Johann Gottfried Walther was a German baroque composer, organist, theorist and lexicographer. He was renowned for his in-depth musical knowledge and enthusiasm for research, contributing to monumental publications which have a valuable place in music history. In his lifetime, he was best known for compiling the Musicalisches Lexicon, an enormous dictionary of music and musicians published in Leipzig in 1732. He wrote and transcribed a substantial amount of pieces for organ.
Walther was born in Erfurt, the son of Johann Stephan Walther, a fabric-maker and Dorothea Lämmerhirt who was a relative of the Bach family. Interestingly, Walther’s birth and death closely coincided with the birth and death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Walther began his musical studies at the age of four, eventually taking organ lessons with Johann Bernhard Bach and David Adlung.
In 1697, Walther began studying at the Ratsgymnasium where he was a scholar of humanistic studies. In 1702 he began his first formal post as organist at the Thomaskirche in Erfurt. Parallel to his organist duties, he studied the theory and history of music in a very extensive manner, consulting the treatises of Werckmesiter, Fludd and Kircher. Werckmeister was one of the most pre-eminent names in German musical writings at the time and Walther had the opportunity to meet him in 1703 in Halberstadt. He was very encouraging towards Walther and as a gift, he gave him the treatise Pleiades musicae by Baryphonus, which had been published in Halberstadt in 1615.