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Quantz: Concertos for Flute, Rachel Brown, Roy Goodman, Brandenburg Consort, Hyperion torrent

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Quantz’s autobiography, published in F.W. Marpurg’s Historisch-kritische Beyträge, i (1754–5), is the principal source of information on the composer's life, centring on his activities in Dresden (1716–41) and at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin and Potsdam (from 1741).

The son of a blacksmith, he began his musical training in 1708 with his uncle, Justus Quantz, a town musician in Merseburg. After Justus’s death three months later, Quantz continued his apprenticeship with his uncle’s successor and son-in-law, J.A. Fleischhack, whom he served as a journeyman after the completion of the apprenticeship in 1713. During his apprenticeship, Quantz achieved proficiency on most of the principal string instruments, the oboe and the trumpet. Taking advantage of a period of mourning for the reigning duke’s brother in 1714, he visited Pirna where he came across some of Vivaldi’s violin concertos, which were to have a decisive influence on his artistic development. In March 1716 he accepted an invitation by Gottfried Heyne to join the Dresden town band.

Always eager to improve his musical skills, Quantz spent part of 1717 in Vienna studying counterpoint with Fux’s pupil J.D. Zelenka. In 1718 he became oboist in the Polish chapel of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, accompanying him on official visits to Warsaw but remaining in Dresden for substantial periods. Because Quantz found little opportunity for advancement as an oboist, he turned to the transverse flute in 1719, studying briefly with the noted French player P.G. Buffardin, an advocate of the French taste. However, he credited J.G. Pisendel, the leading violinist and representative of the ‘mixed taste’ (French and Italian), with the greatest influence on his development as a performer and composer. His interest in composition, particularly in works for the flute, continued to grow, stimulated by a wide range of Italian and French works then performed in Dresden. In the Saxon court’s repertory, however, influenced by opera seria and the instrumental compositions of Corelli, Torelli and Vivaldi, the Italian musical style gradually superseded the French.

Between 1724 and 1727 Quantz completed his training with a period of study in Italy and shorter stays in France and England. He studied counterpoint with Francesco Gasparini in Rome, impressed Alessandro Scarlatti favourably and met, among many others, the future Dresden Kapellmeister J.A. Hasse, who was then studying with Scarlatti. From August 1726 to March 1727 he visited Paris, and although he found the French vocal style disagreeable, he enjoyed the performances of many instrumentalists, among them the flautist Michel Blavet. While in Paris he for the first time had a second key added to his flutes to improve their intonation (see Flute, §II, 4(ii)). After a ten-week stay in England, where he met Handel, Quantz returned to Dresden in July 1727. The three-year tour established his reputation outside Germany, paving the way for the future international dissemination of his music. In March 1728 he was promoted to a member of the regular Dresden court chapel, where he was no longer required to double on the oboe. With this promotion he had finally won recognition as one of the outstanding performers in Dresden.

In May 1728 Quantz, Pisendel, Buffardin and others accompanied Augustus II on a state visit to Berlin. Quantz made a particularly deep impression on Prince Frederick, and returned to the Prussian court twice a year to teach him the flute. When Augustus II died in 1733, Quantz was not allowed to transfer to Berlin; but his autobiography suggests that he would not have wanted to give up the active musical life at the Saxon court for a tenuous one under Prince Frederick (fig.1). Instead he continued to serve under Augustus III, dedicating to him the op.1 Sei sonate for flute and continuo (1734).

When Frederick became King of Prussia in 1740 he could offer Quantz 2000 thalers a year (compared to the 800 paid by Augustus III), exemption from duties in the opera orchestra and an agreement to take orders only from him. In December 1741 Quantz moved to Berlin, and for the remainder of his career his duties centred on the supervision of the king’s private evening concerts, for which he wrote new works and at which he alone had the privilege of criticizing Frederick’s playing. For new compositions and the manufacturing of flutes, an activity he had pursued since 1739, he received additional payments. Once in Frederick’s service, he declined any concert tours or court invitations. Only a few compositions were printed during the Berlin period, most importantly the Sei duetti a due flauti traversi, op.2 (1759). The Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752), on the other hand, was published within one year both in German and in a French translation. It has remained his most significant contribution to music literature.

