Karl Philipp Stamitz (Czech: Karel Stamic) (baptized Mannheim, May 8, 1745 - Jena, November 9, 1801), who later changed his given name to Carl, was a German composer of partial Czech ancestry (his mother was German), and a violin, viola and viola d'amore virtuoso. He was the most prominent representative of the second generation of the so-called Mannheim School.
He was the first composer to specify a left hand pizzicato (an important virtuoso device) in a composition. This occurs in his famous viola concerto in D major where the passage in question is designated by an "0" above the notes. This happened decades before Paganini would designate the same effect with an "X" above the notes.
A good composer of impeccable musical pedigree and training, he is particularly remembered for his melodious clarinet and viola concertos which are played to this day. Although a talented and prolific composer of great aspirations, he never succeeded in attaining an adequate position with one of the major princes or orchestras of his time – whether for want of trying or because of his unsteady and itinerant lifestyle is not clear. He died in poverty; a small town music teacher who in his last years turned to alchemy in search of making gold. When nine years after his death (1810) his estate was put up for auction to cover his debts nothing was sold and all of it consequently lost.
1745-1770 Youth in Mannheim
Carl Stamitz was the first son of Johann Stamitz (1717–1757), a violinist and composer of the pre-classical area who not only composed some of the best instrumental music (symphonies, concertos) between Bach and Mozart, but as leader and first violinist also turned the Mannheim court orchestra into the best one in Europe.
Carl Stamitz was born at Mannheim precisely at the moment when the Mannheimers began their comet-like ascent and the "Mannheim Gout" (“taste”) was causing a sensation all over Europe. As a boy he received his first lessons in violin and composition from his father. After his father's early death, Stamitz was taught by Christian Cannabich (1731–1798), his father’s successor as concert-master and leader of the Mannheim orchestra. Ignaz Holzbauer (1711–1798), the court-director of music, and the court-composer Franz Xaver Richter (1709–1789) also had a hand in his education.
By the time he was 17 Stamitz was employed as a violinist in the court-orchestra. This position did not keep his interest for very long, though: In 1770 he resigned from his post and began an unsettled and vagrant life that, with occasional breaks, would last for the next 25 years and would lead him all over Europe. It is bewildering to this day that this man, scion of one of the pre-eminent musical families of 18th century Europe, supremely taught by some of its best musicians, well connected in aristocratic and musical circles, multi lingual, versed in all musical matters and a genuinely good composer would die in penury as an ordinary music teacher in a minor German city – but this is exactly what happened.
1770-1794 Travelling virtuoso
As a travelling virtuoso on the violin, the viola and viola d'amore Stamitz often accepted short-term engagements but never managed to gain a position adequate to his abilities with one of the European princes or in one of the prestigious orchestras of his time. In 1770 Stamitz went to Paris where he went into service with Duke Louis of Noailles, who made him his court composer. He also appeared in the Concerts Spirituels, sometimes together with his brother Anton, who probably had come to Paris with him. With Paris as his base he made frequent concert tours to a number of German cities. On April 12, 1773 he appeared in Frankfurt am Main, a year later in Augsburg, and in 1775 he ventured as far as St. Petersburg in Russia.
In 1777 he dwelt for a time in Strasbourg where Franz Xaver Richter, his father’s old friend, was music director. During the years 1777 and 1778 he was successful in London, one of many Austro-German musicians (Carl Friedrich Abel, Johann Christian Bach, and in his last years Joseph Haydn would be some other ones) to be drawn to that metropolis where a capitalist music life, largely independent of courts and nobility, was already in full swing. His stay in London was possibly facilitated through his contact with Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kelly (1753–1781), who during a tour of the continent had received lessons from Carl’s father Johann Stamitz.
Between 1782 and 1783 we find Stamitz in the Netherlands where he gave converts in The Hague and in Amsterdam. Finally in 1785 Stamitz returned to Germany to appear in concerts in a number of cities and towns, e.g. Hamburg, Lübeck, Braunschweig, Magdeburg, and Leipzig. In the April if 1786 he made his way to Berlin where on May 19, 1786 he participated in the famous performance of Handel’s Messiah under Johann Adam Hiller’s baton.
Years of ever more restless travelling were to follow. He emerges in Dresden, Prague, Halle and finally in Nuremberg, where he staged a Great Allegorical Musical Festivity in Two Acts celebrating the balloon ascent of the French aviation prioneer Jean Pierre Blanchard (November 3, 1787). During the winter of 1789-90 he directed the amateur concerts in Kassel, failed to gain an employment with the Schwerin court which forced him, by now married and father of four children who all died in infancy, to hit the road one more time.
On November 12, 1792 he gave a concert in the Weimar court theatre (then under the direction of Goethe). In 1793 he undertook one last journey along the Rhein to his native Mannheim before he finally gave up travelling for good. Sometime in the winter of 1794-95 he moved his family to the university town of Jena where his wanderings came to an end.
1795-1801 Last years in Jena
When Stamitz settled in Jena the town had less than 5000 inhabitants, the first steam engine lay still 70 years in the future and there was just a handful of real workers living there. Jena was still by far and large an almost medieval town surrounded by a mostly agricultural society. At the same time this old town with its cobbled streets and Tudor style houses was home to one of the most prestigious German universities. Eminent Poets, writers and historians such as Friedrich Schiller, August and Wilhelm Schlegel and the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Hegel all were professors at Jena University. During the 1790ies the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spent several months there every year to indulge in private anatomical studies.
