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Johann Schelle

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Johann Schelle was a German baroque composer of sacred music, mostly chorale cantatas. He was the cantor of the St. Thomas church in Leipzig from 1677-1701, after Sebastian Knupfer and followed by Johann Kuhnau, who immediately preceeded J.S. Bach.

The German composer, Johann Schelle, was born in 1648 in Meissen, Saxony, into a musical family - his father was himself a Kantor - and in 1655, at age 7, he entered the choir of the Dresden electoral chapel under the great composer Heinrich Schütz. In 1657 he went to Wolfenbüttel, where he joined the choir of the ducal court. When his voice broke in 1665, he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig under Sebastian Knüpfer, and later attended the university.

In October 1670 Johann Schelle became Kantor in Eilenburg. When his former teacher Sebastian Knüpfer died, Schelle succeeded him as Kantor of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, a post later held by J.S. Bach. He obtained the post on January 31, 1677, and held it until his death in 1701. His appointment was made against the wishes of the city mayor, who remained antagonistic to him and the changes he introduced in the musical content of services. The matter came to a head when Schelle replaced the Latin compositions written by Italian masters with music to German texts, especially cantatas. When the city council finally took Schelle’s side on the problem Schelle started the practice of introducing into the Protestant liturgy in Leipzig not only the Gospel cantata to German texts but later the chorale cantata, too. This remains one of his most important achievements.

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