“Gracious Spirit, hear our pleading” – The case of Johann Heinrich Heil (1706–1764), organist at St. Bartholomäi Lutheran Church in Zerbst, Germany
Barbara M. Reul
Luther College, University of Regina
Published in the Canadian Journal for Scholarship and the Christian Faith (www.ccscf.concordia.ab.ca) on 16 January 2015
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), who served as Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Köthen prior to being appointed Thomaskantor in 1723, is undoubtedly the most famous and best researched Lutheran organist of all times. Much less is known about keyboardists employed at small Central German churches during the eighteenth century who were not interested in climbing the career ladder. Johann Christoph Heinicke served as Princely chamber musician and organist at the Lutheran Orthodox court and collegiate church of St. Bartholomäi in Zerbst, Germany, for 16 years. When he passed away on 8 June 1758, the local Consistory – the official body which supervised the administrative and judicial affairs of all Orthodox Lutheran churches in Anhalt-Zerbst – quickly began to look for a replacement. Six musicians applied for the post; four were asked to audition in late September. Among them was Johann Heinrich Heil (1706–1764), evidently “a former student of [Johann] Sebastian Bach” and a “splendid keyboardist.“
The last six years of Johann Heinrich Heil’s life are documented in three sets of primary sources extant at the Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt in Dessau, Germany. Specifically, they detail the audition and appointment process in 1758, shed light on how the Consistory dealt with Heil’s alcohol dependence between 1762 and 1764, and, finally, relate what happened to the organist’s estate after his untimely death. This article presents a critical reading of these historical records, with special emphasis on the selection process and the extent to which Christian principles such as compassion and charity informed the Consistory in its decisions.
In the summer of 1758 six musicians put their names forward – in the order listed below – for the vacant organist’s position at St. Bartholomäi Church, formerly the court church of the princely family of Anhalt-Zerbst:
1) Johann Friedrich Kolbe had served as interim organist at St. Bartholomäi Church during Heinicke’s illness and following his death. He had been the prefect (assistant) of the St. Bartholomäi School Choir, studied composition with the court organist, Johann Georg Röllig, and helped out at two other Lutheran churches in Zerbst, St. Trinitatis (Orthodox) and St. Nicolai (Reformed);
2) Johann Gottlieb Ulich, caretaker of the school and organist in nearby Senst, was the son of Johann Ulich, Heinicke’s predecessor. Ulich junior had previously played the organ at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Ankuhn, a suburb of Zerbst;
3) Gerhard Heinrich Schumann was the blind organist at St. Trinitatis Lutheran Church in Zerbst. He had also worked at St. Mary’s Church in Ankuhn before, and despite his physical limitations, could apparently tune the organ and make repairs;
4) Christian Ernst Kallenbach, from Zerbst, had covered for his teacher, the ailing court organist Georg Röllig, at the court chapel in 1757/58. Moreover, the two highest-ranking musicians in the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, court Kapellmeister Johann Friedrich Fasch and concertmaster Carl Höckh, were both prepared to give him references;
5) Christian Lebrecht Zimmermann, had evidently perfected himself on organs in Halle on the river Saale and accompanied the local Collegium musico on the keyboard;
6) Johann Heinrich Heil (1706-1764), also hailed from outside of Zerbst. He had most likely heard about the vacancy from concertmaster Höckh, with whom he had stayed prior to being appointed and possibly already when preparing his application in Zerbst on 3 September 1758. Heil’s letter to the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst (not the Consistory!) indicates that he had previously served “as a chamber musician at various courts, including Eisenach, Anspach and Mirow.” This, he argued, made him the best qualified applicant by far. Curiously, Heil did not mention his proficiency on the violin and prior knowledge of the local musical scene: he had played (the violin) at the Zerbst court on the occasion of performances held to celebrate the nuptials of Archduchess Catherine of Russia in 1745. But professional musicians, including organists, were generally expected to be proficient on more than one instrument.
