Baltzar Knölcke, born ca 1711 in Holstein, was made town musician in Ystad in 1730, and from 1739 until his death on 11 March 1754 was cathedral organist in Linköping. As a composer, he straddles the gap between baroque and an emergent galant, bourgeois musical culture. Apart from a handful of surviving instrumental and vocal works, these stylistic ideals are also evident in his endeavours to reform the Swedish chorale book.
Town musician and organist in Ystad
Baltzar Knölcke came from a family of town musicians by the name Knölcke from the towns of Wilster and Itzehoe in Holstein, Germany. Following the death of Johann Christian Bauermeister, town musician and organist in Ystad, in 1729, Knölcke was summoned to the south-coast Swedish town for an audition. Despite his inexperience, he was appointed as Bauermeister’s successor, most likely through the ministrations of Bauermeister’s widow, who promoted his candidature through her contacts in Holstein. Indeed, it was not uncommon for the town musician’s wife and widow to help prepare the succession and sustain the external organisation of the office, which not only carried specific and unique duties, but also often came with a large household of apprentices, who constituted a natural workforce.
It is most likely that the young Knölcke was granted the position thanks to his modest financial demands, and on taking up office he was contractually bound by Bauermeister’s widow to take over the existing household and to personally forgo most of his income. There is a wealth of archive material from Knölcke’s very first years in Ystad (1730−32) documenting legal disputes between him and the widow concerning this contract, something that makes Knölcke’s circumstances in Ystad an important source of socio-historical information about the music scene of the time. A petition from a provost called Lacander to the town’s magistrate complaining about the manner in which Knölcke executed his duties also lends insight into mid-18th century chorale praxis, music apprenticeship and teaching, and the task of arranging church tower trumpeters for major ceremonial events.
Cathedral organist and chorale reformer in Linköping
In 1739, Baltzar Knölcke was made cathedral organist in the city of Linköping, a position that he held until his death in 1754. As an organist in this diocesan capital, he was drawn into the movement to revise and update the much censured chorale book from 1697. The city’s bishop Eric Benzelius, who was also the spokesman for the estate of the clergy in the parliament, passed on to Knölcke a memorial from 1741 in which organist Ferdinand Zellbell the elder condemned the chorale book as being unsuited to the way congregations sang. Responding to Zellbell’s petition the following year, Knölcke agreed about the need to produce a new chorale book, but took issue with his notion that it (and thus the organists) had to be adapted to congregational singing praxis. Instead, he recommended that the number of melodies used be slashed (to below twenty) and that people learn to sing in accordance with established order and decorum, not least to attain a sense of national consistency.
In a personally written memorial to the clergy from 1746, Knölcke sought recognition for the work he had been doing over the past three years on a new chorale book. He writes that he has systemised the form and compass of the melodies ‘in accordance with accepted praxis’ and created a kind of template for an ordered four-part accompaniment on the basis of a standardised figured bass. Knölcke thus appears, by his own admission at least, as an agent of radical, rule-based rationalisation of both melodic form and chorale performance, a development that can be seen in relation to the tastes of a burgeoning bourgeois musical culture. Over the coming years, he was granted privileges for the use of his chorale book, first by the Linköping cathedral chapter in 1748 and then by the king in 1751.
In a new memorial to the clergy in 1752, Knölcke claims to have written his chorale book at the request of Bishop Benzelius and after a period of fervid correspondence with the country’s leading musicians. This time, his importunity succeeded in pressing the clergy to discuss the chorale book; in the end, therefore, Knölcke’s memorial motivated the revision that gave rise to the (eventually rejected) sample chorale book from 1765.
Baltzar Knölcke’s extant works are hardly sufficient to give an overall impression of his activities as a composer. They are dispersed and written down in a miscellany of anthologies and in some of the 18th century’s better-known music collections (from the family of Christian Wenster, his successor in Ystad, and compiled by Friedrich Kraus and Hinrich Christopher Engelhardt, directores musices at Lund and Uppsala universities, respectively). In purely stylistic terms, however, the material reveals music that is at once conventional and competent, and composed in a north-German galant style that bridges the contrapuntal forms of the baroque and the ensuing classical style centred on the developed sonata form.
Two surviving orchestral works from the Akademiska kapellet (the Royal Academic Orchestra) in Uppsala indicate a similar three-movement type of sinfonia (one with a brief transition to the last movement). One of the works has an opening movement comprising an overture that with its consistently dotted rhythms is conceived as an allusion to military music and Mars, the god of war; the other work has a carillon movement that imitates the chiming of bells. As a whole, the music is strictly homophonic and despite a tentative excursion into tone painting is conventional in its rhythmic, harmonic and melodic structures.
