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ClassicsOnline Home » STAMITZ, J.: Flute Concertos (Aitken, St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra, Katkus)
A pioneer in the development of the symphony, Johann Stamitz also composed several concertos, including fourteen for flute. The four flute concertos presented here show what delightful results came from the combination of Stamitz’s lively musical imagination with the talents of the highly admired Mannheim orchestra’s players for whom they were written. Virtuosity, lyricism and a dash of Bohemian spirit characterise these charming works, in which the emergence of the Classical style from its Baroque antecedents can be heard.
Johann Stamitz (1717–1757)
The violinist, composer and music director Johann Stamitz was born in Nûmecký Brod in 1717, the son of Antonín Ignaz, an organist, businessman and town councillor. He studied at the Jesuit school in Jihlava (Iglau) from 1728 to 1734 before entering Prague University, where he spent a year. Nothing is known about the following years, until his employment at the Electoral Court in Mannheim in about 1741, where, presumably, he would first have made his appearance as a travelling virtuoso performer. He is recorded as having appeared in a concert at Frankfurt on 29 June 1742, on that occasion playing the violin, viola d’amore, cello and double bass, and is mentioned in Mannheim court records when, in the summer of 1743, he is given an increase of salary, followed by appointment as First Court Violinist, with a salary now amounting to 900 gulden. By 1745 or 1746 he had been appointed concertmaster, and in 1750 became director of instrumental music, the first such appointment in Mannheim. He held this position until his death in 1757. From 1751 until the summer of 1753 he appears as one of the two Kapellmeister at the Mannheim court. With the arrival of Ignaz Holzbauer in the latter year he continued as director of instrumental music. He probably visited Paris in 1751, when a symphony by him was performed there, and in the autumn of 1754 he returned there, giving a number of concerts as a composer and
soloist and leading the private orchestra of the fermier général Alexandre-Jean-Joseph Le Riche de la Pouplinière, Rameau’s patron, at Passy. In 1755 a royal privilege allowed him to publish his compositions in Paris and in September he returned to Mannheim, where he died in March 1757.
Music flourished at the Mannheim Court under the Elector Carl Theodor and the place became famous for its musical prowess, with an orchestra that the English music historian Dr Charles Burney described as ‘an army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle, as to fight it’. Stamitz played a leading part in the establishment of this
orchestra, widely known for its disciplined crescendo and diminuendo, the former compared by C.F.D. Schubart to ‘a great waterfall’, and in general its fine command of nuanced dynamics. Other features of Mannheim included the so-called ‘Mannheim rocket’, an ascending musical figure. There is no doubt that Mannheim owed much to
Stamitz and the orchestra’s reputation continued after his early death, as Mozart found twenty years later. The two sons of Stamitz, Carl and Anton, both enjoyed distinguished careers. The former, born in 1745, studied first with his father, and after the latter’s death with the Mannheim musicians Cannabich, Holzbauer and Richter. Anton Stamitz, born in 1750, presumably studied first with his father, before lessons with Cannabich and other Mannheim players. Both enjoyed careers as virtuoso violinists and composers, beyond the bounds of Mannheim.
While the principal achievement of Johann Stamitz lay in his contributions to the developing form of the symphony, he also left a number of concertos, including concertos for violin, some fourteen for flute, and concertos for oboe and for clarinet, with two harpsichord concertos. There have been problems of attribution, since it is not always possible to distinguish one Stamitz from another, as his two sons were even more prolific as composers, although their styles reflect the changing tastes of their generation. In Mannheim Johann Stamitz
had players well able to perform as soloists and the flautists included Johann Baptist Wendling, a virtuoso who was in the court orchestra from the early 1750s and gave flute lessons to the Elector Carl Theodor, who is mentioned as having performed one of the concertos by Stamitz. Wendling was still in Mannheim when Mozart stayed there in the winter of 1777–78 and Mozart orchestrated one of Wendling’s flute concertos. Leopold Mozart and his family had heard Wendling play in 1763, during the course of the Mozarts’ journey to Paris and London, at Schwetzingen, where the Mannheim Electoral court spent the summer months. In a letter to his landlord Lorenz Hagenauer in Salzburg he describes the orchestra as ‘without doubt the best in Germany’. In a further comment that throws light on Leopold Mozart’s opinion of the Salzburg musicians, he adds that the orchestra ‘is made up entirely of people who are young and of good character, not drunkards, gamblers or dissolute scoundrels, so that their conduct and playing are both
highly to be admired’. For Wendling he has nothing but admiration, but by 1778, when his son proposed travelling to Paris with Wendling, Leopold Mozart deplored the plan, as Wendling’s daughter, a singer in the court musical establishment, had become the Elector’s mistress and was later to be the mistress of the Munich Intendant Joseph Anton Graf Seeau. The Mannheim musical traditions continued when the Elector Palatine became Elector of Bavaria with his capital in Munich, and many of the Mannheim musicians moved there when the two musical establishments were amalgamated in the summer of 1778.
Mannheim exercised influence not only on the development of the symphony but also on the contemporaneous development of the solo concerto, as it evolved from its late Baroque roots, of which it continued to show signs. The Mannheim orchestra under Johann Stamitz, as Dr Burney later observed, ‘had more solo players and good composers…than perhaps in any other orchestra in Europe’ and a number of them wrote solo concertos for their own instruments, as the flautist Wendling did. The four characteristic flute concertos by Johann Stamitz included here are fully representative of the transitional style of the period, and demonstrate Stamitz’s gift for seizing on the appropriate idiom of the
solo instrument. The first of the two Concertos in D major has added cadenzas in its first movement and in the G major second movement, a practice followed in most of the movements here included. The first movement of the Concerto in C major makes considerable use of rapid triplet figuration and the slow movement is in C minor. The Bohemian horn-players of the Mannheim orchestra have a part to play in the second Concerto in D major included here. Its A major slow movement continues the demands for virtuosity that are a constant feature of the solo writing.
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STAMITZ, J.: Flute Concertos (Aitken, St. Christop...