The musical abilities of the four finalists – Kolbe, Schumann, Kallenbach, and Heil – were put to the test on 27 September 1758. Court organist Röllig, concertmaster Höckh (replacing an ailing Fasch) and Superintendent Dr. Johann Daniel Kluge, court preacher, and pastor at St. Bartholomäi Church, each filed a report. During auditions the candidates had to improvise “preludes,” i.e. elaborate hymn introductions, play congregational chorales, and accompany a small ensemble. These were all standard requirements for eighteenth-century organists auditioning for a church job.
As a fellow-organist Röllig was impressed by Heil’s preluding and improvising-composing skills, found his playing of congregational hymns decent, and considered his accompanying abilities sufficient. Concertmaster Höckh specifically emphasized that Heil possessed the musical knowledge required for this post, and could, if necessary, also compose sacred music.
The most informative report by far, however, was that of Superintendent Kluge. He noted that Kantor Stich as well as civic musician Reinsdorff and his ensemble had been present at the audition. Most importantly, an unnamed, but famous composer (“berühmter Tonkünstler”) from Berlin had also been in attendance. This must have been Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), second-oldest composer son of Thomaskantor Johann Sebastian Bach, who probably remembered Heil as a former student of his father. Bach junior, accompanist to the flute-playing King Frederick the Great of Prussia, had left war-torn Berlin in the summer of 1758 and fled to Zerbst, together with his colleague Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, son of the local court Kapellmeister. According to Kluge, Bach considered Heil to be the most skillful musician amongst the applicants and praised his talent for composing. In contrast, Röllig and Höckh failed to mention the visitor in their reports.
A week after the auditions had taken place the Consistory sent a detailed summary report to the court of Anhalt-Zerbst. Johann Heinrich Heil was officially appointed a month later, on 27 October 1758. This may have surprised Röllig who preferred the blind organist Schumann, and especially Superintendent Kluge, who liked Kolbe best, also because he was a graduate of the St. Bartholomäi School. However, offering a life-long, tenured position to a church organist from out-of- town who had local connections and could compose large-scale vocal music was appropriate for a (former) court and collegiate church. The court also ordered Heil to substitute for the court organist if the latter was away or indisposed – a new (and smart) decision, given that the elderly Kapellmeister Fasch was very ill and Röllig ready to succeed him. Finally, like his predecessor Heinicken before him, Heil was to “skillfully accompany on the keyboard concerts taking place at the court.” These were organized by Höckh and involved a number of highly trained members of the court Kapelle. How often chamber music performances took place at the palace when Heil was appointed, is a good question: Prince Friedrich August had left Zerbst for Paris in April 1758 to avoid an altercation with the Prussian King over housing a French spy at the Zerbst court. Regardless of the frequency and location, working with others was going to be part of Heil’s job duties.
What nobody could have anticipated in autumn 1758 were Johann Heinrich Heil’s future struggles with alcohol. Minutes prepared by civil servants, letters of complaints received by the Consistory, and recommendations sent to the reigning Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, all detail Heil’s questionable behaviour and its impact on others. How compassionate and charitable was the Consistory of Anhalt-Zerbst toward the organist before he died, and what can we learn from its course of action today?
Heil was questioned by the Consistory for the first time on 16 December 1762. He had to be coaxed into admitting that his supervisor, Superintendent Dr. Kluge, had already warned him several times about his lack of work ethic and told to stop overindulging in alcohol. What kind of person was Kluge? According to a biography from 1848, the Superintendent was a collegial and energetic individual, but less forgiving and lenient than his predecessor. Kluge also took his duties very seriously, especially maintaining “good ecclesiastical order.” Having to report one of his own congregational members to the authorities must have been embarrassing for him as a pastor. Thankfully, Heil offered an immediate (and probably heartfelt) apology to the Consistory for having “caused several [unidentified] disturbances” during a worship service at St. Bartholomäi Church on 10 December “due to [human] weakness.” When he promised to better himself, the Consistory only threatened Heil with suspension and removal in mid-December should his behaviour not improve. .
