A Poet's Description of the Lute Playing
of Silvius Leopold Weiss
and a Possible Link Between Weiss
and David Kellner

Kenneth Sparr


Stockholm, Sweden 1994
Updated 2018-06-17


Kenneth Sparr´s Page

An apparently unknown account of the lute playing of Silvius Leopold Weiss is hidden in the collected poems of the Saxon Horace, Johann Ulrich von König (1688-1744).(1) The passage on Weiss is found in a pastoral, pseudo-dramatic poem, written on the occassion of the birth of a Saxon prince and the return of the Elector Frederick Augustus I in 1720: Ein Schäfer-Gedicht auf die hohe Geburt eines Chur.-Sächs. Printzen, bey zugleich glücklich erfolgter Zurückkunft Sr. Majestät unsers allergnädigsten Königs (A pastoral poem on the high birth of an Electoral Saxon Prince, upon the simultaneous fortunate return of his Majesty our Most Gracious King). König's poem describes in fanciful terms the effects of Weiss' playing on his listeners, but he also gives some insightful information regarding Weiss' skill as a musician and composer. The dramatis personae of the poem are the three shepherds Seladon, Hulderich, and Elban. The lengthy section on Weiss begins after the shepherds express their wish to sing a lullaby. Seladon says:


… Jetzt wollen wir die Pfeiffen
Abwechselnd zum Gesang ergreiffen.
Hört! wie ich mich mit geschwollnen Wangen
bereits den rechten Thon zu suchen angefangen.


But Hulderich has some objections and says:


Die alter Leyer weg! die Pfeiffen weg  hiervon!
Hier gilt kein bäurischer kein Regel-loser Thon.
Es soll nur Silvius darzu die Laute spielen, (u)
Der so spielt, wann er spielt, dass es die Herzen fühlen.
Er ist an Aendrungen ganz unerschöpflich reich,
Und sich in seiner Kunst nur einzig selber gleich.
Wann er nachlässig seine Saiten
Mit leichter Hand nur obenhin berührt,
Und, nach unzähligen Annehmlichkeiten
Alsdenn verstärkt durch ein hellklingend streiten,
Den Wohllaut und die Kunst in solchen Lustkampf führt,
Dass selbst sein thönend Holz davon sich muss erschüttern,
So bebt das Herz vor Lust, wie seine Saiten zittern.
Wann aber denn der Thon ersterbend sich verliehrt,
Er auch, durch klägliche verliebte Schmeicheleyen,
Durch immer wechslende stets fremde Zaubereyen,
Durch manschen falschen Gang des Hörers Ohr betrügt,
Und selbst durch den Betrug noch künstlicher vergnügt,
Bald seufzend bebt, bald schwebend stille liegt;
Und oft den Klang erst schärft, indem er scheint zu schweigen,
So hält man bey sich selbst den Athem ängstlich an,
Damit den Ohren ja kein Thon entwischen kan.
Oft überrascht er uns durch unverhofften Fall,
Oft überfällt er uns durch wunderschnelles Steigen,
Antwortet oft sich selbst mit nachgeahmten Schall,
Und macht durch sanftern Griff den schönsten Wiederhall.
Will aber er den Klang verdoppeln und vermehren,
So weiß, wie ihm geschieht, der Hörer nicht:
So mißtraut man selbst dem Gesicht,
Und glaubt hier mehr als einem zuzuhören.
Kurz: Zwischen Lust, Verwunderung und Ruh,
Vergißt man sich, und hört ihm zu.
So sagte Hulderich, und von den andern beyden
Sprach jeder: ja! und brach sein Rohr entzwey mit Freuden.
Weg! rieffen sie: mit Pfeiffen und mit Rohr,
Nur Silvius spielt recht für ein so zartes Ohr...

(u) Silvius ist der Taufnahme des Königl. Cammer-Musici und be- rühmten Lautenisten, Mons. Weissens. ).(2).


In English translation the poem could be as follows:


Now we shall seize the pipes
and alternate with singing.
Listen! how I am already trying to
find the right note with puffed cheeks.


But Hulderich has some objections and says:


Away with the old lyre! Away with the pipes!
No crude or ruleless note is accepted here.
None but Silvius is to play the lute thereto. (u)
When he plays he does it such a way that the hearts feel it.
In variations he is quite inexhaustibly rich,
and he is unequalled in his art.
When he carelessly and just lightly touches his strings
with a nimble hand, and he, after innumerable pleasures
now and then strengthened by a brightly sounding battle,
conducts the harmony and the art in such a pleasant fight,
that even his sonorous wood must quiver,
and the heart trembles with pleasure
as his strings are shaking.
But when the sound dies away,
he also, through lamentable amorous caresses,
through always changing, strange enchantments,
through many false progressions that deceive the ear of the listener,
and even through the deception he pleases us skilfully,
now sighing and trembling, now hovering and calmly resting;
And often he sharpens the sound at first, while he seems to keep silence, so you disquietingly hold your breath,
so that your ears will not miss a single note.
Often he surprises us with unexpected decreasing,
often he amazes us with stunningly rapid increasing,
often he answers himself with an imitable sound,
and gives, through a soft plucking, the most beautiful echo.
If he wants to double and increase the sound,
then the listener does not know how he makes it:
you even distrust your eyes,
believing that you are listening to more than one.
In short: in the midst of pleasure, surprise and repose
you forget yourself and listen to him.
Thus Hulderich spoke and each of the other two
said: yes! and joyfully they broke their crooks to pieces.
Away! they shouted, with pipes and with crook,
only Sylvius will play truly to such a fine ear.


