style influenced and enriched that of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The musical education of Johann Pachelbel began in his childhood. In 1669, while at the University of Altdorf, he was organist in the church of St. Lorenz. The following year, at the gymnasium at Regensburg, and during his employment at St. Stephan's, Vienna, after 1672, he became familiar with the south German musical tradition of J. K. Kerll. In 1677 Pachelbel became court organist at Eisenach, where he met the local branch of the Bach family, in particular Johann Ambrosius Bach, who was one of the municipal musicians.

In 1678 Pachelbel accepted the important post of organist at the Predigerkirche in Erfurt. During this period Johann Christoph Bach studied with him for 3 years. During his stay at Erfurt, Pachelbel produced at least three of the four works listed by J. G. Walther in Musikalisches Lexikon (1732) as published during his lifetime: Musicalische Sterbens-Gedanken (1683), chorale varitions; Musicalische Ergetzung (1691), chamber music; and Chorale zum Praeambuliren (1693), an instruction book for organ. Here Pachelbel also composed two cantatas of homage for Karl Heinrich of Metternich-Wenneburg, other cantatas, and possibly other chamber music.

In 1690 Pachelbel accepted employment at the court at Stuttgart, which he fled in 1692 because of the French invasion. He became municipal organist at Gotha, but his activities are uncertain until 1695, when he became organist of the famous church of St. Sebaldus, Nuremberg. Here he was active as a teacher, and Walther speaks of his illustrious reputation. Two of Pachelbel's sons were important musicians: William Hieronymous at Erfurt and Nuremberg, and Carl Theodore at Stuttgart and Charleston, S.C.

Pachelbel was one of the composers of the movement leading to the adoption of equal temperament, making use of as many as 17 different keys in his suites. He applied the variation techniques of the secular suite to the setting for organ of Lutheran chorales (Musicalische Sterbens-Gedanken). He introduced to central and north Germany the brief, light keyboard fugue (as in his Magnificat fugues). He is particularly noteworthy for a style of chorale prelude of which he seems to have been the chief protagonist. In it a preliminary imitative passage on each phrase of the melody precedes the statement of the phrase, intact, in one part. His virtuosity as an organist is probably reflected in his toccatas, which emphasize elaborate manual figures and omit the fugal sections typical of the north German style.

Further Reading on Johann Pachelbel

Pachelbel's place within the music of his period is discussed in Manfred Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (1947). See also Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (1941).