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Johann Mattheson

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Hamburg, Germany (1681 – 1764)

Johann Mattheson (28 September 1681 – 17 April 1764) was a German composer, writer, lexicographer, diplomat and music theorist.

Mattheson was born and died in Hamburg. He was a close friend of George Frideric Handel, although he nearly killed him in a sudden quarrel, during a performance of Mattheson’s opera Cleopatra in 1704. Handel was saved only by a large button which turned aside Mattheson’s sword. The two were afterwards reconciled.

The son of a well-to-do tax collector, Mattheson received a broad liberal education and, aside from general musical training, took lessons in keyboard instruments, violin, composition and singing. By age nine he was singing and playing organ in church and was a member of the chorus of the Hamburg opera. He made his solo debut with the Hamburg opera in 1696 in female roles and, after his voice changed, sang tenor at the opera, conducted rehearsals and composed operas himself. He was cantor at St. Mary’s Cathedral from 1718 until increasing deafness led to his retirement from that post in 1728.

Mattheson’s chief occupation from 1706 was as a professional diplomat. He had studied English in school and spoke it fluently. He became tutor to the son of the English ambassador Sir John Wich and then secretary to the ambassador. He went on diplomatic missions abroad representing the ambassador. In 1709 he married an English woman.

After his death in 1764, Johann Mattheson was buried in the vault of Hamburg’s St. Michaelis’ Church where his grave can be visited.

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