The majority of Quantz’s output awaits publication and exact dating. Most of the trio sonatas seem to date from the Dresden period, and for the works listed in Frederick’s catalogues, low numbers probably indicate an early date of composition. Although Quantz never carried stylistic simplification as far as his younger contemporaries, his works reflect the transition from a late Baroque to an early Classical idiom. In spite of their uneven quality and frequent reliance on clichés, they display excellent craftsmanship, and writers have drawn attention to several compositions that contribute to an understanding of works by J.S. Bach (Rampe, 1993; Swack, 1995).

The concertos suggest a debt to Vivaldi; they usually follow the three-movement fast–slow–fast form and adapt string figurations to the limited range and flexibility of the flute. The later concertos introduce stronger rhythmic contrasts between the motifs of the ritornellos, from which the solo material is increasingly derived.

The majority of the trio sonatas and the early solo sonatas follow the four-movement plan of the sonata da chiesa, but incorporate French dance types characteristic of Quantz’s ‘mixed taste’. Most of the trio-sonata movements make use of contrapuntal devices, confirming Quantz’s technical proficiency. In accordance with contemporary developments, however, he tended to conceal his contrapuntal learning. In the solo sonatas he had by 1734 adopted the slow–fast–fast pattern that characterizes most of the Berlin sonatas. In formal organization the sonata movements tend towards the expansion of binary designs to include in the second part an increased return from the first. With their emphasis on simple melodic writing and on thematic variety, their renunciation of contrapuntal complexities while still maintaining a melodic bass line and their frequent use of appoggiaturas and trills, these works show Quantz’s mastery of the galant style.

Quantz’s autobiography and other writings are of considerable interest, but his most significant contribution to music literature is unquestionably his Versuch (1752). Only five of its 18 chapters exclusively concern flautists; the others address general issues of interest to amateur instrumentalists in a way that is not only more comprehensive but also more concrete than ever before. Of the treatise’s three main parts, the first has attracted the most attention. It is devoted to performance on an individual instrument and includes aspects of ornamentation that Quantz divides into two principal types: essential graces (wesentliche Manieren), such as appoggiaturas and turns largely reflecting French influence, and arbitrary variation (willkürliche Veränderungen), reflecting the Italian practice of embellishing a melody, applicable only to certain types of adagio movements. It also includes the only almost contemporary account of the modifications made to the flute in the late 17th century and refers to Quantz’s own inventions regarding flute construction: the second key and the division of the head joint into two sections to create a tuning slide (fig.2).

The second part reviews the responsibilities of the accompanying instruments and their leader, with discussion of orchestral seating plans, bowing and tempo. Quantz relates a pulse of about 80 beats per minute to specific note values in four basic tempo indications from allegro assai (one pulse beat per minim) to adagio assai (two pulse beats per quaver), making it clear, however, that the rule needs to be refined by other parameters and that it primarily applies to instrumental music.

The last part of the Versuch surveys the characteristics of Italian, French and German styles, and provides the reader with the foundation to evaluate both performers and compositions. Quantz’s approach of focussing on taste allows him a certain degree of theoretical freedom, which leads to an emphasis on thematic quality and organization rather than on harmony, texture and overall form. His discussion of national styles makes it clear that he believed German music included the best French and Italian elements, a combination he hoped would soon lead to a universal idiom.

The Versuch had a considerable influence on later German writers from C.P.E. Bach to D.G. Türk. While Quantz’s views cannot be considered absolute guides for the performance of late Baroque music, they certainly reflect many practices of the period from about 1725 to 1755 as cultivated in Dresden, then one of the finest musical establishments in Europe, and subsequently in Berlin.


