Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Grove Music Online. Grove is a registered trademark. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Subscriber: null; date: 10 August 2020

Agricola, Johann Friedrichlocked

  • E. Eugene Helm
  • , revised by Darrell Berg

(b Dobitschen, Saxe-Altenburg, Jan 4, 1720; d Berlin, Dec 2, 1774). German musicographer, composer, organist, singing master and conductor. His father occupied an important post as government agent and jurist in Dobitschen. Burney, who visited the Agricolas in 1772, reported that Johann Friedrich’s mother, born Maria Magdalena Manke, ‘was a near relation of the late Mr Handel, and in correspondence with him till the time of his death’; but later Handel research has failed to substantiate this claim.

Agricola began his study of music as a young child. In 1738 he entered the University of Leipzig, where he studied law; during this time he was a pupil of J.S. Bach and visited Dresden, where he heard performances of Passion oratorios and Easter music by Hasse. In 1741 he moved to Berlin, became a pupil of Quantz, made the acquaintance of C.P.E. Bach, C.H. Graun and other musicians, and embarked on a career that touched many aspects of Berlin’s musical life. He became keenly interested in music criticism and theoretical speculation in Berlin, and his work as a musicographer has proved to be his most lasting accomplishment. In 1749 and 1751 he published, under the pseudonym ‘Flavio Anicio Olibrio’, pamphlets on French and Italian taste, taking the part of Italian music against F.W. Marpurg’s advocacy of French music. As a former pupil of J.S. Bach, he collaborated with C.P.E. Bach in writing the obituary of J.S. Bach that appeared in Mizler’s Musikalische Bibliothek in 1754 and became a central source for subsequent biographies. He published Tosi’s Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni in German translation in 1757, adding notes and comments which caused the translation to be regarded as a landmark in the teaching of singing. He arbitrated the debate that began in 1760 between Marpurg and G.A. Sorge. He also corresponded with Padre Martini and the dramatist G.E. Lessing and assisted in the preparation for publication of Jakob Adlung’s Musica mechanica organoedi (1768), drawing particularly on what he had learnt about the construction of organs and other keyboard instruments from J.S. Bach. From 1765 to 1774 he was a principal contributor of articles about music in C.F. Nicolai’s Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek. Most of these reflect a conservatism that might be considered typical of north German music critics; the articles written on Gluck’s operas in 1769 and 1771, for example, display a lack of understanding of Gluck’s ‘reforms’. Agricola’s study of melody (1771) remains one of the important writings about a neglected subject; and his biographical sketch of C.H. Graun (1773), like his participation in the Bach obituary, served as a point of departure for later writers on the subject.

Agricola’s career as a thoroughly italianized composer of opera was fostered and then blighted by the patronage of Frederick the Great. His first intermezzo, Il filosofo convinto in amore, was performed with much success at Potsdam in 1750, and Frederick appointed him a court composer in 1751. In the same year, however, he married Benedetta Emilia Molteni, one of the singers of the Opera, disregarding the king’s rule that singers in his employ must remain single. Frederick punished the pair by reducing their joint salary to 1000 thalers (Molteni’s single salary had been 1500 thalers). When Graun, Frederick’s chief opera composer, died in 1759, Agricola was appointed musical director of the Opera without the title of Kapellmeister. Frederick, who had always been critical of his composers – including Graun himself – was particularly harsh in his censure of Agricola’s operas. In October 1767, after hearing the rehearsals of Amor e Psiche, he wrote to his attendant Pöllnitz: ‘You will tell Agricola that he must change all of Coli’s arias – they are worthless – as well as those of Romani, along with the recitatives, which are deplorable from one end to the other’. An effort of 1772 entitled Oreste e Pilade, ordered by Frederick as entertainment for a visit by the Queen of Sweden and the Duchess of Brunswick, proved to be so far from what Frederick wanted that the entire opera had to be rewritten and retitled I greci in Tauride.

