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Johann Baptist Vanhal

Johann Baptist Vanhal

born on 12/5/1739 in Nechanice, Böhmen, Czechia

died on 20/8/1813 in Wien, Wien, Austria

Johann Baptist Vanhal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Johann Baptist Vanhal (Jan Ktitel Vahal)[1] also spelled Wahal (the spelling the composer himself and at least one of his publishers used), Wanhal or Wanhall (May 12, 1739August 20, 1813) was an important classical music composer. He was born in Nechanice, Bohemia, and died in Vienna.


Born in Nechanice, Bohemia, to a Czech peasant family, Vanhal received his early training from a local musician. From these humble beginnings he was able to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster. The Countess Schaffgotsch, who heard him playing the violin, took him to Vienna in 1760, where she arranged lessons in composition with Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. Further patronage helped him to travel and gain further knowledge of music and by the age of 35, he was moving in exalted musical company: it is reported he played quartets with Haydn, Mozart, and Dittersdorf.[2] Vanhal tailored his output to economic realities of the day and ceased writing symphonies in the late-1770s. He wrote three operas: Il Demofoonte (1770), Il trionfo di Clelia (1770), and The Princess of Tarento.[3] In the 1770s, Vanhal met the contrabassist Johannes Matthias Sperger and wrote a double bass concerto for him. The English music historian Charles Burney visited Vanhal in 1772. Mozart performed Vanhal's Violin Concerto in B flat in Augsburg in 1777. In or around 1784, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Mozart and Vanhal played string quartets together; Haydn and Dittersdorf played the violins, Mozart the viola, and Vanhal cello. The recorder of this event, the composer and tenor Michael Kelly, stated that they played well but not outstandingly together, but the image of four of the great composers of the time all joined in common music-making is still a classic image of the Classical era.

Vanhal was reported to have suffered from an unspecified nervous disorder, which eventually went away,[4] but which gave rise to the opinion held by Burney and others that the quality of Vanhal's compositions deteriorated with the disappearance of his condition.[5] Scholars such as Paul Bryan find that "the quality and quantity of the serious works he [Vanhal] composed after 1770, ... belie that assertion."[6]


He had to be a prolific writer to meet the demands made upon him, and attributed to him are 100 quartets, at least 73 symphonies, 95 sacred works, and a large number of instrumental and vocal works. The symphonies, in particular, have been committed increasingly often to compact disc in recent times, and the best of them are comparable with many of Haydn's. Many of Vanhal's symphonies are in minor keys and are considered highly influential to the "Sturm und Drang" movement of his time. "Vanhal makes use of repeated semiquavers, pounding quavers in the bass line, wide skips in the themes, sudden pauses (fermatas), silences, exaggerated dynamic marks ... and all these features ... appear in Mozart's first large-scale Sturm und Drang symphony, no. 25 in g minor (K. 183) of 1773."[7] This kind of style also appears in Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 83 in g minor, The Hen (1785), and Muzio Clementi's Sonata in g minor, Op.34, No.2 (circa 1795).

Such was his success that within a few years of his symphonies being written, they were being performed around the world, and as far distant as the United States.[8] In later life, however, he rarely moved from Vienna where he was also an active teacher.

List of Selected Works


Published Concertos

  • 4 Sinfonie Concertanti (Paris, 1775)
  • A favourite Concerto for the German flute or Violin. (London, ca. 1775)
  • 6 concertos for Harpsichord:
    • 1 Concerto for Harpsichord (Wien, 1785)
    • 2 Concertos for Harpsichord (London, 1788)
    • 1 Concerto for Harpsichord (Offenbach, 1789)
    • 1 Concerto for Harpsichord (Mainz, 1880)
    • 1 Concerto for Harpsichord (Wien, 1808)
  • 1 Concertino for Harpsichord (Wien, s.a.)
  • 5 Concertos for Flute (Paris, s.a.)

Concertos: Manuscripts

  • 1 Concerto for Harpsichord and Violin
  • many concertos for Harpsichord or Piano (the exact number of which is still unknown)
  • 2 Concertos for Harpsichord or Organ
  • 1 Concerto for Organ
  • 1 Concerto for 2 Violins
  • 5 Concertos for Violin
  • 1 Concerto for Cello
  • 2 Concertos for Flute:
    • (MS 1-D major: Weinmann IIe:D1, Lund University Library; now publ. Artaria)
    • (MS 2-E flat major: Weinmann IIe:Eb1, The Danish Royal Library Mu.6304.2368; now publ. Artaria)
  • Concerto in F major for viola and orchestra (c.1785); original version for bassoon and orchestra (c.1780); transcription by the composer; The solo viola part is written in the key of E major requiring a scordatura tuning a whole step higher.[9]
  • 1 Concerto for Contrabass
  • 1 Concerto for Clarinet
  • 1 Concerto for 2 Bassoons
  • 1 Concerto for Basson (now publ. Breitkopf & Härtel)
  • 1 concerto for viola

Concertos: selection of best known concertos

  • Cello concerto in A major
  • Concert for two bassoons and orchestras
  • Flute concerto No. 1
  • Flute concerto No. 2
  • Concerto for double bass and orchestra


Vanhal left 51 published symphonies. There are also another 81 symphonies which are preserved only in manuscripts. [according to the catalogue published by Civra Ferruccio, Torino 1985]. Even though the modern actual French spelling of Symphonie Périodique is Symphonie Périodique, the original 18th century French title of such works was Simphonie Periodique, as it can be seen on the 18th century frontispiece of Vanhal's published symphonies "a Amsterdam chez J.J. Hummel, Marchand & Imprimeur de Musique".

