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Ortrun Landmann, Dresden

Notes on the Music Copyists of the Dresden Court, 1720-1850

The chronological boundaries of this topic arise out of the present situation of the sources in Dresden. In the year 1760, during the Seven Years’ War, part of the city of Dresden went up in flames under Prussian bombardment, including a royal-electoral palace. In it resided the music archive of the court chapel, namely the musical repository of the 16th and 17th centuries, including the compositional legacy of Heinrich Schütz. Research on this earlier time has been significantly impeded by the loss, and an abundance of sources is only preserved beginning with manuscripts dating from ca. 1720. Then around 1850, as a result of the development of cost-effective music printing processes, the use of printed materials becomes more frequent. Handwritten materials increasingly prove to be copies of printed editions and are less valuable as transmitted sources. Some of the printed editions themselves were produced on wood-based paper, which over time deteriorates through acid buildup.

In many places, in particular German Protestant churches, such copies along with printer’s copies were destroyed after the Second World War. The style of the surviving sources, being in the “late Romantic” style, had fallen out of fashion and, so they said, cost unnecessary storage space. Due to the multifaceted meaning as documents of their time that one can see in copies and prints, we RISM contributors have advocated everywhere being very careful when weeding collections. It may well be that the surviving original sources from the second half of the 19th century will become rarities. Then an organization succeeding RISM will have to dedicate itself to describing and preserving such documents.

Now on to the topic itself.

The royal-electoral Saxon court in Dresden distinguished itself for centuries through a rich, exquisite musical life. As the basis for the musicians’ work, music materials were required that, in accordance with the practice of the time, overwhelmingly had to be written by hand. The first documents that attest to employing full-time music copyists for the Dresden court chapel originated in the 17th century. Beginning in the early 18th century, the need for music materials grew significantly with the expansion of an orchestra within the court chapel and the overall blossoming of instrumental music.

Two to three “part-timers” who were also active as court organists or cantors could no longer accomplish the work alone, in spite of additional help from outside copyists. As a result, in 1733 two “full-timers” had to be hired. In 1754, this number grew to four, yet additional outside help was still needed.

It is evident that a “scribal school” developed, in that the professional copyists trained young assistants, some of whom advanced to become their successors. Characteristics of French,[1] Italian,[2] and Bohemian[3] writing combined with the Saxon chancellery writing[4] and led to scripts with larger “family resemblances” throughout the entire time period under consideration here. Remarkable clarity ranks among its recognizable features—befitting the prevailing use of music by candlelight—as well as an often noticeably aesthetic charm. Added to this is the extensive reliability of written objects from Dresden. In the early 19th century, the director (that is, the administrative head) of the Dresden court chapel solicited the Saxon king for salary improvements for the copyists and took the opportunity to clearly explain the difference between a chancellery scribe and a music copyist: While the former has to painfully copy everything exactly as the original presented it, the latter must, all at the same time, be on the lookout for mistakes and correct them; he must be capable of transposing arias from one key to another; and must also independently incorporate all revisions that are decided at solo and orchestra rehearsals. A professional music copyist was therefore expected to be well-versed in music theory, just as a church cantor or a city or court Kapellmeister would.


All large music centers have their typical scripts. But while such schools generally emerged from workshops producing material for the commercial market, the catalyst for cultivating a school in Dresden was—as was the case in some other larger residences—the court itself as a permanent “employer.” The court needed its own music copyists as a result of its considerable need for parts for singers and instrumentalists as well as scores for the members of the ruling family and gifts for acquaintances of the court. Furthermore, insomuch as time allowed, the copyists produced piano excerpts and scores to sell to private buyers.

In these ways, music prepared by Dresden copyists spread far beyond the Dresden court from the moment it was completed because the Dresden repertoire was always of international interest. The compositions in Dresden were predominantly for the Catholic court church, Italian opera, and court festivals. To a lesser degree, works of foreign origin were also performed. In the 19th century, in an age of musical historicism, libraries and private collectors were interested in acquiring music manuscripts through payment or trade.

As a result, manuscripts by Dresden copyists can be found today in numerous European libraries, from London and Madrid, through Naples and Vienna, to Copenhagen, Stockholm and probably St. Petersburg, not to mention German libraries in Berlin, Munich, etc. The ability to recognize music materials of Dresden origin would be relevant for many of today’s music collections.

Since the end of 2009, an article has been available online[5] that presents more than 300 images of handwriting samples by the Dresden court copyists, some typical examples of music by external copyists, as well as 40 images of covers of the Dresden Royal Private Music Collection (Dresdner Königliche Privat-Musikaliensammlung) and some additional covers from Dresden opera libretto prints starting in 1765. The vast majority of the original illustrations are held by the Saxon State Library—City and University Library Dresden (Sächsichen Landesbibliothek—Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden; D-Dl).