Some short chamber music pieces, mainly for harpsichord, usually take up just one or two pages of manuscript. Both the preserved duets for violin or oboe and keyboard pieces are all miniatures with a simple, galant and markedly light tone, built up from figurations within a very rudimentary harmonic structure.
The vocal music
The five-movement Skal tå ock the Ceders stammar utaf dunder skadde bli? is without doubt the most ambitious and inspired extant work by Knölcke. The first movement demonstrates more visionary tone painting, with the strings depicting the gathering thunder storm forewarned in the lyrics. A recitative is followed by two more arias, the ornamental theme of the first making an especially salient contribution to an expressive movement that displays a measure of virtuosity in the vocal line. The closing movement is composed for mixed choir and definitively establishes the cantata’s exhortation to put one’s hope in the Lord rather than in the vanities of the temporal world. Vocal parts survive to one of the arias with three optional spiritual lyrics, a product one may presume of Engelhardt’s custom in Uppsala to recycle existing music for different contexts.
Engelhardt’s collection includes two arias for soprano and strings that, along with a third (by another identified composer) appear to have constituted a festive cantata celebrating the birth of crown prince Gustav (the future King Gustav III) in 1746. The sources name Knölcke as the composer of the first aria, although it is likely that both pieces are his. Surviving collections of printed lyrics from festival services in Linköping Cathedral show that Knölcke had previous experience of putting together polyphonic music for ceremonial use.
Jonas Lundblad © 2016
Trans. Neil Betteridge
Andersson, Greger: ‘Stadsmusikanter, organister och tornväktare’, in: Ystadiana 1998: Musik i Ystad, Ystad: Ystads fornminnesförening, 1998.
Bengtsson, Ingmar: ‘Från Engelhardt till musikprocessen’, in: Anna Johnson (ed.), Akademiska kapellet i Uppsala under 350 år, Uppsala: Uppsala universitet, 1977.
Göransson, Harald: ‘Det gåtfulla 1700−talet. Studier kring upplysningstidens svenska koralrevolution’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 81, 1999.
Jonsson, Leif & Anna Ivarsdotter-Johnson (eds): Musiken i Sverige, vol. 2, Frihetstid och gustaviansk tid 1720−1810, Stockholm: Fischer & Co., 1993.
Morin, Gösta: ‘Bidrag till kännedom om det svenska 1700−talets svenska koralboksarbete. En överblick’, Svenskt gudstjänstliv, vol. 8, 1933.
Soll, Mirko: Verrechtlichte Musik: Die Stadtmusikanten der Herzogtümer Schleswig und Holstein. Münster: Waxmann, 2006.
Vretblad, Åke: ‘Församlingssång i mitten av 1700−talet’, Linköpings biblioteks handlingar, vol. 10, Linköping, 1981.
Landsarkivet Härnösand, Musikmuseet Stockholm, Lunds Universitetsbibliotek
Summary list of works
Orchestral works (2 sinfonias), chamber music, music for harpsichord, vocal music with accompaniment (cantatas, arias, etc.).
[Sinfonia] Concerto ex F: Mars et Venus, for two violins (or oboes), two horns and basso continuo. 1.Moderato tempo di mars, 2.Arietto, 3.Murcki.
[Sinfonia] for strings, A major (Title not preserved). 1. Carillon. Moderato, 2. Andante con affetto, 3. Larghetto, 4. Alla musette.
Gigue and Allegretto, for two oboes or violins.
Three pieces for cembalo. 1. [no markings], F minor, 2. Allegro assai, F major, 3. Allegro in F major.
Divertissement in F major.
Railleri in F major.
Skal tå ock the Ceders stammar utaf dunder skadde bli?, cantata for soprano, choir and strings.
War välkommen Cronprinz dyra, aria for soprano and strings.
Låt fröjdesång höras, aria for soprano and strings (author not confirmed).
Funeral Music, for the burial of Queen Ulrica Eleonora in Linköpings Cathedral 1 December 1742 (The music has been lost, but sheets of printed text are preserved).
Music for a day of praise and thanksgiving 7 October 1743 for the peace accord with Russia achieved by the grace and assistance of God. (The music has been lost, but sheets of printed text are preserved).