(u) Silvius is the Christian name of the Royal court musician and
famous lutenist, Mons. Weiss.


Von König's description of Weiss becomes more credible when one considers the poet's musical background and the possible ties to Weiss himself. Both were employed at the Dresden court at about the same time: Weiss acquired his position as Kammerlautenist in 1718, and König was appointed "Royal Polish and Saxon Electoral Privy Secretary and Court Poet" in early 1720.(3) Prior to coming to Dresden, König wrote libretti to operas by Keiser, Hoffman, Heinichen and others, as well as smaller texts that were set to music by Mattheson and Telemann. He wrote the libretto to Georg Philipp Telemann's Musikalisches Lustspiel Der geduldige Socrates in 1721. He also held a leading position at the Hamburg opera. In all probability, the quote Es soll nur Sylvius die Laute spielen, which appears beneath the famous portrait of Weiss and attributed to a "v. König" was taken from the passage in the poem quoted above.(4) Thus, Hans Volkmann's identification of "v. König" as Friedrich August von König - Johann Ulrich's son by his marriage to Regina Gertrud Schwarz - is probably incorrect. .(5)





Silvius Leopold Weiss. Copper engraving [1765] by Bartolomeo Folino [1730-after 1808] , after a  painting (c. 1740), now lost, by Balthasar Denner [1685-1749].


This engraving (a copy of which is in the author's collection) was included in the first volume of Neuen Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und freyen Künste, Leipzig 1765. The reasons for dating the original painting to c. 1740 is that it shows Weiss in his "mature" years and that Denner in 1740 also portrayed Johann Adolf Hasse, who was the leader of the court orchestra at Dresden. It is hardly likely that the engraving was made before 1750 as Weiss died that year and Folino was but 20 years old. Folino was born in Venice and died in Warsaw.


Johann Ulrich von König’s wife, Regina Gertrud Schwarz, was seven years of age in 1697 when David Kellner married her widowed mother, thus making Regina Kellner's stepdaughter.(6) Regina most likely studied music with her stepfather between 1697 and 1700 in Dorpat (Tartu), Livonia, then a Swedish province. By 1704, she was acclaimed as both a singer and composer, and in 1708, Johann Valentin Meder reported to Mattheson that Regina participated in performances in Riga of cantatas by Keiser and Bromer. In 1715, she performed in Mattheson's eine vollstimmige Kirchen-Musik in Hamburg. Mattheson was obviously impressed by the singer; in his Exemplarische Organisten-Probe of 1719, Regina is cited as exemplary in the art of singing to one's own accompaniment. Mattheson refers to her in the form of a pun, Ob die Person blond oder Schwarz sey, mag einer erraten (Whether the person were white or Schwarz, one may guess), which suggests that she was quite well known. Kellner, who at this time was working as organist and carilloneur in Stockholm, must have acquired a copy of Mattheson's book soon after its publication, for on 24 September 1720, he wrote a letter to Mattheson in which he mentions that ich ein Stieff-Vater der Schwarzin sey (I am a stepfather of Schwarz).(7)


Even without clear evidence, it seems likely that Regina Gertrud Schwarz provided her stepfather with information about musical events in Germany, particularly Dresden. Kellner must have been eager to know about new musical developments in one of Europe's important musical centres. And if König's poem An eine berühmte Virtuosin über ihre Vollkommenheit in der Musik (To a famous virtuosa, on her perfection in music) refers to Regina, then she also played the lute.(8) Interestingly, it was her desire to have a keyboard instrument that combined the force of the harpsichord with the sensitivity of the clavichord that inspired Gottfried Silbermann to build a clavessin d'amour.(9) Probably as a result of the influence of his stepdaughter, David Kellner introduced this instrument to Sweden in the 1720's.(10)





A drawing of Silbermann’s Cembal d’amour. Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg, Cod. Hans. IV, 38-42:3 (178)


Recently a clavessin d'amour or cembal d'amour has been identified in the National Museum of Finland. This instrument may have been made in Sweden in the 1730s and is the first known example of an still existing "clavessin d'amour". Further investigations concerning this imstrument is now carried out.


Finally, Regina Gertrud Schwarz may also have played a role in the possible connection between Weiss and Kellner. A passage in Kellner's Treulicher Unterricht im General-Bass... of 1732 indicates that he was aware of Weiss' greatness, particularly in the art of accompaniment from a thorough-bass:


Dass aber der berühmte Sylvius Leopold Weiss auf seiner Laute was rechtschaffens accompagnieren und auf derselben das praestiren kan, was andere müssen bleiben lassen, solches ist mehr seiner Geschicklichkeit als dem Instrument zuzuschreiben.