Since identifying a copyist becomes more certain when one knows his “normal” handwriting, the article illustrates, whenever possible, handwriting samples of the music copyists, taken from the Saxon State Archive, Dresden (Sächsischen Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden; D-Da). Complications often arise due to the often significant variations in lettering used in music compared to that in correspondence. In the former, the Latin alphabet was overwhelmingly used; in the correspondence, though, it was Gothic script. In the case of the correspondence, one has to look for foreign words that were written with Latin letters in order to enable a comparison to the often very distinguishable standardized characters in the musical materials.

The shapes that are normally considered characteristic of a copyist—such as accidentals, rests, stems, as well as the tendency to write with a left or right slant—are not enough to identify a copyist with a particular “school.” It is often the case that most copyists experienced an evolution of their own writing; their early and late letterings are sometimes significantly different. One can only recognize such developments when one has handwriting samples of the copyist from various phases of his career. Datable objects, such as opera materials with known first performances, are especially helpful.

A difficulty that one does not see every day arises when two copyists worked together at the same time, whereby one wrote all the notes and the other wrote the lettering (such as voice, movement, and dynamic designations as well as the song texts). This is usually observed with beginners who wrote the notes while the mentor filled in everything else.[6] In cases where two experienced copyists worked together, it is probably because they were in a rush to complete the manuscript. Different quills were presumably used for the notes and lettering. Changing writing instruments evidently meant a loss of time, which one could avoid in this way.

Apart from these exceptions, the lettering is always the main means of identifying copyists.

An additional area of research is the paper that was used. We all know from Bach studies what significance watermarks hold for dating the autographs of Johann Sebastian Bach and copies of his works.

With a rich pool of sources as is in Dresden, the situation is different: the copyists are for the most part identified, their dates of service are known, and there are enough verified dates as fixed points. There were paper mills in Saxon and specifically one near Dresden whose products were used in the Saxon chancelleries as well as by music copyists. But the copyists also used foreign paper (such as Dutch) that one could find at the Leipzig trade fairs, or paper brought home by individual musicians and Kapellmeisters from their travels (Italian and Viennese paper). In such cases where foreign paper was used, only knowledge of the copyist reveals the place of origin of a manuscript.

Paper can also be important for identifying “genuine” Dresden copyists, including outside copyists hired to assist the permanent music copyists, as opposed to the ones who had trained in Dresden but were employed elsewhere. The latter may, for example, be detectable in the copyist circle of the Leipzig music publisher Breitkopf, where the expert elegant, clear script learned in Dresden was certainly well-received. Paper that Breitkopf used is no doubt already known and can be distinguished from the type used at the Dresden court.

In addition, the informative value of the paper in the Dresden original sources should not be neglected, particularly concerning materials that were used and re-edited over a longer period of time. In opera scores, one sees inserts and pasteovers. In church music, there are parts that were copied at a later time, and while both the original copyists and the later ones might be the same, they used different paper. In these cases, the paper shows first and foremost that the material in question was changed at a later date or that inserts were made for a specific performance of an opera. Ideally, the original edition is still extant in its complete form (sometimes with pins, sometimes fastened with yarn) and new pieces or the transposition of the original into a different key were simply inserted into the score. Such conductor’s scores, which also formed the basis for the parts, are invaluable in recognizing the stage version that they served.

In Dresden, alongside scores created for opera performances, there are clean copies that were completed for the court. They were mostly copied in one sitting from edited performance copies and do not permit recognition of related component parts. Here it is clear that the cleanest, most correction-free music manuscripts are not necessarily authentic drafts. Bibliographically describing manuscripts comprising disparate elements admittedly takes some effort, but it shows the relevance of a source to a particular place and its specific performance practice. Such a source has a musically historical value that approaches that of an autograph copy even when the whereabouts of the autograph are known. But one can determine which local performance practice the manuscript speaks to when the local copyists are known and can be recognized in the sources.[7]


[1] See Ex. 3 and 4.

[2] See Ex. 5 and 6.

[3] See Ex. 7 and 8.

[4] See Ex. 1 and 2.

[5] Ortrun Landmann: Über das Musikerbe der Sächsischen Staatskapelle. Drei Studien zur Geschichte der Dresdner Hofkapelle und Hofoper anhand ihrer Quellenüberlieferung in der SLUB Dresden.” Dresden 2009; 2/2010. Available through the online catalog of the SLUB (D-Dl) or at http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bsz:14-qucosa-38515 (2nd edition.) With 368 illustrations. This article also contains references to other relevant literature.