Published Symphonies

  • 4 Symphonies Op. 10 (Paris, 177172)
  • 3 Symphonies Op. 10 (Paris, 1773)
  • 3 Symphonies Op. 16 (Paris, 1773)
  • 2 Symphonies Op. 17 (Paris, 1773)
  • 1 Symphony (Paris, 1778)
  • 3 Symphonies Op. 10 (Amsterdam, ca. 1783)
  • 1 Symphony Op. 10 (Offenbach, s.a.)
  • 34 Symphonies Périodiques (Amsterdam)

Symphonies: selection of best known symphonies

  • Symphony in A major Bryan A9
  • Symphony in A flat major Bryan As1
  • Symphony in B major Bryan B3
  • Symphony in C major Bryan C3
  • Symphony in C major (Comista) Bryan C11
  • Symphony in D major Bryan D2
  • Symphony in D major Bryan D4
  • Symphony in D major Bryan D17
  • Symphony in G major Bryan G6
  • Symphony in G major Bryan G8
  • Symphony in G major Bryan G11
  • Symphony in a minor Bryan a2
  • Symphony in c minor Bryan c2
  • Symphony in d minor Bryan d1
  • Symphony in d minor Bryan d2
  • Symphony in e minor Bryan e1
  • Symphony in g minor Bryan g1
  • Symphony in g minor Bryan g2

Chamber Music

  • Piano quartets:
  • Piano quartet in E flat major Op. 40 No. 1
  • Piano quartet in G major Op. 40 No. 2
  • Piano quartet Op. 40 No. 3
  • Oboe quartets:
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 1
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 2
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 3
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 4
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 5
  • Oboe quartet Op. 7 No. 6
  • Caper quartet:
  • Caper quartet in G major Op. 4 No. 1
  • Trio:
  • Trio Op. 20 No. 1
  • Trio Op. 20 No. 2
  • Trio Op. 20 No. 3
  • Viola sonatas:
  • Viola sonata Op. 5 No. 1
  • Viola sonata Op. 5 No. 2
  • Viola sonata Op. 5 No. 3
  • Viola sonata Op. 5 No. 4


  • Il Demofoonte (Metastasio; Roma, 1770)
  • Il trionfo di Clelia (Metastasio; Roma, 1770)

Sacred Music

Published Sacred Music

  • 2 Masses (C major and G major, Wien, s.a.)
  • 2 Offertories (Wien, s.a.)
  • Pange Lingua (Wien, s.a.)
  • IV breves et faciles Hymni in honorem SS. Altari Sacramenti (Wien, s.a.)

Sacred Music: Manuscripts

  • 58 Masses:
    • (MS 1-G major Missa Pastoralis ca. 1782: Weinmann XIX: G4, Austrian National Library Mus.Hs.926)
    • (MS 2-C major Missa Solemnis ca. 1778: Weinmann XIX: C7, Austrian National Library Mus.Hs.22290)
    • Both the Masses are now publ. Artaria.
  • 1 Credo
  • Kyrie and Gloria
  • 54 Offertories
  • 16 Salve Regina
  • 10 litanies
  • 14 motets
  • Stabat Mater
  • Te Deum
  • Tantum ergo
  • Pange Lingua
  • Quatro stationi
  • Sacrum Solenne
  • 31 arias


  1. "He himself spelt his name Johann Baptist Wahal; his Viennese contemporaries and most scholars until World War II used the spelling Wahal, but later in the 20th century a modern Czech form, Jan Ktitel Vahal, was erroneously introduced." Paul Robey Bryan, "Vanhal, Johann Baptist [Jan Ktitel]" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (New York: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2001), 19:592.
  2. James Webster and Georg Feder, The New Grove Haydn, first published in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed. 2001 (New York: Palgrave; London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 2002, ISBN 0-312-23323-X), 28.
  3. Opera Glass
  4. Paul Bryan, Johann Wanhall, Viennese Symphonist: His Life and His Musical Environment Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press (1997): 18. Dlabac said that Vanhal "was overcome by a mental disturbance that hindered his musical work."
  5. Bryan (1997), ibid: 18. In 1772 Burney opined that "Wanhal's recent music lacks its former inspiration: because of his present cold, sedate, and wary disposition, his mind is now calm and tranquil. Therefore, his recent compositions are uninteresting because they lack the 'extravagance' they formerly had and are now limited by 'too great economy of thought.' The physicians who cured his 'insanity' did him a disservice."
  6. Bryan (1997), ibid: 19
  7. H. C. Robbins Landon, Mozart and Vienna: Including Selections from Johann Pezzl's 'Sketch of Vienna' (178690) (London: Thames and Hudson; New York: Schirmer Books, 1991, ISBN 0-500-01506-6), 48.
  8. Bryan (1997), ibid: 245. To give one example, a 19th Century manuscript set of all the parts (except the trumpet) of the Symphony in C major, Bryan C6, was found in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
  9. Riley, Maurice W. (1991). The History of the Viola, Volume II, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Braun-Brumfield.


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