Christian Geist (ca 1650−1711)


Christian Geist was a bass singer, composer and organist from Mecklenburg, Germany. From1670−79 he was employed at the Svenska Hovkapellet (Swedish Royal Court Orchestra) and wrote some 50 compositions for the court and aristocracy. In 1679, he left Stockholm to take up the post of organist at the German Church in Gothenburg, and in 1684 he went to Copenhagen, where he remained until his death on 27 September 1711. His music is unconventional and is often characterised by a strong affective expression.


Background and establishment in Stockholm

Christian Geist was born in Güstrow in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Güstrow around 1650. His father Joachim was a cantor at the cathedral school, as well as at the cathedral in the city. There is no surviving documentation which attests to Christian’s year of birth. However, the fact that between 1665 and 1668 he was paid as Capellknabe (a singing boy within a chapel choir) at the Duke Gustav Adolf of Mecklenburg-Güstrow’s court, a salary that was collected on his behalf by his father, suggests that he was likely not born much earlier than 1650. Geist sang as part of the court orchestra, led by Fleming Daniel Danielis who was Court Conductor. Danielis and Geist’s father Joachim are likely to have been his early teachers in music and counterpoint.

In 1669 he went to Copenhagen for the purpose of ‘perfecting himself in music.’ In 1670 Johannes Schrøder, Hovkappelmästaren (Chief Conductor of the Danish Royal Court Orchestra) recommended him for a post at the Danish Royal Court Orchestra and described him as an experienced bass singer. Geist was, however, offered no such employment, and thus continued to Stockholm. From the early summer 1670, he was a musician in the Svenska Hovkapellet, and from 1671 he was posted at the royal household as ‘musicant’ (musician) in the median-wage category. Already in June 1670 he composed the music for Charles XI's first communion service at Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral), Veni, Salus pauperum.

During his time in Stockholm, Geist composed some 50 works, which are preserved in the Düben Collection of Uppsala University Library, many of them in the composer's autograph. He wrote music for royal religious services, celebrations and birthdays. The largest scale works were composed for festivities and the parliament in connection with Karl XI's accession to the throne upon coming of age in 1672. They consist of four compositions scored for trumpets and strings, together with a five-part vocal ensemble. Domine in Virtute and Domine qui Salutem regibus are both musical settings of psalms, which speak of the king's God-given power. Quis hostis in coelis was written for Michaelmas in the newly opened parliament. It portrays Michael's battle with the dragon, an allegory that may be associated with the young King's accession to the throne.

Geist was in contact with the Wrangel family, and the pieces he composed for them include the funeral music for Karl Gustav Wrangel's wife, Anna Margareta von Haugwitz, Die mit Tränen Saen, to a text by his brother Samuel Geist. It was performed at the funeral in Riddarholm Church in 1673.

On the way from Stockholm

In 1674, he sought the prestigious cantor position at the Johanneum in Hamburg on the recommendation of the Hamburg envoy in Stockholm, Vincent Garmers. Three works are preserved in manuscript in German libraries (which probably accounted for his audition pieces for this position) where he has attempted to demonstrate the breadth of his talents. The position eventually went to Joachim Gerstenbüttel, but Geist received an appreciative review, which stated that he had ‘a delicate style, which showed that he had spent time with the Italians.’

In 1679 Geist left Stockholm and the service of the Hovkapellet, following a conflict with Gustav Düben. It remains unclear what happened, but a letter from Geist to one of his patrons, Nils Gyldenstolpe, suggests that Düben had taken the matter to the Marshal, who had threatened Geist with an exemplary punishment, which led to him ‘in shock and confusion’ tendering his resignation. Instead he took, at Düben’s recommendation, the appointment as organist at the Tyska kyrkan (German Church) in Gothenburg. Geist was constantly dissatisfied with conditions there. The organ was inadequate, there were no musicians available, his salary was not paid on time and the income for funerals, weddings and teaching that was promised to him failed to materialise. Meanwhile, in Gothenburg he composed a few works, including the music for the wedding of Charles XI and Ulrika Eleonora at Skottorp in 1680, Se huru gott och lustigt är det and Beati omnes. Also dating from this time are a number of compositions in German with relatively easily performed soprano parts, which Geist had probably written for the Tyska kyrkan’s boys choir.

In the spring of 1679, Christian Geist’s father Joachim died, and in late 1680 and early 1681, he was in Güstrow to safeguard his inheritance and regulate his father's debts.

Geist finally left Sweden in 1684, for a position as organist in Helligåndskirken (Church of the Holy Ghost) in Copenhagen. He also had responsibility for Trinitatis Kirke (Trinitatis Church) and, in 1689 Holmens kirke (The Church of Holmen). No compositions remain extant from his time of Copenhagen. Geist married three times in Copenhagen, and had at least seven children, but none of them survived him. His first family were killed in a fire at the opera house in 1689, and his third wife and the surviving children, died in the plague epidemic, to which Christian himself succumbed in the autumn of 1711.

