(b Walderbach, Bavaria, 9 Feb 1834; d Landshut, 2 Dec 1888). German church musician and composer, a leader in the Cecilian movement. The eldest son of a teacher, he studied science and theology at Regensburg, where he became a singer in the cathedral choir and became acquainted with Renaissance sacred polyphony under the cathedral choirmaster. He was ordained priest in 1856, spent three years in the pastoral ministry and then taught Gregorian chant at the theological seminary in Regensburg. At this time he took lessons in counterpoint and published a number of compositions in strict polyphonic style. In 1867 he took up the post of inspector at the preliminary of St Emmeram, which also involved acting as choirmaster at the parish church. For health reasons he left this post two years later. In 1870 and 1871 he acted as cathedral choirmaster at Eichstätt; in 1873 he took the small country parish of Schatzhofen near Landshut, but resigned two years later and thereafter lived, in poor health, at Landshut. In 1873 he was awarded the degree of DPhil by Pope Pius IX; in 1880 he became an honorary canon of the cathedral at Palestrina.
Witt’s compositions are workmanlike and cast in the mould of Renaissance polyphony, but some have a stereotyped conventionality and they often lack imagination. Witt’s main historical contribution lies in his championship of the movement for the reform of German Roman Catholic church music. He announced a programme of objectives in Der Zustand der katholischen Kirchenmusik zunächst in Altbayern (1865), founded and edited one journal in 1866 (Fliegende Blätter für katholische Kirchenmusik) and another in 1868 (Musica sacra). In them he published many articles to spread the idea of church music reform. He also arranged for church music to be included in numerous teaching courses and performances, and proved himself a competent conductor.
At a general meeting of the Katholischer Verein Deutschlands at Innsbruck in 1867, Witt proposed the foundation of an organization for the improvement of Roman Catholic church music; this received no support, but he managed to assemble a large membership for which the Allgemeine Deutsche Cäcilienverein was founded at Bamberg in 1868. Witt was its general chairman for almost 20 years. Finally he founded the Scuola Gregoriana at Rome in 1880.
Witt’s position can only be understood within the framework and Zeitgeist of the 1870s. His main concern was the pastoral influence of church music, which was to have an improving and ennobling effect. The poor state of church music at that time made Witt into a harsh critic; he was, however, more a theologist than a musician, and as a lone campaigner was aware of his polarizing effect.
Der Zustand der katholischen Kirchenmusik zunächst in Altbayern (Regensburg, 1865)
Über das Dirigieren katholischer Kirchenmusik (Regensburg, 1870) [pubd anon.]
Gestatten die liturgischen Gesetze beim Hochamt deutsch zu singen? (Regensburg, 1873, 2/1886)
Das königliche bayerische Cultus-Ministerium, die bayerische Abgeordneten-Kammer und der Cäcilien-Verein (Regensburg, 1886; ed. C. Lickleder, Regensburg, 1983)
Numerous articles in Fliegende Blätter für katholische Kirchenmusik(1866–) and Musica sacra (1868–)
U.Kornmüller: Lexikon der kirchlichen Tonkunst (Brixen, 1870, 2/1891–5/R)
A.Walter: Dr. Fr. Witt, Gründer und erster Generalpräses des Cäcilienvereins: ein Lebensbild (Regensburg, 1889, 2/1906)
Obituaries: Fliegende Blätter für katholische Kirchenmusik, xxiv (1889), 2; Musica sacra, xxii (1889), 2
K.Weinmann: Geschichte der Kirchenmusik (Kempten and Munich, 1906, 4/1925; Eng. trans., 1910/R)
(b Niederstetten, Württemberg, 8 Nov 1770; d Würzburg, 3 Jan 1836). German cellist and composer. From 1789 to about 1796 he was a member of the orchestra of the Prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein. During this period and afterwards he travelled widely. In 1802 he wrote for Würzburg his oratorio Der leidende Heiland, which was so successful that the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg appointed him his Kapellmeister. From 1814 (when he resigned that post) to his death he was Kapellmeister at the Würzburg theatre.
Witt is now remembered for the ‘Jena’ Symphony. In 1909 Fritz Stein found at Jena a copy of a symphony in C, with Beethoven's name on two of the parts, and published it as a probable early work by Beethoven. This attribution remained doubtful, however, until Robbins Landon discovered a better copy of the symphony at Göttweig under Witt's name (a second copy has since been found at Rudolstadt). The work is in fact a piece of plagiarism, put together almost with scissors and paste from reminiscences of Haydn. Two other symphonies by Witt reprinted c1963 are much in the style of Rosetti, and resemble the ‘Jena’ Symphony without being so grossly plagiaristic.
3 theatrical works, 1801–14
2 oratorios, 2 cantatas, 3 masses
9 symphonies (Offenbach, 1804–15)
Symphony, C [‘Jena’], D-Ju [‘par Louis van Beethoven’], A-GÖ [‘Witt’], D-RUl [‘di Witt’]