Although Johann David Heinichen was well known and respected both as a theorist and as a composer during his lifetime, his name would not have been recognized by most classical music listeners until scholar/conductor Reinhard Goebel began championing his music during the 1990s. Since then, more and more listeners have become acquainted with Heinichen's sprightly, colorful, charming music. Heinichen's father was a pastor in Krossuln, Germany. Johann apparently was a gifted child; he claimed that he had composed and conducted sacred music in local churches before the age of 12. In 1695, Heinichen enrolled at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, which his father also had attended, studying with and impressing the composer Johann Kuhnau. Heinichen began studying law at Leipzig University in 1702, and completed the degree in 1706, moving to Weissenfels to practice. However, the law apparently held little allure for Heinichen; he began composing occasional music for Duke Johann Georg's court, and in 1709 gave up the law altogether and moved to Leipzig to write for the opera house there. Heinichen was quite successful in Leipzig, but decided he needed to learn how to write Italian opera firsthand, and abruptly left behind Leipzig for Venice in 1710. He met numerous composers in that city, including Antonio Vivaldi, and apparently picked up the Italian style quickly, writing two successful operas for the S Angelo Theater. His fame spread all the way to the Prince-Elector of Saxony, Augustus II, in Dresden. Augustus hired Heinichen to share Kapellmeister duties with Johann Christoph Schmidt at his court in 1717. Heinichen spent the rest of his life there.
Augustus II's court was an ideal situation for a composer. It boasted the greatest orchestra in Europe, for which scores of composers (including Vivaldi, Georg Philip Telemann, and Tomaso Albinoni) spontaneously wrote concerti; it employed numerous other eminent composers, like Johann Joachim Quantz, Francesco Veracini, and Jan Dismas Zelenka; and it had a patron who was determined to keep the music playing. Apart from a disastrous quarrel in the Italian opera company between Heinichen and the singers Senesino and Berselli, which eventually resulted in the dissolution of the company, Heinichen's tenure was peaceful and productive. He only wrote one opera there, but wrote much instrumental and sacred vocal music which combined elements of the Italian, French and German styles into a recognizable, coherent, personal style. His music revels in the instrumental colors the Dresden orchestra could create, and moves along with splendid rhythmic spring and vigor. If his music is occasionally too extroverted, it is a forgivable excess. While he was at Dresden, Heinichen also had the opportunity to rewrite his treatise Der General-Bass in der Composition, which provides much more than its title would indicate; it is a manual for composition, a discussion of the proper expression of the affections in music, and a compendium of footnotes and asides which sound like an eager professor instructing his students. It was one of the most respected texts of its day, and it is still used by scholars seeking a better understanding of Baroque performance practice.