As a performer-teacher, and in aspects of composition not so zealously supervised by his royal patron, Agricola fared better. He sang the tenor part in the première of Graun’s Tod Jesu in 1755, distinguished himself as a singing teacher throughout his career and carried on the Bach tradition of organ playing; in 1772 Burney wrote that he was ‘regarded as the best organ-player in Berlin, and the best singing master in Germany’. Agricola was also active as an organizer of musical performances and by 1754 was directing Das Concert, a series that met every Saturday at his home. This seems to have explored a wider range of music than did other concert series; Marpurg, who mentions it along with the Musikübende Gesellschaft and Die Assemblee, notes that it featured vocal as well as instrumental music.

Agricola was respected by his colleagues as a composer of considerable ability. He was a contributor to most of the lieder collections that formed the ‘First Berlin School’ of song, and his keyboard pieces were published in anthologies of the 1750s and 60s. His sacred works were in demand during his lifetime; copies of many of them survive in European libraries and archives. They show Agricola to have been an excellent craftsman, schooled in the Bach tradition and acquainted with the galant fashions of the mid-century, but prosaic in his treatment of melody.


Secular dramatic

II filosofo convinto in amore (int), Potsdam, 1750, D-Dl, DS

La ricamatrice divenuta dama (int), Berlin, 1 Nov 1751, DS

Cleofide (os, 3, P. Metastasio), Berlin, carn. 1754, D-B, DS

La nobiltà delusa (dg), 1754, ROu

Il tempio d’amore (festa teatrale, G. Tagliazucchi, with Frederick II), Charlottenburg, 30 Sept 1755, DS

L’ippocondriaco, Charlottenburg, 1763, F-Pn

Triumphlied bei der Rückkehr Friedrichs II (cant.), 1763, lost

Achille in Sciro (os), 16 Sept 1765, D-B, US-NH

Amor e Psiche (A. Landi), Oct 1767, excerpts D-B

Les voeux de Berlin (cant.), Aug 1770, D-B

Il re pastore (?L. Villati), Sept/Oct 1770, lost

Oreste e Pilade (Landi), early 1772, rewritten as I greci in Tauride, Potsdam, March 1772: both lost

Die furchtsame Olympia (J. Ewald), F-Pn

Other works

Orats and sacred cants.

Die Hirten bey der Krippe zu Bethlehem (K.W. Ramler), 1757, lost

Ps. xxi (rhymed paraphrase, J.A. Cramer), 1757 (Berlin, 1759)

Trauerkantate, 1757, lost

Die Auferstehung des Erlösers (C.G. Lieberkühn), 1758, lost

Cantata festo gratiosum Actionis, ?1762, DK-Ch; Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesus (Ramler), D-B; Lobet den Herrn, D-B; Die mit Tränen säen, D-B; Kündlich gross ist das gottselige Geheimnis, D-B; Gelobet sei Gott, D-B; Singet fröhlich Gotte, B-Bc, D-LEm; Ein Kind ist uns geboren, lost

Ein schnelles Brausen, lost

Mag, D-B

Songs and odes in collections pubd by F.W. Birnstiel: Ramler and C.G. Krause, eds.: Oden mit Melodien, i (Berlin, 1753)

F.W. Marpurg: Historisch-kritische Beyträge, i (Berlin, 1754/R)

Marpurg, ed.: Neue Lieder zum Singen beym Clavier (Berlin, 1756), Raccolta delle più nuove composizioni … per l’anno 1756 (6 canzonettas) and 1757 (1 canzonetta) (Leipzig, 1756–7), Berlinische Oden und Lieder, i–ii (Leipzig, 1756–9), Geistliche, moralische und weltliche Oden (Berlin, 1758), Geistliche Oden (Berlin, 1758)

G.L. Winter, ed., 3 verschiedene Versuche eines einfachen Gesanges für den Hexameter (Berlin, 1760)

Musikalisches Allerley (Berlin, 1761)

Auserlesene Oden zum singen beym Clavier, ii (Berlin, 1764)

Lieder der Deutschen mit Melodien, i–iv (Berlin, 1767–8), 1 ed. in M. Friedlaender, Das deutsche Lied im 18. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 1902/R)


works for kbd, incl. Sonata, F, in Musikalisches Mancherley (Berlin, 1762–3), 97–101; chorale preludes, org, D-B; Ov., B-Bc