Less than six months later a reliable source – Kluge again? – informed the Consistory that Heil had been intoxicated all day long (!) on Sunday, 1 May 1763, and consequently could not carry out his duties at the church. Heil denied that accusation on 19 May, but admitted to possibly over-imbibing the night before as part of the fun time (“so eine erfreuliche Zeit”) he had enjoyed with an (unidentified) violinist from Mecklenburg. Then the Consistory asked, “why did you not wear any clothes underneath your Roquelaure [a knee-length coat] when going to the early service?” Heil replied that he “did not believe this to be a crime,” and was merely “following in the footsteps of his ancestors.” The Consistory was not amused and felt a suspension was in order. When Heil promptly swore to better himself, it was agreed to let the matter go “this time” (“dieses Mahle”); if it happened again, Heil would be suspended.
It is intriguing that the organist of St. Bartholomäi Church was not penalized in May 1763. Heil had clearly crossed the line by missing work repeatedly and making a public spectacle of himself. What compelled the Consistory to give him another chance? I would argue that Heil knew (or had been told) that if he apologized in person to the Consistory and promised to try harder, its members – who were bound to follow Jesus’s teachings about compassion and forgiveness – would have to excuse his shortcomings. Moreover, finding an immediate and suitable replacement for Heil would be difficult (if not impossible), and could have serious and far-reaching implications on the quality and type of music to be offered at the church.
Two months later, the Consistory probably regretted its decision. On 30 June 1763, when Heil admitted that he had been no shape play the organ on the preceding Sunday, he was also unable to “move his tongue”, i.e. he was slurring his speech. Such behaviour would no longer be tolerated, decided the Consistory, and told Heil that he had only himself to blame for whatever happened next – in his case, a scathing complaint lodged by Kantor Stich on 1 July. Heil was apparently now inebriated on a daily basis, and had recently shown up “excessively drunk” (“höchst betrunken”) for a rehearsal. As a result, special music scheduled for the two following Sundays had to be cancelled, much to the Kantor’s dismay and frustration. When questioned by the Consistory on 7 July, Stich begged for “this public nuisance to be corrected” – and who could blame him, given that Heil had also been caught depositing “his filth” (“seine Unflath”), i.e. defecating, on the organ bellows on 24 June.
Most importantly, a highly intoxicated Heil had failed to express regret for his conduct in the past. This omission (and Stich’s passionate plea) could have been the catalyst for a lengthy missive that was sent to the court on 7 July, with the Consistory asking for a three-month suspension. The court official disagreed: Heil was only going to be sent to the main guard house for eight days of arrest with bread and water, undoubtedly to sober up. Was this the court’s customary rehabilitation approach to dipsomaniacs? If so, then the utterly convincing and detailed rationale provided by the Consistory must be viewed as an attempt to ensure that Heil would definitely be suspended. Or had the court official tried to convey to the Consistory that more, rather than less compassion was the correct course of action? After all, Jesus himself had told Peter to forgive others “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18: 22). The lengthy reaction time on the court’s part – a reply was prepared only on 27 August and reached the Consistory on 5 September – appears somewhat conspicuous as well. But court officials were very busy carrying out the wishes of Prince Friedrich August, who ruled Anhalt-Zerbst from exile.
As a result, the starting date of Heil’s confinement was set for 18 October 1763, more than three months (!) after the Consistory’s recommendation to suspend him. That Heil’s behaviour had improved between July and October is possible; no further complaints against him were filed. A worried Consistory, however, also ordered Stich and Wilcke to contact the Consistory immediately, should Heil manage to get himself into trouble again.
He did, in summer 1764. According to a letter by Stich to the Consistory from 16 August, Heil had been unable to work due to his “inhumane boozing” (“unmenschliche[s] Brandtwein Sauffen”). Unidentified boys – in other words, amateur musicians, mostly likely students at the St. Bartholomäi School – had carried out Heil’s duties for the past six weeks. Worse, on Prince Friedrich August’s birthday (8 August), Heil never reported for duty at the morning service, Stich’s son had to substitute for him during the main service, and during the Vesper Heil barely managed to finish the assigned chorale. Enough is enough, argued Stich, and beseeched the Consistory to replace Heil with a decent and competent church musician immediately.