Musically, though, the town was a backwater. During the years Stamitz spent there, Jena had neither a town band nor an orchestra to speak of. According to some sources he was in some way connected to the university but this seems a matter of dispute.
After his death a substantial number of tracts on alchemy were found in his library. From this it was guessed that he dabbled in attempts of gold making. Stamitz gradually descended into poverty, but his imagination kept him going. For years he hatched grand plans about operas and future concerts that would bring him money and possibly redeem him before society. Until his last days there were plans that he would travel to Russia one more time where money was to be made.
A prolific composer
Even in a century of industrious and prolific composers, Carl Stamitz stands out. He wrote more than 50 symphonies; at least 38 symphonies concertantes; and more than 60 concertos for Violin, viola, viola d’amore, cello, clarinet, Basset horn, flute, bassoon, and other instruments. He also wrote a good deal of chamber music for various combinations. The sheer quantity of Stamitz’ output is comparable to Mozart’s. Some of his clarinet and viola concertos are among the finest there are and a welcome addition to the not so ample concerto repertoire for both instruments.
Although no clarinet player himself, Stamitz had a profound understanding of this instrument which dated back to his early years with the Mannheim orchestra. During his Paris years (1770–1778) Stamitz began to cooperate with the Bohemian born clarinet virtuoso Johann Joseph Beer (1744–1811) which proved fruitful for both Stamitz and Beer. Al least one of Stamitz’ clarinet concertos (concerto No. 6 in E flat major) seems to have been jointly composed by Stamitz and Beer as both names appear on the title page of the Viennese manuscript. Stamitz’ cello concertos were written for the cello-playing Prussian King Friedrich–Wilhelm II, for whom, both Mozart and Beethoven also wrote music.
Stylistically Stamitz’s music is not too far from the works of the young Mozart or, for that matter, from Haydn’s middle period. A musical layman would perceive but little difference between a Stamitz symphony and one of the early Mozart symphonies.
Stamitz’ orchestral writing is fluent and graceful; the sections of the orchestra are well contrasted as was the Mannheim wont, the voices for the individual instruments well laid out. His works are characterized by regular periods, well crafted themes and appealing melodies, with the voices quite often led in thirds, sixths and tenths. As a travelling virtuoso who must have appeared in a few thousand concerts during his lifetime, Stamitz knew the tricks of the trade. The writing for the solo instruments is idiomatic and virtuoso but not excessively so.
The opening movements of Stamitz’ concertos and orchestral works are regularly constructed in the sonata form with an extensive double exposition. Their structure is additive in nature, however, and does not exhibit the thematic development so typical of the Viennese classical style. The middle movements are expressive and lyrical, sometimes called “Romance” and usually constructed according to the well known Liedform (ABA, ABA’ or AA'B). The final movement is often (in the concertos almost always) a French-style rondo.
Just as his teacher Franz Xaver Richter had done, Stamitz preferred minor keys as he generally used a variety of (sometimes remote) keys.
50 symphonies (usually in three movements omitting the Minuet)
- 11 Clarinet Concertos (at least one jointly composed with Johann Joseph Beer (1744–1811)
- 3 Cello concertos
- 40 Concertos for flute, bassoon, Basset Horn, violin, viola, viola d’amore and different combinations of some of these instruments.
- 38 symphonies concertantes
- Duos, trios, quartets for all sorts of formations, strings are prevailing. The unaccompanied duos for violin and viola are particularly notable.
Der verliebte Vollmond (1787)
Both operas are considered lost.
Symfonies concertante, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Henry Swoboda, dir., Westminster, WL 50-17 (WL-17 A--WL-17 B), 1950.
Four Quartets for Winds and Strings, Nonesuch Records, H-71125, c1966.
Chamber music. Selections, Musical Heritage Society, MHS 1403, 1972.
Carl Stamitz: Four Symphonies, London Mozart Players, Matthias Bamert, dir., Chandos Records, Chan 9358, 1995.
Notes and references
^ Eduard Melkus: Italienische Merkmale in der Mannheimer Violintechnik., pp. 200-207 in: (Würtz, 1984)
^ (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik., 1949-1987), Entry “Carl Stamitz”; (Randel, 1996), p. 861; (Slonimsky, 1958), p. 1555.
^ (Randel, 1996), p. 861
Blume, Friedrich, Hrsg. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. Ungekürzte elektronische Ausgabe der ersten Auflage. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1949-1987.
Randel, Don Michael, ed. The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.
Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 5th Completely Revised Edition. New York, 1958.
Walther Killy, Rudolf Vierhaus, Hrsg. (ed.) Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopäde (German Biographic Encyclopaedia). Bd. (Vol.) 5. K-G. 10 Bde. (Vols.) Munich: KG Saur, 1999. ISBN 3598231865
Würtz, Roland, Hrsg. (ed.) Mannheim und Italien - Zur Vorgeschichte der Mannheimer. Mainz: Schott, 1984. ISBN 3795713269