Sunday, June 17, 8717

Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) - Symphony

Jan Václav Antonín Stamic (later, during his life in Mannhein Germanized as Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz (June 17, 1717 – March 27, 1757) was a Czech composer and violinist. Johann was the father of Carl Stamitz and Anton Stamitz, also composers. His music reflects the transition of the baroque period to the classical era.

Jan Václav Antonín Stamic was born in Německý Brod (present day Havlíčkův Brod) on June 17, 1717. He was the third child born and the first to survive past infancy. He was baptized on June 19, 1717 and probably born a day or two before the baptism. His name appears in the registry as Jan Waczlaw Antonin Stamitz. The Stamitz family was very artistic as Johann's father, Antonín Ignác, was organist at the Dean's Church before becoming a merchant, landowner and town councilor. His three brothers were very artistic as well. Joseph František was a painter and Antonín Tadeáš and Václav Jan were both musicians at some point in their lives. Stamitz received his first schooling in Německý Brod and his first musical instruction most likely came from his father. In 1728, he enrolled in the Jesuit gymnasium in Jihlava where he received training from the Jesuits of Bohemia, whose high standard of musical education spawned students were the premiere musicians in Europe.

Stamitz spent the academic year 1734–1735 at the University of Prague. After only one year, he left the university to pursue a career as a violin virtuoso. The six-year period between Stamitz' departure from the university in 1735 and the time he was employed in Mannheim around 1741 is ambiguous.

Stamitz was appointed by the Mannheim court either in 1741 or 1742. Most likely, his engagement at Mannheim resulted from contacts made during the Bohemian campaign and coronation of Carl Albert (Carl VII), a close ally the Elector Palatine. In January 1742 Stamitz performed at Mannheim as part of the festivities surrounding the marriage of Carl Theodor, who succeeded his uncle Carl Philipp as Elector Palatine less than a year later; Carl Albert of Bavaria was a guest at the wedding.

At Mannheim, Stamitz advanced rapidly, becoming the “Erster Hoff Violinist” or First Court violinist in 1743. He was granted an increase of salary by 200 gulden, to 900 gulden, the most of any instrumentalist at Mannheim. In 1745 or 1746, he was given the title Concertmeister. The academies, which featured the Mannheim school and the Mannheim orchestra, were the primary responsibility of the Concertmeister and Stamitz was required to prepare and conduct the performance, perform concertos, and provide orchestral compositions of his own. On Feb 27, 1750, he was named the instrumental music director. Stamitz’s other duties and responsibilities included supervision and performance of chamber music and performance in the orchestra for certain operas, ballet productions, balls, and church services.

Stamitz was married on July 1, 1744 to Maria Antonia Luneborn. They had five children together, Carl Phillip, Maria Francisco, Anton Thadaus Nepomuk, and two children who died in infancy.

Probably around late summer of 1754, Stamitz took a year long journey to Paris, perhaps at the invitation of the musical maecenas Alexandre Le Riche de La Poupelinière, with whom he stayed; Stamitz appeared in public in Paris for the first time at a Concert Spirituel of September 8 1754. Stamitz' success in Paris induced him to publish his Orchestral Trios, Op. 1, and possibly other publications with various Parisian publishers.

Stamitz probably returned to Mannheim around the autumn of 1755, dying there less than two years later at the age of 39. The entry 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) ”

Stamitz’s most important compositions are his 58 symphonies and his 10 orchestral trios. The orchestral trios, though frequently classified as symphonies, are actually somewhere between the symphony and the chamber trio, and may be played with or without doubling of parts. Stamitz was also a composer of concertos. These include, in addition to his numerous violin concertos, at least two for harpsichord, 12 for flute, one for oboe, and one for clarinet, among the earliest concertos for the instrument (Johann Melchior Molter's six from the 1740s seem to have been the first). He also composed a large amount of chamber music for various instrumental combinations, as well as eight vocal works; among the latter is his widely circulated Mass in D, a modern concerted style piece.

Because at least five other musicians of the 18th century bore the surname Stamitz, including four from Johann’s immediate family, any attempt to catalog Stamitz’s works is risky at best, principally in view of the many variations in spelling. Actually, few difficulties arise in distinguishing between works by Johann Stamitz and those of his sons Carl and Anton. By contrast, the relationship of the names ‘Steinmetz’ and ‘Stamitz’ has caused substantial confusion, as at least two other musicians called ‘Steinmetz’ lived in the 18th century.

Stamitz expanded the orchestral score, making the winds essential for the composition. His symphonies of the 1750 are set out for eight parts; four strings, two horns, two oboes, although flutes and clarinets may substitute. Horns not only provided harmonic backdrop for strings, but solos lines in the piece Stamitz wrote.

The chief innovation in Stamitz’s symphonic works is their adoption of the cycle of four movements, with a minuet and trio in third place followed by a Presto or Prestissimo. While isolated examples for this succession exist, Stamitz was the first composer to use it consistently: well over half of his symphonies, and nine of his ten orchestral trios, are in four movements. He also contributed to the development of sonata form.

Stamitz also adapted and extended traits originally developed in the Italian opera in his compositions. He added features in his pieces such as extended crescendo passages and other dynamic effects. Stamitz also incorporated simplified and often massively chordal textures, sectionally specialized scores, slow harmonic rhythms, and restricted chord vocabularies. Like the Italian operas, Stamitz compositions have a strong sense of rhythmic vigor and drive in forte area and thematic differentiation within the exposition.

[8723 A. Smith / 8717 J. Stamitz]