CANNABICH: Symphonies Nos. 47 - 52
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Symphonies Nos. 47-52
Johann Christian Innocenz Bonaventura Cannabich, son of the flautist andcomposer Martin Friedrich Cannabich, was born in Mannheim in 1731. A pupil ofJohann Stamitz, Christian Cannabich entered the Mannheim court orchestra as a'scholar' at the age of twelve and in 1746 or 1747 he was formally appointed asa violinist. The Elector Carl Theodor granted him an electoral stipend to studyin Italy and in the autumn of 1750 he began a course of tuition with Jommelliin Rome where he remained until 1753. He accompanied Jommelli to Stuttgart butreturned to Italy in 1754 where he remained until his appointment as leader ofthe Mannheim court orchestra following the death of Stamitz in 1757. Hismarriage in 1759 to Maria Elisabeth de la Motte, lady of the bedchamber to theDuchess of Zweibr??cken, proved extremely useful to Cannabich since through hisZweibr??cken family connections he was able to encourage Duke Christian IV touse his influence to promote the works of Mannheim composers in the Frenchcapital. Cannabich accompanied the Duke to Paris in 1764 and lived at hisParisian palace. In 1766 he was in Paris again where he obtained a privilege toprint six symphonies and six trios. After this date most of Cannabich's workswere issued by Parisian publishers. In a later visit he appeared as a soloistat the Concert spirituel and won a medal in a prestigious compositioncompetition.
In 1774 Cannabich officially succeeded to Stamitz's position as directorof instrumental music, thereby becoming sole conductor and trainer of the mostcelebrated orchestra in Europe. The next four years, until the court moved toMunich, was a time of great success and renown for the composer. An amiable man- and one who was universally respected by his colleagues - Cannabich more orless kept open house for local and visiting musicians. Mozart, whom Cannabichhad met in Paris in 1766, stayed in the Cannabich household in 1778 and gavedaily keyboard lessons to his daughter, Rosa, for whom he composed the Sonatain C, K. 309. Mozart liked and admired him immensely, observing that'Cannabich, who is the best director that I have ever seen, has the love andawe of those under him' (letter of 9th July, 1778). Cannabich was extremelyhelpful to Mozart and certainly played an important part in securing acommission for him to write an opera (Idomeneo) for the electoral courtseveral years later.
In the 1790s musical activity at the court was curtailed and Cannabich,like his colleagues Toeschi and Franzl, was forced to complain about cut-backsin the musical establishment and, more seriously, about the withholding ofwages, In the last year of his life, Cannabich received only a third of hisannual salary and found it necessary to undertake concert tours to supplementhis income. He died on 20th January, 1798 in Frankfurt am Main while visitinghis son Carl.
Although Cannabich's fame today lies principally in his r??le as directorof the famous Mannheim court orchestra, he was a prolific and successfulcomposer whose works were admired in equal measure in both Mannheim and Paris.
Dr Charles Burney gave the highest praise to Cannabich's La foire de villagehessoise which he saw at Schwetzingen in 1772 and indeed ballet seems tohave been a medium in which he excelled. His symphonies, however, haveattracted less enthusiastic praise. Leopold Mozart was critical of what heconsidered 'the affected Mannheim taste' and his view may well be reflected inWolfgang's observation that they all begin alike, '...in unison with long notevalues and large leaps...' (letter of 20th November, 1777).?á Nonetheless, he also drew attention to theelegant instrumentation heard in more recent works and took care to employ agood number of the older composer's stock devices in a number of works writtenaround this time, notably the Paris Symphony and the later SinfoniaConcertante, K. 364.
The six symphonies published in Mannheim by Gotz in 1772 as Op. 10 werewritten mid-?¡career. In his own catalogue of the 76 symphonies Cannabichallocated the numbers 47-52 for these works. Although partial autographssurvive for all six works, the Gotz publication date is the earliest verifiabledate for the works. We can assume that they were published relatively close tothe date of composition and probably conceived as a set. The order in which theworks appear in the published set does not correspond with Cannabich's ownnumbering system: Op. 10 No. 1 is No. 51; Op. 10 No. 2 is No. 47; Op. 10 No. 3is No. 48; Op. 10 No. 4 is No. 49; Op. 10 No. 5 is No. 50 and Op. 10 No. 6 isNo. 52. While the title page of the Gotz print specifies oboes and horns: 'SixSymphonies / A deux Violons, Alto et Basse, / Hautbois & Cors /Dedies / A son excellence / Monsieur le comte de sickingen .../ Composes Par / MrCannabich / Directeur de la Musique Instrumentale / Oeuvre x... ': threeof the symphonies (Nos. 47, 50 & 52) call for pairs of flutes andhorns. Although the parts are clearly intended to be interchangeable, thesubstitution of flutes for oboes in the G major, D minor and E major symphoniescontributes greatly to the subtlety of the orchestral palette; the windinstruments are omitted from all six slow movements. Several cues for bassoon(i.e. Vc. & Fag.) occur in Op. 10 No. 6 which probably imply the additionof a bassoon to the bass-line in every symphony in the set. All six works arecast in three movements - a departure from the prevailing four-movement cycleof the late Johann Stamitz symphonies - and they share similar structuralprinciples.
The Opus 10 symphonies are beautifully composed. There is a wealth ofsubtle orchestral detail in the spirited outer movements and the lovely centralmovements, invariably scored for strings, possess a poise and compositionalfinish from which even a Mozart could learn. The sombre power of the opening Allegronon tanto of the Symphony in D minor and the skittish charm of the Finaleto the Symphony in G major contain many stylistic elements which arenow considered Mozartian. If Mozart acquired his great technical virtuositythrough his careful study and profound appreciation of Haydn's works, hisorchestral sound and the sensuousness of much of his writing owe much to theworks of his friend Christian Cannabich.
Dr Allan Badley