Christoph Heinrich Girbert (1751–1826) was a keyboard player and music teacher who spent most of his life in Bayreuth. According to Gerber (Neues Lexikon, vol. 2, col. 333–34), our main source of information, Girbert was born in Fröhstockheim (today part of Rödelsee near Würzburg). After displaying “an irresistible inclination for music,” Girbert received a rudimentary musical education from his stepfather, and a short but more influential course of instruction from Kantor Stadler in Bimbach.
In 1769 Girbert moved to Bayreuth, where he started a business, worked as a keyboard teacher and enthusiastically taught himself keyboard technique, harmony, and composition. Between May and June 1784, Ludwig Schmidt visited Bayreuth and, “without much effort,” convinced Girbert to be the music director of his new theatrical company (for more on Schmidt, see our entry for 25 Aug 1785). The company mounted productions in Ansbach, Erlangen, Nuremberg, Salzburg, and Passau, giving Girbert the opportunity to meet and learn from leading composers. In Reichard’s Theaterkalender, Girbert appears as “Musikdirektor” of the company in 1785, 1786 and 1787 (Reichard’s listings are generally based on information from the previous year). According to Gerber, Girbert was director for only thirteen months (i.e. until mid 1785), after which he returned to Bayreuth and resumed his business.
Among the company’s productions was Mozart’s Entführung, which it notably gave in Salzburg at least seven times between Nov 1784 and Feb 1785 (see our entry for 25 Aug 1785). Girbert thus had the opportunity to meet Leopold Mozart, although Leopold made no reference to Girbert in his letters to Nannerl. It is not surprising, then, that Girbert was interested in acquiring a copy of Entführung for himself a few years later.
This letter to the music publisher Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf (1719–1794) is primarily a request for a substantial number of musical books and scores, both printed and manuscript, listed in a number of the publisher’s catalogs (see below). These include Walther’s celebrated Musicalisches Lexicon (then already sixty years old), Junker’s extended essay Tonkunst, and various pieces of keyboard music. There is a preference for short and easy pieces, including some (items 6–8) for one keyboard four hands, which may suggest Girbert had a teaching purpose in mind; both the Sterkel and the Todt have parts marked fancifully for the “master” and “student,” like Haydn’s Variations Hob. XVIIa:1.
Girbert’s request for the keyboard arrangement of Entführung probably refers to the vocal score arranged by the Mainz Cathedral organist Johann Franz Xaver Starck (d. 1799) and published by Schott in 1785/86 (see Haberkamp 1986, 177ff). This edition did not appear in Breitkopf’s catalogs, and so Girbert included a qualification that should Entführung be unavailable, contrary to his assumption, Breitkopf should send further “pretty and new keyboard items, with and without accompaniment.”
The outcome of this order is unclear, as Breitkopf’s side of the conversation is not known to survive and no music from Girbert’s estate has been identified. However, someone presumably in the Breitkopf office marked the Mozart and Walther entries with a small circle in ink, which may indicate that they were unavailable.
Gerber listed a large number of compositions by Girbert in manuscript, including seven operettas, four keyboard concertos, six sonatas and five sonatinas for keyboard, two symphonies and five string quartets. All these appear to be lost (a number were formerly in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Königsberg).
We are very grateful to the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig for providing us with a copy of this letter.