Kapellmeister, (pronounce: Ka-PEL-my-ster), is a German word which means a musician who is in charge of music-making. The word comes from the Latin word for "chapel". In German "Kapelle" got the meaning: "choir" (because they sang in a chapel). "Meister" means "master".
The Kapellmeister's job change
The word Kapellmeister is used to describe musicians in Germany who worked for a king, prince or rich nobleman. Until about 200 years ago, these people often had their own private orchestras. The Kapellmeister was like a Director of Music. He would be responsible for choosing any new musicians, rehearsing and conducting the orchestra, and composing any music that was needed.
Many famous composers had jobs as Kapellmeister. Johann Sebastian Bach worked from 1717 to 1723 as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. George Frideric Handel was Kapellmeister for George, Elector of Hanover, who later became George I of Great Britain. Joseph Haydn worked for many years as Kapellmeister for the Eszterházy family, a very important noble family of the Austrian Empire.
A Kapellmeister could also be the Director of Music for a church. Sometimes, this would be called "Kantor" in Germany. Johann Sebastian Bach was called "Kantor" when he was Director of Music at the church of St Thomas in Leipzig from 1723-1750.
By the 19th century, society in Europe had changed. The nobility were not as rich as they had been before, and many composers started to make a living as a freelance composer. Beethoven, for example, never became a Kapellmeister.
Sometimes, the word "Kapellmeister" is used in German today to mean the Director or conductor of an orchestra or choir. The title shows that they have to organize the orchestra or choir as well as conduct it.