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This list of composers is continuously updated and does not claim to be complete.

Carl Friedrich Zöllner (17.05.1800–25.09.1860)

Carl Friedrich Zöllner was a German composer and choir conductor. He attended St. Thomas School in Leipzig as a pupil and started teaching singing, first at the Ratsfreischule (the first municipal school in Leipzig) in 1820 and later at St. Thomas School in 1840.

  1. Biography
  2. Private Life
  3. Connection to Leipzig
  4. Reception
  5. Works
  6. Sources and Links

1. Biography

Carl Friedrich Zöllner was born in Mittelhausen (near Sangerhausen, Thuringia) on May 17th, 1800 as the third of five sons of Johann Andreas Zöllner and his wife Caroline. Zöllner received his first music lessons from his father who was a cantor and schoolmaster in Mittelhausen. After his father’s early death in 1809, Zöllner’s uncle looked after the boy and took him to Eisleben, where he attended grammar school. Later Zöllner moved to Eisenach to attend secondary school. Starting in 1814 he became a pupil at St. Thomas School in Leipzig under cantor J.G. Schicht who fostered his musical predisposition. Schicht encouraged Zöllner to quit the studies of theology he had taken up in 1819 in order to teach singing at the Ratsfreischule. In 1822 Zöllner founded a private musical institute dedicated specifically to choral singing. He became especially famous for his promotion of male choral singing. Zöllner worked and lived in Leipzig until his death on September 25th, 1860.

2. Private Life

On October 31st, 1841 Carl Friedrich Zöllner married Marianne Schaarschmidt from Limbach near Chemnitz in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig; she was 23 years younger than him. Their marriage produced seven children, but only three outlived their father. Zöllner had met his wife in an all-female choir which he was directing. The former Zöllner residence stood at Matthäikirchhof 34 in Leipzig’s western city centre. Marianne Zöllner is buried at a cemetery in Dresden. Their son Heinrich became a famous composer and conductor, just like his father.

3. Connection to Leipzig

In 1814 Carl Friedrich Zöllner’s uncle, who had a personal connection to Leipzig’s St. Thomas School, secured a spot for Zöllner at the school and brought him to Leipzig. After graduating from school, he decided to study theology at Leipzig University. He quit his studies in 1822 in favour of a teaching position for singing at Leipzig’s first municipal school, the Ratsfreischule, arranged by St. Thomas cantor Johann Gottfried Schicht. He took up the position as early as 1820. His methodical teaching methods were very much appreciated by his students as well as other teachers. In 1822 he founded a private musical institute in Leipzig together with his friend Wilhelm, which especially promoted choral singing. Initially Zöllner was dedicated to church singing but later on he preferred secular music. His vision was to use his music as an essential educational tool for the people instead of giving access only to a small privileged circle.

In 1833 he initiated the first Zöllner Society. Hereafter followed the establishment of several male choral societies in Leipzig and its surroundings, which all were directed by Zöllner. The Zöllner-Männerchor Bernburg e.V. (Zöllner Male Choir Bernburg) is the only choir still active today, standing in an uninterrupted tradition of Zöllner’s teachings.

In the same year as the foundation of the first Zöllner Society, Leipzig music publisher Friedrich Kistner released Zöllner’s first song book for male voices. Starting in 1840 Zöllner worked as a singing teacher at St. Thomas School. In 1859 he conducted a gala concert in remembrance of Friedrich Schiller’s 100th birthday. Twenty Zöllner Societies with several hundred singers performed. For Zöllner’s own 60th birthday in 1860, five hundred singers met in Leipzig to pay tribute to him during an evening gala performance.

Carl Friedrich Zöllner died on September 25th, 1860 in his house at Matthäikirchhof. Two days later he was buried at the new St. Johannis Cemetery in the 3rd section, in a grave of honour sponsored by the City of Leipzig.

On the evening of September 28th, 1860, a charity concert for his widow and their children took place. Other German cities as well as towns in Australia, America and Russia followed this example with charity concerts of their own.

