Kuhnau was born in Geising. His family came from Bohemia. He studied in Dresden and Zittau. He went to the Leipzig University to study law. He became an organist at the Thomaskirche in 1684. He became the cantor of the Thomaskirche in 1701. However, he was often sick. He couldn't write a lot of music. So, the town council let Georg Philipp Telemann write music for the Thomaskirche. This was normally Kuhnau's job. Kuhnau was not happy because of this. He died in Leipzig.