The Music

Stylistic features

Christian Geist’s around sixty preserved compositions reveal a distinctive style, which some researchers (Martin Geck, Kerala J. Snyder) have described as Mannerist. He had a penchant for colourful and daring harmonies, chromaticism, daring melodic leaps and unexpected, at times far-reaching, modulations. His Domine, ne secundum peccata nostra is most extreme in this respect. It develops in an untransposed Doric mode, but finds the time to visit distant tonal regions through the cycle of fifths in both directions, with cadences in both C-sharp and E-flat.

Phrases and formal development are also unconventional. Characteristic of Geist’s approach to thinking about music is that he assumes and implies conventional, regular patterns of rhythm, phrasing and form, but then immediately breaks these patterns to create variety and arouse interest.

These were all techniques and effects Geist applied to serve the powerful expression of affect, in conjunction with the text and context. Many of his works are characterised by an unusual tenderness and intimacy. The style is Italian and relatively modern, with a penchant for aria-like melodic characteristics in the composition of both metrical text and prose. However, Geist often goes further in terms of expressiveness than his Italian models. He also shows little interest − and perhaps also some limited ability − in imitative counterpoint.

Compositions on Latin devotional texts − and an imitation

From a modern perspective, Geist’s musically most interesting works are the twelve musical settings of Latin devotional texts, which were probably written for the royal communion services of worship – such as Vide pater mi Dolores (with which he applied for the post in Hamburg in 1674) and O Jesu amantissime from the same period. He often bases these works on the new Italian aria style, closely following textual metrics, but varies the aria-like melodic writing with more of a concerto-style, involving increasingly irregular phrase structure, together with elements of imitation and dialogue. The result is an interesting hybrid between the genres of aria and concerto, an approach that we also find in examples by Dieterich Buxtehude, a composer who stylistically stands relatively closely to Geist.

The above-mentioned commentary from Hamburg regarding Geist’s delicate style, which suggested the influence of the Italians probably has no factual basis in the sense that he never visited Italy and, as far as we know, never came into close contact with Italian musicians. This influence instead seems to have been made through careful study of Italian, and especially Roman musical scores. Proof of this is the Alleluia. De funere ad vitam from 1672, a piece that is a close imitation of a solo motet by the Roman composer Bonifacio Graziani. Geist has borrowed the text and closely followed Graziani’s model in terms of planning, setting, and stylistic choices, but also at the level of detail in terms of motives and phrases. The result is a new and independent composition, utilising Graziani as a model, where Geist demonstrates a clear ambition to compete with and surpass the model.

Despite the relatively high quality of his compositions, they had little distribution outside Scandinavia.

Lars Berglund © 2015
trans. Robin McGinley


Berglund, Lars: ‘Amor in Deum. Representationen av eros i Christian Geists gudstjänstmusik för Karl XI:s hov’, in: Barock/Barok [special number of the magazine], 2007, pp. 127−141.
Berglund, Lars: ‘Christian Geist’s ’Vide, pater mi, dolores’ and his application for the Johanneumskantorat in Hamburg’, in: Schütz-Jahrbuch, vol. 24, 2002, pp. 7−29.
Berglund, Lars: Studier i Christian Geists vokalmusik, diss. in musicology, Uppsala University, 2002.
Berglund, Lars: ‘The Aria, the Stylus Melismaticus and the Holy Communion. Devotional Music from Northern Courts in the Late Seventeenth Century’, in: Eyolf Østrem et al. (eds), The Cultural Heritage of Medieval Rituals: Genre and Ritual, Copenhagen: Tusculanum Press, 2005, pp. 251−270.
Geck, Martin: [Review of Christian Geist: Kirchenkonzerte, Bo Lundgren (ed.), Frankfurt: Peters 1960], Die Musikforschung, vol. 16, 1963, pp. 305−306.
Kjellberg, Erik
: Kungliga musiker i Sverige under stormaktstiden: studier kring deras organisation, verksamheter och status ca 1620–ca 1720, 2 vol., diss. in musicology, Uppsala University, 1979.
Krummacher, Friedhelm: ‘Die geistliche Aria in Norddeutschland und Skandinavien: ein gattungsgeschichtlicher Versuch’, in: D. Lohmeier (ed.), Weltliches und geistliches Lied der Barock, Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1979, pp. 229–264.
Lundgren, Bo: ‘Helligåndsorganisten Christian Geist’, in: Dansk kirkesangs årsskrift, 1958−59.
Pirro, André: Dietrich Buxtehude, Paris, 1913.


Uppsala University Library.

Summary list of works

Vocal Music (60 surviving works, including 12 compositions on Latin devotional texts).

Collected works

For a source list and modern editions, see Lars Berglund, 2002.