On behalf of the male choirs of Leipzig, solicitor Carl Emil Heinze asked the city council on February 25th, 1861 for an enlargement of Zöllner’s gravesite so that it could be designed to be more imposing. The council wasn’t very enthusiastic about this idea and replied that other important figures hadn’t received the same honour, but agreed to the proposal in the end. Therefore, the gravesite was enlarged. An oak tree was planted on each corner of the site (but were cut down later on). On May 17th, 1861, Zöllner’s 61st birthday, the new gravesite was inaugurated by singing. Today Zöllner’s tombstone is located in the old St. Johannis Cemetery’s collection of stone monuments, but without its pedestal.

Initiated by the male choir societies of Leipzig, the Zöllnerbund (Zöllner Alliance) of Leipzig was founded with 700 members. It was in existence until 1945.

Zöllner Monument

On May 24th, 1868 Zöllner received his own monument in Leipzig’s Rosenthal Park. The monument consists of a marble portrait statue on a pedestal surrounded by four bronze choirboy figures and a delicate fence. Due to adverse weather conditions the marble statue of Zöllner by sculptor Hermann Knauer was replaced by a copy made by sculptor Paul Stuckenbruck. In 1996 the monument was restored. In December 2016 three of the choirboy figures were stolen. The monument has since been completed again with replicas of the three stolen choirboys. The original figures are still missing without a trace.

4. Reception

During his lifetime Carl Friedrich Zöllner was very famous, but today his name has been generally forgotten, although he composed folk songs, some of which are still popularly sung today. Zöllner shaped the tradition of male choirs in the central German area during the 19th century, and therefore gained the name “father of male singing”. He became famous by setting the poem Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust by lyric poet Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827) to music. Today this song ranks among the most popular German folk songs. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy once said about it: “Zöllner, with this song you have been truly eavesdropping on the god of singing”. If nothing else, the efforts to keep his memory alive show that his great achievements in the realm of male choir singing have made him well known across borders.

5. Works

His songs are still widely sung today and his most famous song is “Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust” (Hiking is the Miller’s Delight).

Songs (secular)

1841: Der Speisezettel – Ein Scherz, for male choir (published in Leipzig)
1841: Liebesfrühling, Friedrich Kistner Publishing House, Leipzig
1844: Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, op.6, in: Des Müllers Lust und Leid. 6 Gesänge aus der „Schönen Müllerin” von Wilhelm Müller (published in Leipzig)
1853: Im Krug zum grünen Kranze, op. 14,3, in: Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller (published in Leipzig)
1853: 105. Morgengebet (text by Joseph von Eichendorff)
1853: Der Jäger zieht zum grünen Wald mit fröhlichem Hallo (text by Ernst Moritz Arndt)
1844: Die Nachtklänge der Liebe, Gesänge für vier Männerstimmen, Friedrich Hofmeister Publishing House, Leipzig

Additionally, instrumental compositions, such as variations for organ on God Save the King.

Audio Samples

Der Speisezettel – Ein Scherz, für Männerchor (1841)  www.youtube.com/watch
Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust (1844)  www.youtube.com/watch

6. Sources and Links

Rudolf Hänsch: Der Liedermeister Carl Friedrich Zöllner 1800–1860. Eine Darstellung seines Lebens und Wirkens. Wilhelm Limpert Verlag, Dresden: 1927

R. Kötzschke: Carl Zöllner in: Sächsische Lebensbilder 2, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig: 1928


Hänsch, Rudolf: Der Liedermeister Carl Friedrich Zöllner 1800–1860. Eine Darstellung seines Lebens und Wirkens, Dresden 1927.
Kötzschke, Rudolf: Carl Zöllner, in Sächsische Lebensbilder 2, Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig 1928.
http://www.musicalion.com/de/scores/noten/5321/carl-friedrich-z%C3%B6llner, 27 April 2020, 1:57 p.m.
http://zoellner.koenig.www53.hostkraft.de/ueberuns/historie/index.html, 27 April 2020, 3:30 p.m.


Carl Friedrich Zöllner
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