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German music historian, bibliographer, biographer, and organist, considered one of the founders of historical musicology.

Career Summary

The son of a cobbler, Forkel received his early musical training, especially in keyboard playing, from Johann Henrich Schulthesius. In other aspects of his music education he was self-taught, especially in music theory. In his teens he served as a singer in Lüneberg, and studied law for two years at the Georg August University of Göttingen. He remained associated with that university for more than 50 years, holding various posts, including instructor in music theory, organist, keyboard teacher, and eventually overall director of music at the university. In 1787, he received an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the institution.

He was an admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music he did much to popularize. He wrote the first biography of Bach (in 1802), a work that is of particular value today since he was able to correspond directly with Bach's sons Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann and obtain much information that might otherwise have been lost. Forkel also projected a complete edition of Bach's works, but this was not realized in his lifetime. He also wrote a history of music (1788, 1801).

Schenker and Forkel

Schenker's library, at the end of his life, contained a copy of the Allgemeine Literatur der Musik and both volumes of the Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik. His diary for July 1918 records that a pupil of his, Evelina Pairamall, sent him "a small volume of Forkel's Kleine Bibliothek" (OJ 2/11, p. 917).

Select Bibliography:

  • Musikalisch-kritische Bibliothek (Gotha: C. W. Ettinger, 1778–79)
  • Musikalischer Almanach für Deutschland (Leipzig: Schwickert, 1782, 1783, 1784, 1789)
  • Allgemeine Literatur der Musik (Leipzig: Schwickert, 1792)
  • Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik (Leipzig: Schwickert, 1788, 1802)
  • Über Johann Sebastian Bachs Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke (Leipzig: Hoffmeister und Kühnel, 1802)


  • MGG
  • NGDM1
  • Wikipedia


  • Marko Deisinger

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