He was a Baroque composer born in Nuremberg,
Germany,as the son of a wine dealer.
Although his date of birth is not known, it is recorded that his
baptism took place on 1st September 1653.
Showing a talent from an early age, his first studies
in music were taken with Heinrich Schwemmer, who later took up the position
of the cantor at St. Sebaldus Church in Nuremberg. His other studies were taken at the
Auditorio Aegedianum and St. Lorenz Hauptschule before entering the
University of Altdorf in June 1669.
Also in 1669 he became the Lorenzkirche organist.
He had to leave the university prematurely due to lack
of funds but took up a scholarship at Regensburg’s Gymnasium Poeticum
in 1670. He also took other
musical studies with Kaspar Prentz whose influences came from Italian
composers and it has been suggested that it is through him that
Pachelbel’s interest in this kind of music started. These particular music studies
finished in 1672 when his teacher left for Erfurt.
By 1673 he had gone to Vienna to work at St.
Stephen’s Cathedral as the deputy organist and for the five years he
was there he was influenced by the style of Italian and German Catholic
When he left the Cathedral in 1677 he relocated to
Eisenach as a court organist for the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, Johann Georg I,
and became acquainted with several of the Bach family and a close friend of
Johann Ambrosius Bach, who was the father of Johann Sebastian Bach. His employ at the court ended after
a short time so he moved to Erfurt in 1678 where he became the organist at
Predigerkirche and kept up the close ties with the Bach family. He became the godfather of Johann
Ambrosius’ daughter Johanna and taught his son Johann Christoph Bach,
who later tutored his brother Johann Sebastian. One story goes that Johann Christoph
forbade Johann Sebastian reading a Pachelbel manuscript for some reason,
but he sneaked into where it was kept each night over a period of months so
he could copy it down. He also
lived at the house of Johann Christian Bach and two years after his death
in 1682 he bought the property from his widow.
He lived in Erfurt for the next 12 years and became a
recognised and much acclaimed organ and choral prelude composer. He wrote for countless church
services and wrote a major work every year to exhibit his abilities and how
they had grown from the previous year. He was offered a position at
Sondershausen’s St. Trinitas Church in 1686 but after consultations
with the elders in Erfurt he was permitted to reject it.
He married Barbara Gabler in October 1681 but sadly
she and their son contracted plague and both died in 1683. After this tragedy the publication
of his choral variations appeared the same year with the title Musicalische
Sterbens-Gedancken (Musical Thoughts on Death), which was his first
published work. He got married
again in Erfurt in 1684 to a coppersmith’s daughter, Judith Drommer.
In 1690 he left his positions in Erfurt to work as an
organist-musician with the patronage of Duchess Magdalena Sibylla at the
court of Wurttemberg in Stuttgart.
He remained there for two years before the War of the Grand Alliance
meant he had to escape the threat of French onslaught. He went to Gotha where he stayed for
the next two years as the town organist. Here in 1693, he saw the issue of Acht
Chorale zum Praeambulieren which was his only collection of liturgical
music to be published. During
his time at Gotha he was also invited to work at Oxford University and back
in Stuttgart again, but he turned both down.
In 1694 he was asked to provide music, along with
several other composers, for the marriage of Johann Christoph Bach at
In 1695 the organist from St. Sebaldus Church in
Nuremberg died and the city officials sent him an invitation to take over
the position without advertising the position or accepting any other
applications. He said he would
do it straight away and got a release from his position from Gotha to take
over in the summer of 1696.
He remained in Nuremberg for the rest of his days,
playing the organ at the Church, teaching and publishing the set of
keyboard arias Hexachordum Apollinis, which he dedicated to Dietrich
Buxtehude, and the collection of chamber music Musicalische Ergotzung. His most famous chamber composition
is his Canon in D made famous, in part, by a 1970 Jean-Francois
Paillard recording and since adapted, arranged and covered by hundreds of
classical ensembles and orchestras and sampled by many popular groups and artists. It has also been used many times on
film soundtracks and TV broadcasts. His other compositions from there
include nearly a hundred Magnificat fugues and come concertato Vespers.
He died in 1706, when he was 52, with his burial
taking place on 9th March at the St. Rochus Cemetery. The exact day he died isn’t
known but is thought it would have been three or four days earlier.
Although a prolific composer of over 200 organ pieces,
numerous vocal works, chamber pieces and around 40 large-scale works, his
music was virtually forgotten after his death, with just a few pieces being
occasionally played in Erfurt and Nuremberg. During the 19th century
organ works were published which became noticed and started research work
being done into his role as a composer involved in the development of
Baroque keyboard works. His
later works were published in the 20th century and it is only in
relatively recent years that he has gain popularity and recognition.
Of his seven children, five boys and two girls, his
daughter, Amelia, becoming a painter, his son, Johann Michael, becoming an
instrument maker and a further two sons, Wilhelm Hieronymus and Charles
Theodore (Carl Theodor/Carl Theodorus), followed in his footsteps and
became organ composers. Charles
later took residence in America
in the 1730s and gave one of the first concerts on record.
Musica Antiqua Koln recordings
(Arias & Variations) (Johann Pachelbel)
427 118-2 (CD: Buxtehude/Pachelbel Kammermusik, Chamber Music)