That the famous Sylvius Leopold Weiss upon his lute is able to play a correct accompaniment and on that instrument accomplish what others have to avoid is more to credit his skill than the instrument.


Kellner was known primarily by his treatise Treulicher Unterricht im General-Bass. His reputation as a lutenist, on the other hand, seems to have been more modest. Aside from the fact that he owned a lute, he only published a single collection, the XVI Auserlesene Lauten-Stücke (1747), which is rather conservative considering its late date. But while Kellner's compositional output for the lute is small, his interest in the instrument may have been inspired by Weiss, with his stepdaughter - well established in the Dresden musical circles - acting as intermediary. This speculation may serve as a point of departure for future biographical research on Weiss, for one can detect the spirit in his music of some of the lute works of David Kellner.


This article has been published in the Journal of the Lute Society of America, Vol. XVIII (1986), pp. 58-67. Also in a German version as 'Die Kunst von Silvius Leopold Weiss im Spiegel der zeitgenössischen Literatur', Gitarre & Laute, 9/1987 Heft 6 pp. 15-17.


Nigel North’s recordings with music by Weiss refer to Johann Ulrich von König’s description of Weiss’ playing: The Heart Trembles with Pleasure, BGS Records BGS 119, Cantabile. BGS Records BGS120 and Galanterie, BGS Records 125.


I am grateful to Douglas Alton Smith with his assistance with the translation of von König’s poem into English. I also would like to thank Helmut Albrecht for his valuable corrections and additions.


1. The most complete biography of Johann Ulrich von König is Max Rosenmüller, Johann Ulrich von König - ein Beitrag zur Literaturgeschichte des 18. Jahrhunderts (Leipzig, 1896).


2. Des Herrn von Königs Gedichte aus seinen von ihm selbst verbesserten Manuscripte gesammelt und herausgegeben (Dresden, 1745), pp. 65-66. Available at


3. See Douglas Alton Smith, "Sylvius Leopold Weiss," Early Music, 8 (1980), p. 8; also Rosenmüller, Johann Ulrich von König... , p. 33.


4. Neue Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und der Freyen Künste, Ersten Bandes, erstes Stück (Leipzig, 1765).


5. Hans Volkmann, "Sylvius Leopold Weiss - der letzte grosse Lautenist," Die Musik (1906/1907) p. 289.


6. The identity and biography of Regina Gertrud Schwarz have been confused by many earlier writers. The clearest picture of her emerges from the following: Nova literaria Maris Balthici... (Lübeck, 1704), p. 104; Nikolaus Busch, "Alt-Rigas Musikkultur," Baltische Monatshefte (1937), 11, p. 646; Werner Freytag, Musikgeschichte der Stadt Stettin im 18. Jahrhundert (Köslin, 1936), pp. 3-4; Johann Mattheson, Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte... (Berlin 1910), p. 220 and 200ff; Max Rosenmüller op. cit.; Cornelius Gurlitt, August der Starke, Band II (Dresden, 1924), p. 265; Ernst Ludwig Gerber, Neues historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler Dritter Teil (Graz, 1966), p. 168; J. F. von Recke & K. E. Napiersky, Allgemeines Schriftsteller- und Gelehrten-Lexikon der Provinzen Livland, Esthland und Kurland, 4 (Mitau, 1842), p. 164. See also Kenneth Sparr, David Kellner: 'A Biographical Survey' The Lute 29/1989 pp. 3-36]. Also on Internet as David Kellner David Kellner: Ein biographischer Überblick Teil 1-3. Gitarre & Laute 14/1992, Heft 6, pp. 13-18; 7/1993, Heft 1 pp. 17-21; Heft 2 pp. 17-21]


7. The letter from Kellner was published in Johann Mattheson, Grosse Generalbass-Schule (Hamburg, 1731) p. CIv ff.


8. Des Herrn von Königs-- op. cit. , p. 318.


9. This fact was related by Johann Ulrich von König himself, in Bresslauischen Sammlungen von Natur-, Medicin., Kunst- und Literatur (1721), quoted in Ernst Flade, Gottfried Silbermann (Leipzig, 1953), p. 242.


10. Abraham Abrahamson Hülphers, Historisk Afhandling om Musik och Instrumenter (Västerås, 1773), p. 80. In 1746 Charles de Geer at Leufsta bought a clavecin d’amour from count Düben. See Tomas, Anfält, Offentlighet och privatliv. Om livet på Leufsta herrgård på 1700-talet. Herrgårdskultur och salongsmiljö. Rapport från en nordisk konferens på Leufsta bruk 12-14 maj 1995. Musikvetenskapliga serien 30. Uppsala universitet, Institutionen för musikvetenskap, p. 6


11. David Kellner, Treulicher Unterricht im General-Bass... (Hamburg, 1732).


12. Stockholms stadsarkiv, Bouppteckningar 1748/2 fol. 674.

© Kenneth Sparr