Christoph Nichelmann (1717-1762)

Keyboardist of the Royal Chapel of Frederic II. King of Prussia. The sources of his musical works.

            Thematic Index of the works of Christoph Nichelmann

            Nichelmann-Work-Index (NWV).


The history of Prussia has appeared in many different and conflicting ways since Frederic III (1657-1713), elector of Brandenburg, crowned himself King of Prussia in 1701. Through a various number of phases this state rose to become a great European power. The Prussian cultural heritage developed under the same circumstances.


In the last decades of the 20th century one can find general and specific efforts to change the view of Prussian heritage. That means other views, different investigations, and a new presentation is needed. It was quite difficult to maintain objectivity, particularly during that period when Germany was divided into two states, with the resulting different perspectives on the Prussian heritage. As a state that no longer exists, but nonetheless offering a distinct culture, Prussia was and remains a subject of controversy.


For now, this research strives for an objective study, particularly concentrating on the reign of Frederic II (1712-1786). Publications and media illustrated that point during the “Year of Prussia 2001”. Reconsideration of the musical culture of the 18th century in Potsdam and Berlin is essential to illustrate the regional culture and prestige of those cities.


In the work at hand, the author has concentrated on the music at the beginning of the reign of Frederic the Great. Only one biographical sketch and one musical activity are discussed in this project. The reader should understand that portrait as part of the Prussian musical culture.The life and work of the second keyboardist in the Royal Chapel of Frederic II of Prussia – Christoph Nichelmann (1717-1762) – is the focus of this study.


Christoph Nichelmann as a composer and musician has not been well recognized during the last decades, even during the last centuries. The research necessarily has had to concentrate on those who have been put in the shade by others. That shadow exists today. Christoph Nichelmann himself was a very well known and skilled composer during his lifetime. In other ways he played a significant role in the discussion about esthetic problems concerning the music and in the development of the cembalo and the keyboard concerto.


Nichelmann grew up in Treuenbrietzen. He had no remarkable name. A solid education, study trips and musical works were the most important basis for building a reputation among his contemporaries. Nichelmann was active in all types of music common during the 18th century. His works are not those of a genius, but his individuality gives a good stylistic representation of music in the area of Potsdam and Berlin.


His compositions consist of instrumental works: keyboard concertos, works for orchestra, sonatas, miscellaneous pieces for solo keyboard, and vocal works. These works are located in libraries around Europe and the world.


During Nichelmann’s lifetime Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg (1718-1795) appreciated our composer in his “Historisch-Kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik” (1754) with an outstanding biography. All other entries in the 19th and the 20th centuries were founded on Marpurg’s article. The main works of Christoph Nichelmann were published scarcely.


In 1929, Walter Serauky (1903-1959) discussed Nichelmann’s work in his publication „Die musikalische Nachahmungsästhetik im Zeitraum von 1700 bis 1850“.


The biographical and analytical examination written by Heinz Döllmann (1913- 1941), “Christoph Nichelmann – Ein Musiker am Hofe Friedrichs des Großen”, dated 1938, gives us a useful view on all topics concerning Christoph Nichelmann.


In the late sixties and early seventies of the last century, an American, Douglas A. Lee (1932), systematized all Nichelmann sources, published in “The works of Christoph Nichelmann: A Thematic Index” (1971). Lee acknowledges that the index is no longer complete, for he was unable to search through archives in the former GDR.


It’s a matter of fact that the priority in this examination is on the current state of musical works of Christoph Nichelmann.


The “Thematic Index of the works of Christoph Nichelmann / Nichelmann-Work-Index (NWV)” presents a topical study about the existing works of Nichelmann, as currently represented in autographs, writings, and prints of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.


A renewal was necessary because of the unification of the two German republics and the subsequent centralization of libraries and archives.


The biography considered traditional views and new results of the Nichelmann research done by this author. Biography and musical works can easily draw a very personal picture of Nichelmann’s life.


Fortunately, Nichelmann’s musical works have been played on various regional, national, and international occasions. A Nichelmann – Revival is desirable. So this work should be a start toward further performance and publication of Nichelmann’s works.



As a perspective on the end of a greater phase of development one view is shown only. In this examination the author brought Christoph Nichelmann as a human being, as a person of time and as musician and composer into focus.


Christoph Nichelmann formed the change from baroque style to the early classical period like many others. This process took decades. But it was built up by insignificant champions, not just by the well known composers.


A lucky chance guided the author to Christoph Nichelmann and his music in 1989, when he wrote his diploma about Nichelmann and the sources in the former German Democratic Republic.


The desire of an intensive research came up and with the interests on Prussia and the art and culture in Potsdam and Berlin during the reign of Frederic the Great in mind the author started a new research.


In Treuenbrietzen, Nichelmanns hometown, the author was employed on a secondary school as a teacher of music. That is the best link to Nichelmann and his music in a regional context.


It should be possible to give Nichelmann a better place in regional and national reverence. Not just the gerater names of Prussias history and culture should be in the German mind.


The following perspectives turn up in the conclusion below:


  • Further performance of Nichelmanns works.
  • Examination on the unknown circumstances of the composers life during 1752 and 1762.
  • Summary of the songs (Oden). Performance of those works for voice.
  • First complete biography of Christoph Nichelmann in the Biographisches-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon.


In a time of a globalised world musicology has to react in the same way. There are new horizons, the scope of duties at the universities expand, bibliographical presentations are antiquated. We have a wide range of modern data processing technologies.


But these changes were always linked to the work of individuals in touch with their society. Today, unlike 260 years ago, individuals have the time and means by which to organize themselves and seek the answers to all questions quicker than ever before.


The musicology and the research has to focus on the different facets of the heritage to figure out a general view. This general picture should be helpful for the musicologist and the amateur who is in touch with music. It should be a starting point for new developments. The results of the examinations have to be part of the musical practice and performance.


This work is given in correlation to that.