Happy birthday, Johann Joachim Quantz!

Johann Joachim Quantz

A life for the flute – this should actually be the subtitle of a biography of today’s birthday child. Johann Joachim Quantz was a flutist, flute maker and composer and went down in music history as the flute teacher of none other than Frederick the Great. That the flute would one day become his instrument was not yet foreseeable at the beginning of his career. Quantz was born on January 30, 1697, the son of a blacksmith, and due to the early death of his parents, he came into the care of his uncle Justus Quantz, who was the town musician in Merseburg. Together with his cousin’s husband, who in turn was an organist, he trained the young Quantz musically. The latter gained his first professional experience in the court chapel in Merseburg, but after the death of his employer, as a result of which there was a state mourning and no music, he set off for Dresden to become a town piper. After a short stopover in Radeberg, he received his first longer appointment as town piper in Pirna. In the course of his work he proved to be a multi-instrumentalist, learning violin, oboe, zinc, french horn, trombone, recorder, bassoon, violoncello, viola da gamba and double bass; sort of a one-man orchestra!

After his training, he obtained a position playing the oboe and flute in the Stadtkapelle in Dresden, but soon moved to the court of August II, which also allowed him to travel frequently to Poland. Parallel to his professional obligations, he also used the following years for further education. Thus, from 1717 he studied with Jan Dismas Zelenka and Johann Joseph Fux in Vienna, took flute lessons in Dresden with the French virtuoso Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, and increasingly composed. In the 1720s he made study trips to Italy, Paris and London, where he made the acquaintance of Vivaldi, Farinelli, Gasparini and Handel.

In 1728, as flautist of the Electoral Saxon and Royal Polish Chapel in Dresden, he met Crown Prince Frederick and soon gave him flute lessons. This would later lead to the most important appointment for him: in 1741, after Frederick became Prussian king, he brought Quantz to his court as chamber musician and court composer. At the court in Berlin and Potsdam, he not only continued to teach Frederick the Great, but also conducted house concerts and composed for the court. During this time he also devoted himself intensively to flute making, building instruments himself and improving them by adding another key. This made the very complex fingerings of the transverse flute somewhat easier. Until his death in 1773, Quantz remained at the Prussian court without ever belonging to its orchestra – instead, he worked more privately with Frederick the Great. Consequently, his compositional oeuvre includes primarily works for flute, including more than 200 flute solo sonatas, as well as approximately 300 flute concertos, 45 trio sonatas, and nine horn concertos, as well as chamber music for flute and a few works of vocal music. In addition to this rich fund of flute repertoire, some of which is still preserved only in manuscript, Johann Joachim Quantz is known beyond the borders of the flutist scene above all for his theoretical treatise “Versuch einer Anweisung die Flûte traversière zu spielen” (Attempt at an Instruction for Playing the Flute Traversière) from 1752 and is of inestimable music-historical importance. For this treatise not only deals in detail with flute playing of the time, but is above all a source of information on historical performance practice and the musical aesthetics of the late Baroque period for all instrumentalists to this day. When Quantz died in Potsdam in 1773, his most famous flute student had his grave be especially ornate.

The Kölner Akademie recorded four of his concerts – enjoy it: