Johann Pachelbel - Baroque Composer

Johann Pachelbel was a famous German composer of the Baroque Age. He came from a poor background and made his way up by sheer dint of hard work and talent.
Johann Pachelbel was a German Composer and Musician of the Baroque tradition of the seventeenth century. Although he is more known for the famous Pachelbel's Canon these days, he has a good number of secular and sacred compositions to his name and he was highly revered as a musician and as a teacher in his heyday. One of his pupils was Johann Christoph Bach, the older brother and subsequent guardian of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Early Life:

Johann Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg in August 1653; the exact date is not known, but he was baptized on 1 September 1653. His father was a tinsmith, but there was no question of Pachelbel following that career. His talent for music had made itself apparent when he was very young and, aside from regular schooling at St. Lorenz high school, he was sent to receive musical instruction with first Heinrich Schwemmer and then George Kaspar Wecker, both acclaimed music teachers of the time and employed at the Sebalduskirche as Cantor and Organist respectively.

In 1669, when he was 15, Johann Pachelbel went to study at the University of Altdorf. Since his family was not well-off, he had to pay for his tuition by working as an organist at the nearby Lorenzkirche. Ultimately though, his financial problems forced him to drop out after a year.

It was a setback, but Pachelbel was able to continue his studies with a scholarship to a school in Regensburg. He proved to be such an excellent student that the school arranged for him to have private music lessons with Kaspar Prentz.


In 1673, Pachelbel proceeded to Vienna to work as Assistant Organist at Saint Stephen Cathedral. It was an exciting time to be in Vienna, with the Hapsburg Empire at its cultural zenith, and Pachelbel remained in the city for the next five years. Here he heard and became influenced by the works of leading composers from around Europe. The music of Johann Jakob Froberger, Alessandro Poglietti, Georg Muffat and Johann Kaspar Kerll played an important role in the widening of Pachelbel's horizons and in the development of his own works.

Then, in 1677, Pachelbel took up a new post as Organist at the Court of the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach. He remained here for just one year, but during this time became acquainted with Johann Ambrosius Bach, the patriarch of the famous Bach family.

After Eisenach, Pachelbel moved to Erfurt in 1678 and took up post as Organist at the Predigerkirche there. The Bach family too had moved here and their friendship deepened further. Pachelbel became godfather to one of the Bach girls and he was persuaded to give music lessons to young Johann Christoph Bach, the older brother of Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Christoph later, after his parents' demise, took over the guardianship of his younger brother and passed on to him all that he had learned from Pachelbel. So we can say that Pachelbel had an important if indirect influence on Bach's music.

After 12 years in Erfurt, in 1690, Pachelbel was offered a lucrative post as Court Organist at Stuttgart. He probably would have stayed on there, except for a war, two years later, with France. In the likelihood of a French invasion, he left Stuttgart and went to Gotha. Here, Pachelbel found work as the Muncipal Organist for the next three years.

Then in the summer of 1695, the city of Nuremberg offered him the post of Organist at St. Sebalduskirche and Pachelbel returned home and here he remained for the remaining eleven years of his life.

Family Life and Death:

It was in Erfurt that Pachelbel met and married, on 25 October 1681, a woman called Barbara Gabler. They had a son two years later and life seemed good. Then, in September of 1683, a plague epidemic swept through Erfurt and Pachebel lost his wife and child. The tragedy affected him deeply and led to the composition that same year of the Musicalische Sterbens-Gedancken or Musical Thoughts of Death, four sets of choral variations that form an important part of his compositions.

Pachebel remarried three years later, on 24 August 1684, and this time around found domestic bliss. He and his second wife, Judith Drommer, raised seven children, five sons and two daughters. It was a highly creative family. Two of the sons became organists like Pachelbel, the eldest eventually succeeding his father's position at Nuremberg and serving there for over thirty years. Another son took up a career as an instrument maker and a daughter became a well-known artist and printmaker. Pachelbel died on 3 March 1706 and was buried six days later in Nuremberg.


Pachelbel has often been called a One Music Wonder, because the only composition most people associate with him is the famous 'Pachelbel's Canon'. Actually, he has many other compositions that are equally, if not more, worthy. Possibly many of his works did not survive over the years. In those times, it was very expensive to get music published and Pachelbel only published a limited number of his compositions. While in Gotha, he published a collection of liturgical music 'Acht Choralezum Praeambulieren', and in Nuremberg, he composed some beautiful Vocal Scores, Magnificat fugues, and the six arias collection for organ and harpsichord, Hexachordum Apollinis. Other well-known works include the organ compositions - Chaconne in F minor and the Toccata in C minor.
By Sonal Panse
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