The Consistory let another six weeks pass (!) before it followed up on Stich’s report. Specifically, two more individuals who corroborated the Kantor’s accusation were questioned. Had the Consistory waited so long because it felt there was no more hope for Heil? I would argue the opposite: its members wanted to give Stich a chance to cool off and Heil yet another opportunity to overcome his ongoing substance abuse problem. After all, his imposed “visit” to the main guard house in October 1763 had clearly made a difference.
It took the Consistory only one week, until 27 September 1764, to agree that Johann Heinrich Heil was to leave his post as soon as possible. He died three short weeks later, on 18 October 1764, leaving behind a mountain of debts and thirteen creditors, whose demands kept the Consistory busy until May 1765.
What connections and conclusions can we – at a safe historical distance, i.e. over 250 years after Heil’s death – draw from this admittedly tragic tale? Disciplining an employee continues to be a difficult task, regardless of century. In the 1760s Anhalt-Zerbst’s Consistory adhered very closely to its Lutheran-Christian mandate of integrity, compassion and forgiveness by providing an apologetic Johann Heinrich Heil with multiple opportunities to change his life around. However, official documents, including the ones examined for this case study, tend to provide a rather one-sided glimpse into a musician’s work environment, as they shed little light on Heil as a person and colleague.
Neither personal letters penned by Johann Heinrich Heil nor descriptions of his character by others appear to be extant. This makes it difficult to determine whether his personality had changed since being appointed by the court of Anhalt-Zerbst. The audition reports from 1758 confirm his superior musical skills which suggest that he was a disciplined individual with a creative side. Given that Heil rented a place by himself in Zerbst, he was either unmarried or widowed. Nothing is known about family members or close friends he could have turned to in times of need. It is also impossible to say why – and even more importantly, when – Heil had begun to drown his sorrows in alcohol, i.e. before he came to Zerbst or after. Perhaps his job duties bored him or he found working with Kantor Stich challenging. The latter had had no say in the selection process and could have made the new organist feel very much unwanted. Yet Heil had never tried to blame his colleagues, at least not in front of the Consistory. Finally, it is entirely possible that the organist knew (or was told) how to manipulate the Consistory, albeit gently. As long as Heil stressed his human imperfections and showed a willingness to change, the Consistory would be compelled to postpone judgment on his actions in light of his seeming self-knowledge. The court, in contrast, simply tried to sober him up: prior to the 20th century, alcohol dependence was viewed predominantly as a character flaw or a bad habit, not a disease.
Organists who find themselves in a similar situation today would have probably considered suing the court for wrongful dismissal. In the 1760s Heil’s case would have been a weak one, and being strapped for cash he would not have been able to pay for legal assistance. Due to continued alcohol dependence, Heil’s health, especially his liver, must also have suffered greatly, and he may have been self-medicating with food prior to his death in 1764 as well. The Zerbst Consistory arguably dealt this gifted musician a huge blow by removing him from his position. At the same time, the compassion and grace its members showed Johann Heinrich Heil throughout his tenure was exemplary because they put mercy before justice.
 For a general overview of the social status and impact of organists in Central Germany during the 17th and 18th century that does not focus on J. S. Bach, see Siegbert Rampe, “Sozialstatus und Wirkungsbereich mitteldeutscher Hoforganisten des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts,” in Ständige Konferenz Mitteldeutsche Barockmusik: Jahrbuch 2004 (Beeskow: Ortus, 2004), 171-182.
 Located about 90 km northwest of Leipzig, this small residential town was the childhood home of Empress Catherine “the Great” of Russia, a former princess of Anhalt-Zerbst.
