Johann Joachim Quantz

by Anja Weinberger

Johann Joachim Quantz was born in Oberschede in the Electorate of Hanover in 1697. He is one of the few personalities of that time who left an autobiography. So it is relatively easy for us to trace his life, even if one would like to assume that one or the other passage of the self-written biography is at least subjective.

In order to be able to place Quantz in the course of history, here are some marginal notes: Johann Sebastian Bach is 12 years old in 1697, Telemann 16 years old. That year in Paris, the new French operas of Campra and Destouches celebrated great success. Purcell’s trio sonatas are published posthumously in London. Saxony’s ruler Augustus the Strong is elected king of Poland, Prince Eugene of Savoy defeats the Ottomans in the Great Turkish War. Louis XIV reigns in France, Elector Maximilian II in Bavaria. Emanuel and in Prussia it is said to take another 15 years until Frederick the Great is born and 43 years until he will ascend the throne.

So now J.J. Quantz is born as the 5th child into the family of a blacksmith. Both parents die before he is 10 years old, and his uncle Justus Quantz, at that time town musician in Merseburg, takes him in. Johann Joachim reports that all brothers and sisters of the parents have offered the orphaned children family connection. A wide variety of professions are involved and Johann Joachim decides to become a musician. Unfortunately, his uncle also dies after a few months, but his son-in-law takes over the position along with the young nephew’s education.

He now learns the oboe, trumpet and violin “on which a right art whistler must be able to play”. Playing the piano is not absolutely necessary in this position. Johann Joachim, however, is interested in the harmony instrument and receives lessons from another relative. Quantz expressly praises his piano teacher: “(He) did not have the fault of most of his contemporaries, who (only) fall in love with the stiffness… of antiquity. He knew how to choose (also) good (new) musical pieces… This gave me an advantage at that time, from which I still benefited in later years.” In spite of everything, however, the violin remains his favourite instrument and he was already able to play works by Corelli and Telemann when he was released at the age of 16 in December 1713 and went looking for work.


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These are exciting months: Prince Friedrich Erdmann, the brother of the Duke of Merseburg, dies shortly after his wedding and a three-month silence is ordered – difficult for a musician looking for a job. And in Radeberg, Quantz experiences how in a few hours the whole town burns down after a lightning strike – he, trapped by the flames, survives with luck and moves on.

In June 1714, he finally becomes a town piper in Pirna. This brought him several kilometres closer to his declared goal of Dresden. And the most important thing from his point of view: “In Pirna I got to see the Vivaldi violin concertos for the first time. They made… no small impression on me. The magnificent ritornelle… have… served me… as a good example.” But he’s not really satisfied yet. And some restless months follow, as he also has to fulfil obligations in Merseburg, after the period of mourning has passed.

Finally Gottfried Hayne calls him to Dresden to the Stadtkapelle. He arrives there in March 1716. Illustrious names can be found here among the members of the royal orchestra – the other orchestra of the city. Pisendel is concertmaster, Buffardin plays the flute. Moreover, Quantz notes that much higher demands are made on the musician than “simply meeting the notes”. In Dresden, the “equal (= balanced, even, French origin) way of performing” has long since arrived. Before Pisendel, the Frenchman Volumier was the concertmaster and he helped the orchestra to achieve “a special pile” and “such delicacy of execution”. Johann Joachim is full of admiration and ambition. He soaks up everything that is presented around him and is thinking of exchanging the art whistling trade for that of a royal musician.

This time a three-month court mourning suits him – the mother of August II dies. Quantz sets off on his first major journey. He makes a tour of Silesia, Moravia, Austria and Prague. In Vienna he meets Zelenka and takes lessons in counterpoint. On this journey he may also have encountered other impressions of the colourful and creative musical life with its various manifestations of the late baroque.

1718 is the year. He becomes oboist in the “Polish Capelle” at the court of Elector August II in Dresden. He soon noticed that this instrument did not offer him any opportunities for advancement. For all his colleagues have been in service for a long time and are therefore preferred for promotions. He takes lessons with Buffardin, the famous French first flutist of the Dresden court orchestra.
Thus the “flute traversiere” enters his life. And the task of expanding the repertoire and possibilities of this instrument will determine his life from now on.

For hardly had he switched to the flute than Quantz noticed that there is little literature for the new instrument (“At that time, there were not many pieces that were actually set for the flute. They made do with hobo or violin pieces that everyone could use themselves”.) The friendship with Pisendel, who is 10 years older, becomes closer and closer. The violin virtuoso impresses him with his diligence, his integrity and above all with his “exceptionally touching way of playing”. Pisendel encourages him to compose and Quantz learns eagerly. Pisendel, who was born in Franconia, met Vivaldi a few years earlier during a trip to Italy, with whom he has since become a close friend and to whom he has dedicated many works. And through the presence of several French musicians at the Dresden court, Pisendel also got to know and appreciate their music. Quantz has now made this exciting mixture his own. “If one knows how to choose the best from different peoples’ tastes … then a mixed taste flows from it, which, without going beyond the boundaries of modesty, one could now call … the German taste.”

In Germany, impoverished and divided by the Thirty Years’ War, no musical style of its own could develop until then. And it is now becoming apparent that the creative powers of the musical talents, which are available in large numbers, are stimulated and brought to fruition by outside influences. The ‘sensitive’ or ‘gallant style’ begins to emerge. An important characteristic of this new style is also the turning towards the music lover or amateur musician, who has hardly played a role, if at all, until now. And from this in turn the consequence is that the music must not be too learned, too complicated, in short, too heavy. Instead, feelings and passions should be expressed. A 180° turn, then, because just a moment ago music was considered an image of the divine order, now it should be an image of the human soul.


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And the new impressions multiply.

