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ClassicsOnline Home » STAMITZ, J.: Orchestral Trios Nos. 1 - 3, Op. 1 and No. 3, Op. 4
Early Music Review
Johann Stamitz (1717 - 1757)
Orchestral Trios - Volume 1
Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz, one of the most influential figures in European
music during the mid-eighteenth century, was born in Nemecky Brod (Deutsch brod)
in June 1717. His father, Antonin Ignác, was organist at the Dean's Church and
later became a merchant, land-owner and town councillor. Johann probably
received his early musical training from his father before entering the Jesuit
Gymnasium in Jihlava in 1728.
Stamitz is known to have been a student in the Faculty of Philosophy at the
University of Prague during the academic year 1734- 35 and is thought to have
left the University in order to establish a career as a violin virtuoso. He was
probably engaged as violinist by the Mannheim Court in 1741- 42 as a result of
contacts made during the coronation in Prague (as King of Bohemia) of the
Bavarian Elector Carl Albert, one of whose closest allies was the Elector
The earliest known reference to a concert appearance by Stamitz occurs in an
advertisement for a concert in Frankfurt am Main on 29th June 1742 at which he
was to perform alternately on the violin, viola d'amore, cello and double bass
as well as furnishing a concerto for two orchestras of his own composition.
Stamitz's professional career took off in Mannheim. In 1743 he was named Erster
Hoff Violinist (First Court-Violinist); in 1745 or 1746, the date is
uncertain, he was awarded the title Concertmeister and 1750, was named to the
newly-created post of Instrumental-Music Director.
Under the Elector Carl Theodor (1724 -99), an enlightened ruler with strong
interests in philosophy, science and the arts, the court at Mannheim became one
of the most glittering in Europe. Although an important patron of art and
literature, CarI Theodor's central interest was music and he spared neither
effort nor expense in building his court into one of the leading musical centres
in Europe. In addition to presenting regular productions of new operas and
ballets, the Mannheim Court engaged a number of exceptional musicians, among
them Franz Xaver Richter, the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, Ignaz Holzbauer
and the cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Fils (Filtz), all of whom played in
the incomparable orchestra led by Johann Stamitz.
The Mannheim orchestra presented weekly 'academies' in the Rittersaal (the
Knight' s Hall) at the Electoral Palace. These academies were relatively
informal social gatherings and visitors were often given standing room to hear
the performance. The academies were the primary responsibility of the Concertmeister
and Stamitz was required to prepare and conduct the performance, perform
occasional concertos and provide orchestral compositions of his own. While the
orchestra achieved its greatest fame in the two decades following Stamitz' s
death, there can be little doubt that he provided the original impetus towards
the development of its new style of accurate, precise performance.
In one of the most famous descriptions of the Mannheim court orchestra the
aesthetician C.F.D. Schubert recalled that listening to the orchestra:
One believed oneself to be transported to a magic island of sound... No
orchestra in the world ever equaled the Mannheimers' execution. Its forte is
like thunder; its crescendo like a mighty waterfall; its diminuendo a gentle
river disappearing into the distance; its piano is a breath of spring...
In the late summer of 1754, Stamitz undertook a year-long journey to Paris,
appearing there for the first time in a Concert Spirituel of 8th
September 1754. While in Paris he lived at Passy in the palace of the fermier
général A.-J.-J Le Riche de la Pouplinière, a wealthy amateur whose
private orchestra he conducted, and was also active in public concerts in the
French capital, appearing with particular success at the Concerts Italiens.
Stamitz probably returned to Mannheim in the autumn of 1755, dying there less
than two years later, aged 39. The official record of his death reads:
March 30, 1757. Buried, Jo'es Stainmiz, director of court music, so
expert in his art that his equal will hardly be found. Rite provided.
Hugo Riemann, the pioneering German musicologist, classed the Orchestral
Trios with Stamitz's symphonies probably on the strength of their high
musical quality. Eugene Wolf's more recent analysis of the works, however, clearly
indicates that for Stamitz they occupied a well-delineated middle ground between
chamber trio and symphony, generally avoiding both the melodic intricacy of the
chamber style and such common symphonic traits as slow harmonic rhythm,
simplified texture and conspicuous use of crescendo passages.
From a stylistic perspective, the Trios represent a deliberate
adjustment between Stamitz's familiar large-scale orchestral style and the
intimacy of the chamber idiom and for this reason he no doubt directed the
engraver, Mlle Vendôme, to describe the works as being suitable for performance
by a trio or by a full orchestra.
All the Orchestral Trios appear to be relatively late works, probably
dating from around 1754-55. The six Orchestral Trios Op. 1, which
appeared in 1755 or early 1756, were Stamitz's first published works and proved
highly influential throughout Europe. Cast in four movements, like many of his
later symphonies, the Op. 1 Trios are attractive works and rather more
sophisticated in construction than the works of many of his contemporaries.
Stamitz eschews strict counterpoint of the kind frequently found in the baroque
trio sonata but frequently introduces short imitative passages between the three
instrumental parts which serve to propel the music forward. Slow movements are
more simply constructed and are not dissimilar in style to certain types of
operatic aria of the period. The minuets, sturdy and strongly rhythmical, lack
something of the lilting quality of the Viennese minuet but often contain
surprising harmonic twists in the Trios, which reveal occasional traces
of Eastern European folk-music. The finales are typically light and bustling in
character, frequently resembling the French gigue in style.
The same essential stylistic qualities are to be found in the Trio in C
minor, issued posthumously by the Parisian publisher Huberty in a collection
of Six Symphonies, Op. 4 (1758), and the Trio in E major,
published as Op. 5 by Huberty in 1759 along with several symphonies by Richter
The first movement of the C minor Trio has a driving intensity which
looks backward to the baroque and, in some measure, anticipates the
highly-charged emotional world of the Sturm und Drang symphonies of
Vanhal, Dittersdorf and Haydn. Something of this intensity survives in the
rather sinister Minuet & Trio and in the vigorous 3/8 finale.
New Zealand Chamber Orchestra
The New Zealand Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1987 by a group of leading
players from the New Zealand symphony Orchestra and established itself in a very
short time as one of New Zealand's foremost cultural assets. The orchestra tours
regularly throughout New Zealand and has also given concerts in Australia and
Spain. Many distinguished soloists have performed with the NZCO over the years,
among them Peter Schreier, Malcolm Bilson and David Geringas.
After completing his early violin studies in New Zealand, Donald Armstrong,
Music Director of the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, gained a post-graduate
diploma from Mannes College, New York, and a Masters degree from the New England
Conservatory in Boston, studying with Masuko Ushioda and Josef Gingold. Before
returning to New Zealand in 1987 to take up the position of
Associate-Concertmaster of the New Zealand symphony Orchestra, Donald Armstrong
was premier violin solo of the Orchestra Phiharmonique de l'Opéra de Nice. He
has been Music Director of the New Zealand Chamber Orchestra since its
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STAMITZ, J.: Orchestral Trios Nos. 1 - 3, Op. 1 an...