  • [Flavio Anicio Olibrio]: Schreiben eines reisenden Liebhabers der Musik von der Typer, an den critischen Musikus an der Spree (Berlin, 1749)
  • Schreiben an Herrn … (Berlin, 1749)
  • [Olibrio]: Gedanken über die welschen Tonkünstler (Halberstadt, 1751)
  • with C.P.E Bach: ‘Nekrolog [J.S. Bachs]’, in L. Mizler: Neu eröffnete musikalische Bibliothek, 4 (Leipzig, 1754)
  • ‘Nachricht von einer Uebersetzung des Anmerkungen des Herrn Peter Franz Tosi über den Figuralgesang, aus dem Wälschen … ’, in F.W. Marpurg: Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, 1 (Berlin, 1754–5), 326–31
  • Anleitung zur Singekunst (Berlin, 1757/R) [trans., with additions of P.F. Tosi: Opinioni de’ cantori antichi e moderni, Bologna, 1723/R], Eng. trans. in Baird (1995)
  • Articles in Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek (1765–96)
  • Addns to J. Adlung: Musica mechanica organoedi, ed. J.L. Albrecht (Berlin, 1768/R); ed. C. Mahrenholz (Kassel, 1931)
  • ‘Beleuchtung von der Frage von dem Vorzuge der Melodie vor der Harmonie’, Magazin der Musik, 2, ed. C.F. Cramer (Hamburg, 1786/R), 809–29 [begun in 1771]
  • ‘Lebensbeschreibung des Kapellmeisters Graun’: introduction to J.P. Kirnberger, ed.: Duetti, terzetti, quintetti, sestetti, ed alcuni chori delle opere del Signore Carlo Enrico Graun (Berlin, 1773–4); repr. in J.N. Forkel: Musikalisch-kritische Bibliothek, iii (Gotha, 1779/R), 286–99


  • F.W. Marpurg: Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, 1 (Berlin, 1754)
  • J.A. Hiller: Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend, 1 (Leipzig, 1766–7), 74 only
  • C.F. Nicolai: Beschreibung der Residenzstädte Berlin und Potsdam (Berlin, 1769), 393
  • C.C. Rolle: Neue Wahrnehmungen zur Aufnahme und weitern Ausbreitung der Musik (Berlin, 1784), 92–5
  • H. Goldschmidt: Die italienische Gesangsmethode (Breslau, 1890, 2/1892/R)
  • H. Wucherpfennig: J.Fr. Agricola (diss., U. of Berlin, 1922) [incl. some letters]
  • H. Löffler: ‘Die Schüler Johann Sebastian Bachs’, BJb 1953, 5–28
  • E.E. Helm: Music at the Court of Frederick the Great (Norman, OK, 1960)
  • A. Dürr: ‘Zur Chronologie der Handschrift Johann Christoph Altnickols und Johann Friedrich Agricolas’, BJb 1970, 44–65
  • T. Bauman: ‘The Music Reviews in the Allgemeine deutsche Bibliothek’, AcM, 49 (1977), 69–85
  • J.F. Troxler: Johann Friedrich Agricola’s Anleitung zur Singkunst (diss., U. of Iowa, 1988)
  • J. Baird: Johann Friedrich Agricola’s Anleitung zur Singkunst (1757): a Translation and Commentary (diss., Stanford U., 1991)
  • P. Wollny: ‘Ein Quellenfund zur Entstehungsgeschichte der h-Moll-Messe’, BJb 1994, 163–9
  • B. Wiermann: ‘Werkgeschichte als Gattungsgeschichte: “Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu” von Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’, BJb 1997, 117–43
Leipzig, Leipziger Städtische Bibliotheken, Musikbibliothek
Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitäts-Bibliothek, Musikabteilung
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Dresden, Sächsische Staatsoper, Notenbibliothek [in D-Dl]
C. Burney: The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Provinces (London, 1773, 2/1775)
Rostock, Universität, Universitätsbibliothek
New Haven (CT), Yale University, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library
Christiansfeld, Brødremenigheden (Herrnhutgemeinde)
Brussels, Conservatoire Royal, Bibliothèque, Koninklijk Conservatorium, Bibliotheek
R. Eitner: Biographisch-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon
Acta musicologica
C. Burney: A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period (London, 1776-89); ed. F. Mercer (London, 1935/R) [p. nos. refer to this edn]