In 1719 you can marvel at Italian operas in Dresden on the occasion of the wedding of the Saxon electoral prince Friedrich August with the Austrian emperor’s daughter Josepha. The Zwinger there was built especially for this festival and the most famous singers of the time were invited. Quantz carefully studies their strengths, their ranges and their different techniques of expression and decoration.

In 1723 he was allowed to travel to Prague for the coronation of Charles VI. This event was celebrated with great pomp and music played an important role in it. Johann Joseph Fux composed the opera ‘Constanza e fortezza’ especially for this celebration and adapted it to the course of the courtly ceremony. Antonio Caldara is the musical director.

And in 1724 the time had finally come. The opportunity arose to travel to Italy with the Count of Lagnasco. There he meets the aged Gasparini, who teaches him counterpoint. He meets Scarlatti, who had just arrived from Portugal, and Johann Adolph Hasse, the later Saxon Kapellmeister. Here, too, he listens and looks closely and reports in great detail on techniques, vocal ranges and skills. He meets the castrato Farinelli in Naples and his musical role model Vivaldi in Venice.

From Turin he finally travels on to France with royal permission and support. In Paris he hears Blavet and Naudot playing the flute. They become friends, pondering together over disagreements on the flute. And soon Quantz adds a second key to the single key flute, which was common until then – the beginning of modern flute making.

Quantz travels back via England. There again follows a close look at the singers, church music and opera performances, of which there are many in London in 1727. Of course he also meets Handel, who would have liked to keep him in England. Finally Quantz travels via Amsterdam, Hanover and Brunswick back to Dresden.

Now follows a time of reflection, probably the sorting of impressions. He begins to develop his own style of composition. He creates solo sonatas for flute, but also trio sonatas for different instruments. In 1728 he is then hired as a full member of the Royal Saxon Court Chapel. From now on he only plays the flute.
In this capacity, the then Prussian Crown Prince – later Frederick the Great – heard him during a visit to the Saxon court. And on his return visit to Berlin, Queen Sophie Dorothea engaged him as flute teacher for the very musical and sensitive Crown Prince. His father, Soldier King Frederick William I, was reluctant to see these activities (Quantz will later report that he once had to hide in a cupboard from Frederick’s father during an inspection). Twice a year Quantz now travels to Berlin to teach Frederick the flute and the basics of composition.

In 1733 August the Strong dies and his son August III comes to power. In 1737 the 40-year-old Quantz marries the widow Anna Rosina Carolina Schindler. The marriage does not seem happy and remains childless. In 1739 Quantz begins “to drill his own flutes due to a lack of good ones”. And in 1740 Frederick II ascends the Prussian throne after the death of his father.

The new King of Prussia makes his music teacher Quantz an offer he cannot refuse. They move to Berlin. 2000 Thaler annual salary for life (in Dresden it was once 216 Thaler, at the end 800), special payments for compositions, 1oo ducats for each flute delivered. In addition, he is only to be subordinate to the king and no other superior. In 1741 in December, Johann Joachim Quantz enters the Royal Prussian Service as Royal Chamber Musician. He is by far the highest paid instrumentalist of the King.

At the Prussian court in Berlin and Potsdam he now gives lessons to the King almost daily and is the only one who enjoys the privilege of being allowed to criticize him. Quantz conducts house concerts and composes. He continues to build flutes and thinks about passing on knowledge. This resulted in the “Versuch einer Anweisung einer Anweisung, die Flöte traversiere spielen”, published in 1752. The work met with a great response, was immediately published in several European languages and has been reprinted many times to this day.

It is a study work that reflects the flute’s playing through and through. Not only are instrument-specific problems examined, but also questions of practical performance practice are answered and further innovations in flute making are explained. The reader and prospective musicus are given insights into all facets of musical life. “Of the qualities required of one who wants to devote himself to music”, “Of the duties of those who accompagny” or “Of the way to play the Adagio” are only three of the many chapter headings. Likewise, it provides information about contemporaries of the time such as Vivaldi or Bach. In addition, it is also important to him to present his point of view, which was influenced by his time in Dresden, in the fiercely held aesthetic debate of his Berlin colleagues (French versus Italian taste). And Quantz had the sum of his teaching views represented in the final vignette: seven musicians grouped around a harpsichord and a singer. For it is still singing that is to be the guiding principle of the art of flute playing.


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Johann Joachim Quantz writes almost 200 sonatas for flute and 300 concertos, plus chamber music for various instrumentations. These works form the core of the repertoire which Friedrich performs in his famous private concerts. One such concert is, by the way, presented on Adolph von Menzel’s ‘Flute Concerto in Sanssoucis’. Both Quantz, as well as Franz Benda, Carl Heinrich Graun, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Amalie of Prussia (besides Wilhelmine, married to Bayreuth, another sister of the Crown Prince – she also composes) can be recognized on it along with Frederick II.

Quantz remained at the Prussian court until the end of his life in 1773. A sonata unfinished at his death is completed by the king himself – an extremely appreciative gesture. Frederick has his royal chamber musician erected an elaborate funeral monument with sculptures of the Räntz brothers.

Johann Joachim Quantz is remembered by posterity above all for his “Attempt at an Instruction”. For not only for flutists is this volume an almost limitless source of information beyond the instrument. But his works also accompany us flutists throughout our lives – from a small duet to a grand concert, there is something for every situation in life. And: Quantz was in the right place at the right time when the first big step towards creating a distinctive ‘German style’ was taken in Dresden.

The quotations in italics are from:

Johann Joachim Quantz, “Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen”, Bärenreiter-Verlag

“Herrn Johann Joachim Quantzens Lebenslauf, von ihm selbst entworfen”, erschienen in “Historisch-Kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik” 1755, Herausgeber Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg

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