 As noted by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), see Dokumente zum Nachwirken Johann Sebastian Bachs 1750–1800 (Bach-Dokumente 3), ed. Hans-Joachim Schulze (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1972), 888, “Johann Wilhelm Hertel: Begegnungen mit Bach-Schülern.”
 Landeshauptarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt, Abteilung Dessau (hereafter: D-LHASA, DE), Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, nos. 275, 277 and 278.
 Heil’s “story” has been told before, albeit in German, and viewed entirely through a musicological lens, see Barbara M. Reul, “Das vakante Organistenamt an der St. Bartholomäi-Kirche zu Zerbst und die ‘liederliche Lebensart’ von Johann Heinrich Heil (1706-1764),” Mitteilungen des Vereins für Anhaltische Landeskunde 19 (2010): 129-143.
 D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 275. This set of documents contains all correspondence received by the Consistory regarding the position as well as Heil’s official appointment letter.
 See a Pro Memoria by Höckh from 9 March 1765 in LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 278, fol. 23v. Or could C. P. E. Bach possibly have told Heil about the position?
 Heil was born in Seba near Meiningen in 1706. Of the above-mentioned posts, only his employment in Eisenach (1732-1741) could be verified. When exactly Heil supposedly studied with J. S. Bach and where he lived between 1753 – when he had apparently rented a place in Zerbst – and 1758 could not be determined. See Reul, “Das vakante Organistenamt,” 123.
 See Barbara M. Reul, “The Court of Anhalt-Zerbst”, in Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities, ed. Samantha Owens et al. (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2011), 271-72.
 Röllig, for example, played organ and cello, while Höckh was proficient on the violin and horn.
 It could not be determined who had put together the audition requirements or chosen the music for the candidates to play. Johann Ludwig Stich, Kantor of St. Bartholomäi Church, and Kapellmeister Fasch come to mind. Röllig did not appear to have had much input, if any. He was right to complain about the candidates not being asked to play simple and double fugues at the audition, because professional organists considered it an indispensable skill. See Rampe, “Sozialstatus und Wirkungsbereich mitteldeutscher Hoforganisten des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts,” 175.
 See Reul, “Das vakante Organistenamt,” 136. Unless otherwise noted, all English translations are mine.
 It is unclear who swayed the court in favour of Heil. Had Kluge’s report perhaps backfired in that it communicated C.P.E. Bach’s esteemed opinion? That would explain why Kolbe sent a heart-wrenching follow-up letter to the Consistory, emphasizing that he was the ideal candidate for the position.
 Compositions by J. H. Heil do not appear to be extant.
 See Reul, “Das vakante Organistenamt,” 137: “[die] aufzuführenden Hof-Concerte auf dem Flügel geschickt [zu] accompagniren.“
 Caroline Wilhelmine, the Prince’s spouse, died in May 1759. Worship services at the court chapel continued until 1765.
 Heil’s salary is not mentioned in the appointment letter. Zerbst court account records indicate that he received 32 florins (“Reichsthaler”), which is very low, given that the court organist made 180 florins a year. Did Heil, like Röllig, ever take on private students? He should have, because teaching was expected from professional organists, regardless of their work environment.
 D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 277.
 These warnings could have been given in official letters or personal conversations, or a combination of both.
 See Wilhelm Schubert, D[r.] Johann Daniel Kluge, Superintendent des Fürstenthums Anhalt-Zerbst – Ein Lebensbild aus der Kirche des 18. Jahrhunderts (Zerbst: Kummer’sche Buchhandlung, 1848), 35 (“gute kirchliche Ordnung”).
 The German original reads: “Er gestehet aus Schwachheit[,] dennoch sich dem Truncke überlassen, und dadurch einige Unordnungen beym Gottes dienste veranlaß[t] zu haben, [und] bittet um Verzeihung.“ The date mentioned above is not included in the report from 16 December 1762, but clearly identified in a report from 19 March 1763.
 Judging from how much he owed to his creditors for Brandtwein (brandy), it was Heil’s favourite spirit; he could also have enjoyed the famous Zerbster Bitterbier on occasion.
