Johann Kaspar Kerll (April 9, 1627 – February 13, 1693) was a German baroque composer and organist. Although he was one of the most acclaimed composers of his time, known both as a gifted composer and an outstanding teacher, Kerll is virtually forgotten today and his music is rarely played or recorded.
During the following several years Kerll was somehow able to combine travelling with working in Brussels without losing his job. First, Leopold Wilhelm sent him to Rome to study under Giacomo Carissimi. This was around 1648/9; Kerll must have met Johann Jakob Froberger and might have studied with him. Returning to Brussels for a brief time, he left again in the winter of 1649-1650, travelling to Dresden. He also attended the wedding of Philip IV of Spain and Marie-Anne of Austria, visited Vienna several times in 1651 and 1652 and spent some time in Göttweig and Moravia. Abraham van den Kerckhoven substituted for Kerll while he was away and ultimately succeeded him in 1655, when Kerll left.
In February 1656 Kerll accepted a temporary post of Vice-Kapellmeister at the Munich court under Elector Ferdinand Maria. In March he succeeded Giovanni Giacomo Porro as court Kapellmeister. Kerll's fame started growing rapidly as he was given more and more important tasks. Particularly important of these are his opera Oronte (now lost), which inaugurated the Munich opera house in January 1657, and a vocal mass composed in 1658 for the coronation of Emperor Leopold I at Frankfurt.
While in Munich, Kerll married Anna Catharina Egermayer in 1657. The couple had eight children, but only one of them, the youngest son, pursued a career in music. The Munich years were especially important for Kerll: he was apparently favoured by Ferdinand Maria, who would provide support for the rest of Kerll's life; in 1664 he was ennobled by the emperor; in 1669 his first published works appeared: Delectus sacrarum cantionum, a collection of vocal music, and a Missa pro defunctis, both dedicated to Ferdinand Maria. Kerll gave up his post in Munich in 1673 for unclear reasons - it is believed that there was a particularly serious quarrel with other court musicians (Italian singers) which made him leave. Kerll did, however, maintain contact with Elector Ferdinand Maria until his death.
In 1674 Kerll moved to Vienna. A pension was granted to him in 1675 by the emperor, who in 1677 employed him as one of his court organists. Although it has been suggested that Kerll might have worked at the Stephansdom, there is no proof. If he did, however, Johann Pachelbel would have been his deputy organist there. The 1679 plague, commemorated by Kerll in Modulatio organica, a collection of liturgical organ music, resulted in Anna Catharina's death. He married Kunigunde Hilaris in 1682/3 and stayed in Vienna for the next 10 years, surviving the Turkish invasion of 1683, which he also commemorated in music in Missa in fletu solatium. He visited Munich several times between 1684 and 1692, publishing his Modulatio organica (1686) and Missae sex (1689, dedicated to the emperor) there. At the end of 1692 Kerll relinquished his Vienna position and returned to Munich, where he died shortly afterwards.
Kerll's eight toccatas (that correspond to the eight Church Modes) alternate between free and strict contrapuntal sections, sometimes in contrasting meters. Frequent use of 12/8 gigue-like endings is similar to Froberger's toccatas. The four dance suites are also reminiscent of Froberger's suites, yet two of them contain variation movements. Kerll's canzonas consist, typically for the time, of several fugal sections; some also have toccata-like passagework embedded in the development of cadences. Two ostinato works survive, a passacaglia and a chaconne, both built on a descending bass pattern; the passacaglia is perhaps Kerll's most well-known work.
The two most known keyboard pieces by Kerll are both programmatic, descriptive pieces. Battaglia is a descriptive piece in C major, over 200 bars long and featuring numerous repeats of fanfare-like themes. Capriccio sopra il Cucu is based on an imitation of cuckoo's call, which is heard more than 200 times in the piece. It is modelled after Frescobaldi's piece based on the same idea, Capriccio sopra il cucho, but is more structurally and harmonically complex. The idea of repeating a particular theme in Kerll's music reaches its extreme in the Magnificat tertii toni, where a fugue subject consists of sixteen repeated E's).
Six of the surviving masses were published during Kerll's lifetime as Missae sex, cum instrumentis concertantibus, e vocibus in ripieno, adjuncta una pro defunctis cum seq. Dies irae (Munich, 1689). The complex imitative counterpoint that dominates Kerll's chamber music is also present in most of his sacred vocal works: in Missa non sine quare every movement ends with a grand fugue, a similar technique is seen in Missa Renovationis (which is almost entirely based on five themes used for the Kyrie movement), where every division of the mass also closes with a large fugal section. Stretto entries of a highly chromatic subject in works like Missa in fletu solatium result in strong dissonances (the mass in question, commemorating the events of a Turkish siege that cost Kerll's friend, Alessandro Poglietti, his life, contains a continuo part that includes an "avoid consonances" warning from the composer).