German composer, born in Berlin. The son of a mason, he also learned the trade (becoming a master in 1783) but pursued musical activities early, including piano and violin instruction. In 1779 he was a violinist in the Doebblin Theater orchestra; he studied composition with Carl Fasch, 1784-86, and joined his Singakademie in 1791. He took over as director of the group when Fasch died in 1800 and started a companion orchestral ensemble for the Singakademie, the Ripienschule, in 1808. He became a member of the faculty of the Royal Academy of the Arts in Berlin in 1809, the same year that he started the Liedertafel, a men's singing society for which he wrote many choral pieces. In 1822 he established the Royal Institute for Church Music, which he himself directed. Goethe admired Zelter's settings of his poems; the two became friends and established an extensive correspondence. He was a composer primarily of vocal works; it is for his lieder (around 200) that he is remembered today. His first book of lieder was published in 1796, the second in 1801. Several other collections followed, as well as songs published in almanacs. He composed cantatas, various other sacred and secular choral works, a viola concerto, keyboard music. He wrote the pedagogical works Practische Gesang-Lehre (MS, 1812) and Gesang-Übungen sowie 2 und 3 Cursus der Compositionslehre (MS, 1812). He also wrote an autobiography (ed. W Rentel, Berlin, 1861).