 D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 277, minutes from 19 May 1763: “Warum er ohne Kleid im Roquelaure in die Früh Predigt gegangen [sei]? Er halte dieses für kein Verbrechen, indem er solches [wie] seine Vorfahren gethan hätt[e].“
 A patent pertaining to a “Konsistorialordnung” from 1692 is extant at D-LHASA, DE, Z91 Konsistorium Zerbst, Ib, no. 3), but it is also unclear whether it was still in effect in the 1760s.
 See the corresponding files in D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 278: numerous Zerbst citizens, including Heil’s landlady, his predecessor’s widow, a butcher, concertmaster Höckh, and even an oboist from Berlin, had all lent Heil money. This implies that they considered him trustworthy.
 D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 277, minutes from 30 June 1763: “die Zunge nicht rühren konnte.”
 Ibid, Stich‘s complaint from 1 July 1763.
 Ibid, minutes from 7 July 1763: “dieses al[l]gemeine A[e]rgernis abzuschaffen.“
 Church custodian Wilcke, who was also in charge of pumping the organ bellow, had to pay his assistant to clean up the mess. He also noted that the entire town was aware of Heil’s boozing, and that on the very same day Heil had been questioned by the Consistory, he was spotted lying on the ground, in the Sackstraße, undoubtedly intoxicated.
 In contrast to his sister, Catherine the Great of Russia, the mentally unstable Prince Friedrich August exposed his subjects to chaos, tyranny and despotism during his 40-year reign (1753-1793).
 D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 277, letter by Stich from 16 August 1764.
 Both confirmed on 20 September 1764 that they had taken the highly intoxicated Heil to his quarters on 8 August, after he had fallen on his way home and managed to seriously injure himself.
 See D-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst IXa, no. 278. Among Heil’s belongings were an old violin, a keyboard (“Clavier”), and unidentified sheet music. Heil’s (good) violin had apparently been given to his landlady nine months before his death (i.e., in early 1764), to be passed on to concertmaster Höckh in order to settle old debts.
 See DE-LHASA, DE, Z91, Konsistorium Zerbst III, no. 12 (“Pastor Behrend und seine üble Aufführung, 1769-1784”). Given the title and the specific time period provided for this document, the ill behaviour of a pastor named Behrend probably gave the Consistory more grief than Heil. Official complaints about specific musicians employed at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst during the eighteenth century do not appear to be extant.
 The exception is a handwritten, undated note, addressed to concertmaster Höckh: Heil asked for a loan and admitted to being in financial “distress” (“Noth”).
 See the entry “Alcohol Personality”, in Encyclopedia of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, ed. by Gary L. Fisher and Nancy A. Roget (Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2009).
 Reul, “Das vakante Organistenamt”, 140.
 Heil’s teacher Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, expressed his personal disappointment and frustration with his Leipzig colleagues in 1730, seven years after being appointed. In contrast, Kapellmeister Fasch, a Lutheran Pietist, left town in the 1730s when he was mobbed by (unidentified) local Zerbst clergy. See Barbara M. Reul, “Dream job: next exit? A comparative examination of selected career choices of J. S. Bach and J. F. Fasch,” Understanding Bach 9 (2014): 9-24, http://www.bachnetwork.co.uk/understanding-bach/.
 See Kenneth R. Warren and Brenda G. Hewitt, “NIAAA [National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism]: Advancing Alcohol Research for 40 Years,” http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh40/5-17.htm, and the entry “Drug Laws, History of”, in Encyclopedia of Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. A twenty-first-century health perspective is provided by Peter Anderson and Ben Baumberg, “Alcohol in Europe” (London: Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2006), available online: ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life…/alcohol/…/alcohol_europe.pdf.
 One of his creditors was a local butcher who had provided Heil with 7 Taler (a huge amount!) worth of beef, pork, veal and lamb. Unfortunately, the extant invoice does not indicate when or why Heil had placed the order.