(b Altenburg, c1660; d Gotha, 3 April 1717). German composer, music editor and teacher. He was first taught music by his father, Johann Ernst Witt, who was Altenburg court organist in succession to Gottfried Scheidt and had come from Denmark when a Danish princess married into the ruling house of Saxe-Altenburg about 1650. The Altenburg male heirs having all died out, the succession passed in 1672 to the Duke of Saxe-Gotha, Friedrich I, who, probably in 1676, gave Witt a scholarship to study in Vienna and Salzburg. He also paid for him to study composition and counterpoint with G.C. Wecker in Nuremberg in 1685–6. On 1 June 1686 Witt was appointed chamber organist at the Gotha court. In 1688 he was again sent to study with Wecker. In 1694 he was appointed substitute for the Kapellmeister, W.M. Mylius, and he succeeded him after his death, in 1713. He was well thought of as a teacher, not only within the Dukedom of Gotha; the future Duke Friedrich II was among his pupils. He was also admired as an able keyboard player (in J.P. Treiber’s Der accurate Organist im General-Bass, 1704) and Kapellmeister (in Telemann’s Beschreibung der Augen-Orgel, 1739). He enjoyed good relations with neighbouring courts, including those of Ansbach-Bayreuth, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Saxe-Weissenfels, and several works by him are listed in inventories from there.
Witt was a versatile composer of both vocal and instrumental music. His vocal music consists largely of church cantatas, prominent among which are those forming the so-called Rentweinsdorf cycle, for every Sunday and festival of the church’s year, which survive in partbooks emanating from the church at Rentweinsdorf, Lower Franconia. The cantatas are in a rather old-fashioned style without recitatives. There is often an instrumental introduction, and the vocal sections include fully scored concerto movements, solos and duets, and homophonic chorale choruses crowned by an instrumental part. His Psalmodia sacra is one of the most important hymnals of the early 18th century; Marpurg praised it as the best hymnal he knew. Of its 762 hymns, 351 are furnished with melodies and figured basses, and an appendix includes 12 hymns and five melodies. Apart from tunes by 16th- and 17th-century composers from Thuringia and elsewhere, there are over 100 new ones, most of which are doubtless by Witt himself. His Whitsuntide hymn Schmückt das Fest mit Maien is still found in Protestant hymnbooks. His instrumental music includes both ‘ouvertures’ (or suites) in the French style and italianate, concerto-like sonatas, mainly in four to seven parts, whose textures include the three-part concertino typical of the concerto grosso. His varied output of keyboard works, many of them now lost, includes several harpsichord suites and a passacaglia in D minor once wrongly attributed to Bach.
printed works published in Gotha
65 cants., Rentweinsdorf cycle, 4vv, 2 vn, 2 viols, bc, 1 with 2 clarinos, some with bn/vle, D-Nla, 2 in F-Ssp, full titles in Krummacher
12 cants., 3 in D-Bsb, 2 in F, 1 in LUC, 6 in F-Ssp
Funeral ode (Wer kan des Höchsten Rath), 5vv, 1697
Psalmodia sacra, oder Andächtige und schöne Gesänge, containing 356 melodies, c100 by Witt, 1v, bc (1715, 2/n.d. as Neues Cantional mit dem Generalbass); 104 ed. in ZahnM
Lost: Das neuerbaute … Lust-Schloss Friederichswerth … in nachgesetzten Gespräch-Spiel … vorgestellt (1689); Friedensteinische Freuden-Bezeugung (1691); Unterthänigster Glückwunsch … in einer Tafel-Music (1692); Salomonisches Regentengebet und dessen Erhörung (1693); Das gute Vernehmen zwischen Haupt und Gliedern (1694); Das glückliche Pentalpha, oder Fünffeckigter Grund-Stein wohlgerathener Heyrath (1696); Erbauliche Übereinstimmung der Sonn- und Festtags-Evangelien, cant. cycle for a year (1696); Unterthänigstes Denck- und Danck-Mahl (1696); Ich will den Herren loben (Ps xxxiv), double choir, formerly D-WRtl; cants., mentioned in inventories of Ansbach Hofkapelle, 1686, Rudolstadt Hofkapelle, St Peter’s Church, Strasbourg
3 ouvertures, a 4, 6, D-Kl
3 suites, a 4–6, 2 in WRtl, 1 in Kl; 1 ed. in HM, xcix (1952)
7 sonatas, a 4–7, 10, 5 in WRtl, 2 in Kl
3 marches, a 4, JE; ed. P. Rubardt (Kassel, 1954); ed. G. Zahn (Zürich, 1992)
Conc., tpt, insts, WRz
6 suites, kbd, 3 in Bsb, 3 in JE (dated, 1704); selection ed. L. Cerutti and F. Rima (Padua, 1994–5)