The Kennedy Center

Johann Rudolf Ahle


Johann Rudolf Ahle was born on December 24, 1625, in Mühlhausen, Germany, a city renowned then as now for its church music.  Although little is known of his education, Johann began university studies in Göttingen and entered Erfurt University in 1645 as a student of theology.
Ahle had been at Erfurt only a year when he was appointed Kantor at the elementary school and church of St. Andreas, Erfurt, where he was recognized for his talent as an organist.  He returned to Mühlhausen in 1650 to marry Anna Maria Wölfer and spent the rest of his life there.  He was soon appointed organist at St. Blasius Church (Divi-Blasii-Kirche) and was succeeded at this post by his son Johann George, who was in turn succeeded by a young Johann Sebastian Bach.  The musical influence of the Ahle father and son can be heard in Bach’s church cantatas.
Ahle held several municipal offices in Mühlhausen including burgomaster (mayor).  It was also during this time that he composed most of his vocal and instrumental works, including 60 organ pieces.  Although perhaps best remembered for originating the genre and writing over 400 sacred arias, he also popularized the simple style of chorale and is credited with creating the modern cantata with chorus.  His theoretical treatise on choral singing, Compendium per tenellis, was written in Latin and published in 1648.  Hs son, Johann George, later published a revised and greatly expanded edition.
Johann Rudolf Ahle’s fervent desire was to revitalize sacred music.  Many of the spiritual songs he wrote were incorporated into the Mühlhausen hymn book in the 18th century and several are still used in Protestant services.  One of his compositions, Es is genug (it is enough), was repeated in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata BWV 60.  His passion for life and music is revealed in his oft-quoted principle, “All that is earthly must finally pass away; music endures for eternity.”  He died on July 8, 1673, and is buried at Divi-Blasii-Kirche.
Johann Ahle