JOHANNES SCHENCK (1660 - 1712)
Details of the life of Johannes Schenck are relatively sparse and the subject of varied speculation. He was born in Amsterdam, where he was baptized on 3 June 1660 into the Reformed Church. Nothing is known of his teachers, but he established himself as a distinguished virtuoso on the viola da gamba. In this he followed the tradition established by performers from England such as Daniel Norcombe, who was earlier employed at the court of Archduke Albert in Brussels, Henry Butler, musician and viol teacher to Philip IV of Spain and William Young, who served at the court of Archduke Carl Ferdinand in Innsbruck. An undated engraving in Amsterdam by Peter Schenck, once thought to have been a younger brother of the composer but apparently unrelated, shows the formally dressed and bewigged virtuoso standing to play, with his six-string bass viol resting on a footstool, in the performance style of the time. As a composer his work represents an early synthesis of French, German and Italian styles.
It seems that Schenck spent the earlier part of his career in Amsterdam where his compositions included music for a Dutch Singspiel, Bacchus Ceres en Venus, from which songs were published in 1687, as well as works for his own instrument. Enjoying a wide reputation as a performer, in about 1696 he moved to Düsseldorf to the court of the Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm, known as Jan Wellem, who ruled there from 1679 until his death in 1716, establishing a court that aimed to rival the artistic magnificence of Versailles. Here Schenck served with a group of musicians drawn from various countries. The court opera, which had been seen in Amsterdam, flourished with, among other operas, Kapellmeister Sebastiano Moratellis Il fabbro pittore, based on the life of the Netherlands painter Quentin Matsys, which had been staged in the Electors art gallery in 1695. His successor Johann von Wilderers La monarchia stabilitia was mounted with singular splendour for the visit to Düsseldorf of Carlos III of Spain in 1703. It was to the Elector that Corelli dedicated his concerti grossi and from Düsseldorf that Handel, who visited the court in 1710 and 1711, was able to recruit the famous castrato Baldassari. Other musicians of distinction connected with the Düsseldorf court included briefly the great lutenist Sylvius Weiss, together with his father and brother, while, in 1715, the violinist-composer Veracini performed there.
Schenck is presumed to have continued in the service of the Elector until the latters death in 1716. Thereafter the electoral court moved to Mannheim, followed by a number of the Düsseldorf musicians, who formed the nucleus of a musical establishment that was to win its own unchallenged reputation, as the century went on.
Doubts as to the date of Schencks death, presumably in Düsseldorf, come from the lack of any mention of his death in Protestant church records in the city. From this it has been supposed that he may well have become a Catholic, following the religion of his employer, and there are no Catholic records for the probable period of his death. He is mentioned in a document by the court cabinet secretary Rapparini in 1709, but by 1717 his name had disappeared from the list of court opera musicians then compiled. As Karl Heniz Pauls points out in his edition of the present work (Das Erbe deutscher Musik, Band 44, 1956), with his article in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, the principal source of the information here included, no reference to Schenck has yet been found in the deaths recorded in parish and cemetery records in Amsterdam, in the absence of any general register until 1750.