Johann Joachim Quantz

1697 1773

Johann Joachim Quantz

Composer

Biography

Johann Quantz was a late-Baroque German flautist, composer, flute-maker and writer. Quantz’s output is comprised of more than 300 concertos and sonatas, though the majority have not been published.

Quantz was born in Oberscheden to a blacksmith. He began studying music with his uncle, Justus Quantz, a local musician. Just three months into his training, his uncle died and Quantz began studying with his uncle’s son-in-law J.A. Fleischhack. Under Fleischhack, Quantz learned to play several string instruments, the oboe and the trumpet. After the reigning duke’s brother’s death in 1714, Quantz encountered the violin concertos of Vivaldi upon his visit to Pirna. These would greatly influence his own compositions later.

In 1716, Quantz joined the Dresden town band and the next year he spent several months in Vienna studying counterpoint with J.D. Zelenka, a student of renowned Austrian composer and music theorist Johann Joseph Fux. Shortly afterwards, Quantz was appointed oboist of the Polish chapel of August II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Quantz was dissatisfied with the opportunities available on the oboe and instead began playing the transverse flute in 1719, which he studied with the French flautist P.G. Buffardin. Though Buffardin much preferred the French style, Quantz learned a ‘mixed taste’, consisting of a combination of French and Italian preferences, from the leading violinist J.G. Pisendel.

In Dresden Quantz was able to hear many works in both the French and Italian styles, but in the Saxon Courtopera seria dominated along with works by Corelli <>, Torelli and Vivaldi, leading to a greater Italian influence.

Quantz completed his training in the mid-1720s. During this time he studied counterpoint with Francesco Gasparini in Rome and impressedAlessandro Scarlatti <> and J.A. Hasse with his abilities. He then went to Paris, where he was able to enjoy the performances of instrumentalists such as flautist Michel Blavet, though he was not impressed by the French vocal style. While there, Quantz experimented with his flute by adding a second key in hopes that it would improve intonation. His travels outside of Germany established his reputation throughout Europe.

Quantz finally received recognition as one of the best players in Dresden when he was promoted to the regular Dresden court chapel, where he no longer had to play oboe.

On a trip to Berlin with Augustus II in 1728, Quantz impressed Prince Frederick with his playing and from then on would return twice a year to the Prussian court to teach him flute. After the death of Augustus II, Quantz stayed with the Saxon court under Augustus III, to whom he dedicated hisSei Sonate for flute and continuo Op. 1 (1734). While in Dresden, Quantz seems to have written the majority of his trio sonatas.

After Frederick was crowned King of Prussia in 1740, Quantz moved to Berlin, where he received a much bigger salary and was exempt from the opera orchestra. While in the king’s service, Quantz performed many private concerts of his own music. For his compositions he also received additional payments. In addition to composing and performing, Quantz’s interest in making flutes grew. He built at least 18 flutes for Frederick while in his service.

During his period in Berlin very few of his works were printed. The most important work printed during this period isSei duetti a due flauti traversi Op. 2 (1759). Quantz also wrote an important treatise on flute-playing that was printed in both German and French and titledVersuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen(1752).

Most of Quantz’s works have not been published and are difficult to date. The general style of his works can be described as showing the change from late Baroque to early Classical. His output is quite uneven but some of his works have helped researchers understand the works ofJohann Sebastian Bach. Quantz’s concertos reflect the great influence of Vivaldi, both in form (fast-slow-fast) and in the use of string figurations for the flute. In his later works the rhythmic contrasts are much greater and the solo lines are more often taken from the ritornellos.

Both the sonatas and trio sonatas clearly show Quantz’s ‘mixed-taste’ influence. They often follow the form of the Italiansonata da Chiesa but use French dances. His later sonatas, from his Berlin period tend to use a slow-fast-fast movement form.

Quantz’s technical proficiency can be seen in his use of contrapuntal devices, though he often concealed them. Also important in his works is his use of simple melodies and varied thematic material. He also incorporates many ornaments such as appoggiaturas and trills along with a melodic bass line.

Quantz’s treatise was a very important document for musical literature. This work is comprised of 18 chapters and addresses flautists and amateur instrumentalists. The treatise is divided into three parts, the most essential being the first part which discusses ornamentation on an individual instrument. Quantz identified two main types of ornamentation, essential graces (French influence) and arbitrary variation (Italian influence). According to Quantz, essential graces included appoggiaturas while arbitrary graces were only applicable inadagio movements.

In the first part of the treatise, Quantz also discussed his modifications to the flute and general changes to the flute in the late 17th century. Quantz was the one to add a second key and thought to divide the head joint in two to create a tuning slide.

The second part of his treatise discusses the role of the accompany instruments, orchestral seating, bowing and tempo. However, his discussions on tempo were not yet refined.

Perhaps most important for one’s understanding of Quantz’s music is the last section of his treatise, which details the characteristics of Italian, French and German styles. His conclusions provide the idea that German music was a combination of the best French and Italian elements. Further, Quantz believed that this should become the universal idiom.

Quantz’s treatise influenced many German composers, including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. His treatise also clarifies the performance practice of Dresden between 1725 and 1755. Quantz’s influence was great throughout the 18th century due to the treatise. His customized flutes did not have as great of an influence, though this was mostly due to the fact that he did not create many and most people did not have the opportunity to perform on such an instrument.

Images courtesy of flutemonkey.com, alamy.com and Bach Cantatas

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