BIOGRAPHY

(b Töttelstedt, Gotha, 8 Jan 1787; d Gotha, 28 March 1860). German pianist, conductor and composer. He was the model for E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ‘Capellmeister Kreisler’ and thus of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. He had his first keyboard, violin and composition lessons from his father, a local teacher and Kantor, and as a child showed an immense talent for music. Before he was ten he had set Schiller’s Ode to Joy for soloists, chorus and orchestra and written many other works. His parents sent him to Erfurt to study at the Gymnasium and the teacher-training college; he graduated in 1805 and was sent immediately to Gotha for further instruction with Spohr, writing his first significant pieces at about this time. In 1808 he went to Jena, where he became a piano teacher and eventually joined the artistic circles of Hoffmann and Goethe. He made his first concert tour in 1811, the success of which won him the music directorship of the Nuremberg city theatre, a post he held shakily until 1815. Further concert tours followed, the last of which – to Copenhagen in 1819–20 – ended in a complete nervous breakdown which thoroughly destroyed his artistic career. He spent the last 40 years of his life lonely and deranged. He continued to compose, eking out a living from the pieces that he published, but these do not compare with his youthful work.
Hailed as the ‘Thuringian Mozart’ in his youth, Böhner won praise for his virtuoso piano pieces and his orchestral works. The influence of Spohr kept his style mainly along Classical lines, but he also anticipated Weber in a number of respects: in the concert overture (a genre that Böhner seems to have invented), in the use of the clarinet as a virtuoso solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment, and in the use of the elements of hunting, peasant life and the forest in opera (Böhner’s Dreiherrenstein, 1810–13, anticipates Der Freischütz by almost a decade). Many of Bohner’s works were published in his lifetime, and around the turn of the century many of his unpublished manuscripts were collected by a small Böhner Society in Gotha (now in D-GOl).

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