Over 305 concs., fl, str, bc, c250 survive (some inc.), D-Bsb, for further sources see Vester
5 concs.: 2 solo fl/ob/vn, 2 ob, bn, str, bc, Dl: 2 solo fl, 2 ob, bn, str, Dl; 2 solo fl, 2 vn, va, b, Bsb; 2 solo fl, 2 ob, 2 hn, bn, str, bc, Dl; 2 solo fl, 2 ob, bn, str, bc, Dl
3 concs., 2 solo fl, 2 ob, bn, str, bc, Bsb, Dl
2 concs., ob, str, bc, private collection, ed. G. Frotscher (Heidelberg, 1968)
2 concs., hn, str, bc, S-L, 1 doubtful
3 concerti grossi, lost, formerly in Bibliothek der Singak-Ademie, Berlin
Conc., ob d’amore, str, bc, lost, listed in Breitkopf Catalogue (Leipzig, 1763)
Pastoralle, prelude to J.F. Agricola’s Die Hirten bei der Krippe zu Bethlehem, 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 vn, va, org obbl, D-LEm
11 caprices, 6 fantasias, and 43 variations, suite movts and other movts, solo fl/fl, bc, DK-Kk, ed. W. Michel and H. Teske (Winterthur, 1980), some doubtful
Solfeggi , solo fl, MSS, formerly D-Bsb lost; some survive in DK-Kk, ed. W. Michel and H. Teske (Winterthur, 1978), some in Das Flötenbuch Friedrichs des Grossen (Leipzig, 1934)
Over 235 sonatas, fl, bc, mainly Bsb, c35 pubd in 18th-century edns, of which only 6 sonate a flauto traversiere solo, op.1 (Dresden, 1734) authorized by Quantz, for further MS sources see Vester
Variations on Ich schlief da träumte mir, fl, bc, Bim
6 Sonatas or Duets, 2 Ger. fl/2 vn, op.5 (London, 1750)
6 duetti, 2 fl, op.2 (Berlin, 1759/R)
Duet, 2 fl, DK-Kk
Minuet, 2 fl, Select Aires or Duets (London, 1737)
7 duets, 2 fl, lost, listed in Breitkopf catalogue (Leipzig, 1763)
c55 trio sonatas (2 fl, bc)/(fl, vn/ob/ob d’amore/va d’amore/rec, bc), mainly D-Dl, some with duple attribs., 9 pubd in 18th-century edns, for further MS sources see Vester
Qts, lost, mentioned by Vester
4 sonatas, 3 fl: 3 in DK-Kk (1 with duple attrib.); 1 pubd by G. Billaudot (see Vester)
Arioso ma un poco Andante, fl, 2 vn, va, D-Dl
Divertimento a 5, fl, other insts, lost, fl pt partially quoted in Solfeggi

Padre perdonna, aria, S, str, bc, Dl; Sembra che il ruscelletto, aria for ‘Sigra. Astrua’ in Serenata fatta per l’arrivo della Regina Madre a Charlottenburgo, 1747, Bim
6 songs, v, bc: Ach ich verschmachte – Schenket ein; Holde Phyllis, die Göttinnen; Welche Gottheit soll auch mir einen Wunsch gewähren; Wenn ich mir ein Mädchen wähle, all in Oden mit Melodien I. Theil (Berlin, 1753); Kleine Schöne, küsse mich!, in Neue Lieder zum Singen beym Clavier (Berlin, 1756); Gewiss! der ist beklagenswerth, in Berlinische Oden und Lieder I. Theil (Leipzig, 1756)
22 hymns, with bc, in Neue Kirchen-Melodien zu denen geistlichen Liedern des Herrn Professor Gellerts (Berlin, 1760)
For fuller details on MSS, 18th-century and modern edns, see Reilly (1971)

© Oxford University Press 2007

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