Vocal music
Adjuro vos, o filiae Jerusalem SSSB, 2 vl., b.c., 1671–73?
Alleluia. Absorpta est mors, SSB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1671.
Alleluia. De funere ad vitam, A, vl., b.c., 1672.
Alleluia. Surrexit pastor bonus, SSTTB, 2 vl., b.c., 1676?
Alleluia. Virgo Deum genuit, SSB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1672.
Altitudo quid hic jaces, SSB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1670.
Auf, auf o Norden und küße deine Strahlen, 1676–77?
Beati omnes qui timent Dominum, B, 2 vl., b.c., 1680.
Die mit Tränen säen, SSATB, 3 v.d.g., b.c., 1673.
Dieses ist der Tag der Wonne, SAB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1680.
Dixit Dominus Domine meo, SATB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1673.
Domine in virtute, SSATB, 2 trp, 2 vl., 2 vla, v.d.g., vne, b.c., 1672.
Domine ne secundum peccata nostra, SATB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1674–75?
Domine qui das salutem Regibus I, SSATB, 2 vl., vla, v.d.g., b.c., 1670.
Domine qui das salutem Regibus II, SSTTB, 2 trp, 2 vl., 2 vla, vne, b.c., 1672.
Domine qui das salutem Regibus III, SSATB, 3 vl., vb, vne, b.c., 1675.
Emendemus in melius, SATB, 2 vl., b.c., 1676.
Es war aber an der Stätte/O Traurigkeit, T, 2 v.d.g., b.c., 1680.
Exaudi Deus orationem meam, SSATB, 2 trp., 3 vl. ,vne, b.c., 1672.
Festiva laeta canticis, SSB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1672–73?
Haec est dies, SSB, 2 vl., teorb, b.c., 1672–73?
In te Domine speravi I, SSB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., at the latest 1674?
In te Domine speravi II, SATB, 4 unspec. instr., b.c.
Invocavit me, SSTB, 2 vl., [vla], v.d.g., teorb, vne, b.c., at the latest 1675?
Io, Musae, novo Sol rutilat, SSAB, 2 vl., 2vla, v.d.g., b.c., 1670.
Jesu delitium vultus, SATB, 2 vl., b.c., 1671.
Jesu, nostrae spes salutis, A T/S, b.c., 1669, Güstrow.
Laudate pueri Dominum, SSB, 2 vl., b.c., 1674?
Laudet Deum mea gloria, SSB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1675.
Media vita in morte sumus, SSB, 2 vl., b.c., 1671.
O admirabile commercium, SB, 2 vl., b.c., at the latest 1673?
O coeli sapientia, SSB, b.c., 1670, Copenhagen.
O immensa bonitas, SSB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1671.
O Jesu amantissime, SST, 2 vl., b.c.
O Jesu dulcis dilectio, SST, 2 vl., v.d.g., teorb, b.c., 1675?
O jucunda dies, SSB, 2 vl., teorb, b.c., 1673­–74.
O piissime Jesu, SATB, 3 vla, b.c., at the latest 1674.
Orietur sicut sol, SB, 2 vl., b.c., at the latest 1674?
Pastores dicite, STTB, 2 vl., b.c., 1672.
Quam pulchra es amica mea, SB, 2 vl., b.c., 1676?
Qui habitat in adjutorio, SATB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., at the latest 1674?
Quis hostis in coelis, SSATB, 2trp, 2 vl., 2 vla, b.c., 1672.
Resonet in laudibus, SSB, 2 vl., vne, b.c., 1673–74?
Resurrexi et adhuc tecum sum, S, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., at the latest 1673.
Schöpfe Hoffnung meine Seele/Tristis anima cur langues, SSATB, 2 vl., b.c., 1680.
Se univit Deus coeno, SSB, 2 vl., b.c., 1670.
Seelig, ja seelig wer willig erträget, SSTB, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1680.
Surrexit pastor bonus, SB, 2 vl., b.c., 1673–74.
Tristis anima cur langues, SATB, 2 vl., b.c., ca 1674?
Vater unser, S, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., ca 1680.
Veni, salus pauperum, SS, 2 vl., b.c., 1670.
Veni Sancte Spiritus, et emitte coelitus, SS, 2 vl., b.c., 1671.
Veni Sancte Spiritus, reple tuorum, SSB, 2 vl., b.c., at the latest 1676?
Verbum caro factum est, SS, 2 vl., v.d.g., b.c., 1672.
Vide, pater mi, dolores, SST, 2 vl., b.c., at the latest 1675.
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, C, 2 vl., b.c., 1680.
Zitto hoggi Faune, SSTB, 2 vl., b.c., 1673.

Organ works
The attribution of these chorale preludes is uncertain, since the composer’s name has been crossed out in the manuscripts. There is, however, a good argument for their being composed by Christian Geist in spite of this.
Allenaste Gud i himmelrik
Lovad vare du Jesu Krist
O Jesu Krist