[6] See Ex. 15, ca.1784.

[7] For detailed explanations on this topic, see note 5.



Note: Publication of the following illustrations has been made possible with the kind permission of the owners of the originals, D-Da (Ex. 1-6), Dompfarramt der Kathedrale Dresden (Ex. 7-8) and D-Dl (Ex. 9-20).

Part 1: Examples of Characteristic Scripts




Ex. 1 Saxon chancellery writing from records of the Dresden court, ca. 1720
(D-Da, OHMA.K.II.5, inside title page)
           Ex. 2: Saxon chancellery writing from records of the Dresden court, 1763/64 (D-Da, Geh.Kab., Loc.589/49, f.10r)




Ex. 3 French script from records of the Dresden court, probably 1720 (D-Da, Geh.Kab., Loc.383/2, f.176r, autograph of the musician and music copyist Prache du Tilloy)            Ex. 4: French script from records of the Dresden court, ca. 1764 (D-Da, Geh.Kab., Loc.589/49, f.20r, chancellery writing)




Ex. 5: Italian script from the records of the Dresden court, 1733 (D-Da, Geh.Kab., Loc.383/1, f.27v, autograph, Giovanni Alberto [!] Ristori)            Ex. 6: Italian script from the records of the Dresden court, 1772 (D-Da, Geh.Kab., Loc.910/3, f.268v, autograph, Domenico Fischietti)




Ex. 7: Bohemian Jesuit script, marriage entries, 1713-1715 (Kath. Dompfarramt Dresden, Nomina Copulatorum Dresdae in Ecclesia Aulica et Parochiali [...] Anno 1709 [-1777])            Ex. 8: Bohemian Jesuit script, marriage entries, January 1737 (Kath. Dompfarramt Dresden, Nomina Copulatorum Dresdae in Ecclesia Aulica et Parochiali [...] Anno 1709 [-1777])


Part 2: Examples of Dresden Court Copyist Scripts

[Originally published in Landmann, Über das Musik-Erbe der Sächsischen Staatskapelle, 2/2010, nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:bsz:14-qucosa-38515]




Ex. 9: [Original: Illustration III.113.] Court copyist Johann Jacob Lindner (†1733, active until about 1728), around 1719 (D-Dl, Mus.2154-N-1,2, Beginning of viola part, ca. 1719)            Ex. 10: [Original: Illustration III.68.] Court music copyist Johann George Kremmler (employed 1733-†1759) (D-Dl, Mus.2455-D-2, f.2r; ca. 1732)




Ex. 11 [Original: Illustration I.6]: Court copyist Johann Gottfried Grundig (employed 1733-†1773) (D-Dl, Mus.2477-F-120,1, f.1r; around 1747)            Ex. 12 [Original: Ex. I.15.]: External copyist Johann Gottlieb Morgenstern (Member of the chapel 1722-†1763) (D-Dl, Mus.2477-D-19a, from a violin 1 part; 1744)




Ex. 13 [Original: Ex. I.26.]: Court copyist Carl Gottlob Uhle (employed 1758-†1784) (D-Dl, Mus.2477-F-117, f.58r; 1758)            Ex. 14 [Original: Ex. III.48.]: External and court copyist Johann Gottlieb Haußstädler (ca. 1750-ca. 1790) (D-Dl, Mus.3532-F-1, from vol. 1; 1774)




Ex. 15 [Original: Ex. III.159.]: “Pupil” Joseph Schlettner (†1788) for all notes, court copyist Christian Friedrich Funke (employed 1784-†1799) for all lettering (D-Dl, Mus.3480-F-18, from vol. II; ca. 1784)            Ex. 16 [Original: Ex. II.29.]: External and court copyist Johann Christoph Zucker (active ca. 1780-†1814) (D-Dl. Mus.4083-F-501, from vol. I; ca. 1808)




Ex. 17 [Original: Ex. II.30.]: External and court copyist Christian Adolph Gutmacher (active ca. 1784-†1822) (D-Dl, Mus.4083-F-501, from vol. I; ca.1808)            Ex. 18 [Original: Ex. III.18.]: Court copyist Christian Gottlieb Böhme (employed 1800-†1824) (D-Dl, Mus.4104-F-508, from vol.III; 1816)




Ex. 19 [Original: Ex. III.58.]: Copyist assistant and court copyist Johann Carl Adam Klemm (active ca.1815-†1857) (D-Dl, Mus.4689-G-12, f-2r; 1818)            Ex. 20 [Original: Ex. III.176.]: Johann Friedrich Stenke (External and court copyist, active ca. 1821-†1860) (D-Dl, Mus.5876-F-509, from the bassoon I part; 1842)