Johann Joachim Quantz 2023
This Week in Classical Music: January 30, 2023. Quantz, not an obvious choice. Two – maybe three great composers were born this week and, in addition to that, several more of the lower rung: Franz Schubert, on January 31st of 1797, Felix Mendelssohn, on February 3rd of 1809, and, possibly, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, on February 3rd of 1525, although the latter is far from certain. Of the “lesser ones,” Alessandro Marcello, the Italian composer who wrote the Oboe Concerto which Bach transformed into the famous concerto for the keyboard (D minor, BWV 974), was born in Venice on February 1st of 1673. And then there was Johann Joachim Quantz. What caught our eye (and ear) was not as much his music but his patron. Just the last week we wrote about Mozart and Emperor Joseph II, Mozart’s most important benefactor. Joseph, one of the enlightened monarchs of the 18th century, was very musical: he played the keyboard (we know that not just from the movie Amadeus, where he’s presented playing very poorly, almost comically, but also from paintings in which he’s portrayed sitting by the instrument with scores around). He also played the violin and cello and, according to his contemporaries, sang well. Joseph supported the creation of the German-language opera (what was then called “National Singspiel“) and while he preferred the lighter opera buffa to opera seria, he commissioned Mozart for two operas: The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Impresario. Quantz’s patron, on the other hand, was Joseph’s contemporary and rival, the King of Prussia Frederick II the Great. Frederick was involved with music even more so than Joseph. In his youth, music was his main interest, much more than military affairs which were supposed to be most important to the young king. He played the flute and was a prolific composer, writing more than 120 flute sonatas. He supported many composers, for example, C.P.E. Bach and Franz Benda. In 1747 Frederick met Johann Sebastian Bach, after which Bach used a tune composed by the emperor as the theme for his collection of keyboard pieces called The Musical Offering. But compared to the other composers, Quantz spent more time at Frederick’s court than anybody else.
Johann Joachim Qauntz was born on January 30th of 1697 near Göttingen. He studied music as a boy and eventually became a virtuoso flutist. In his early 20s, he traveled Europe, meeting Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples and Handel in London (Handel recommended Quantz to stay there, advice he didn’t take). In 1728, in Dresden, Quantz met the young Frederick, then still the Crown Prince and they played music together. Soon after, though, Quantz settled in Dresden at the court of August II, the Elector of Saxony, and stayed there for years. In 1740, after his father’s death, Frederick, now King of Prussia, invited Quantz to come to Berlin. Quantz accepted; his position was that of a composer, flute teacher, and flute maker. He stayed at the court till his death in 1773.
Most of Quantz’s music is for the flute, his patron’s favorite instrument. He wrote around 200 sonatas and 300 concertos for it. We’ll listen to several movements from Quantz’s concertos. Here’s the 1st movement from his Flute Concerto in G minor (QV 5:196); here — the 2nd movement for the Flute Concerto in G minor; here – the 3rd (final) movement from the Flute Concerto in A minor (QV 5:236); and here – the 1st movement from Concerto for Two Flutes (QV 6:8a). Click on the recordings’ links for details on the performances. We think the music is nice and not worse than, say, Gemignani’s music for the violin, which is much better known.