Johann Joachim Quantz

by Anja Weinberger

Johann Joachim Quantz was born in 1697 in Oberschede in the Electorate of Hanover. He is one of the few personalities of that time who left an autobiography. It is therefore relatively easy for us to trace his life, even if one would like to assume that one or the other passage of the biography he wrote down himself is subjectively coloured.

In order to be able to place Quantz in the course of history, here are a few marginal notes: Johann Sebastian Bach was twelve years old in 1697, Georg Philipp Telemann sixteen. In that year the new French operas by Campra and Destouches are were celebrating great successes in Paris. Purcell’s trio sonatas are were published posthumously in London. Saxony’s ruler, Augustus the Strong, is elected Polish king, and Prince Eugene of Savoy defeats defeated the Ottomans in the Great Turkish War. Louis XIV reigns reigned in France, Elector Maximilian II. Emanuel reigns reigned in Bavaria, and in Prussia it will be was another fifteen years before Frederick the Great is was born, and forty-three years before he ascends ascended the throne.

J.J. Quantz was born as the fifth child into a blacksmith’s family. Both parents died before he was ten, and he is was taken in by his uncle, Justus Quantz, who was the town musician in Merseburg at the time. Johann Joachim reported that his parents’ brothers and sisters offered the orphaned children a home. The most diverse professions are considered, and Johann Joachim decides on music. Unfortunately, his uncle also passed away a few months after taking him in, but his son-in-law took over the care and education of the young nephew.

He learned to play the oboe, trumpet and violin, among other instruments, “on which a true art piper must be able to play”, as he himself remarked. Playing the piano, on the other hand, was not absolutely necessary in this position. Johann Joachim, however, was interested in the piano and received lessons from another relative. Quantz expressly praised his piano teacher: “My teacher did not have the mistake of most of his art colleagues, who fall in love with the stiffness […] of antiquity. He knew how to choose good musical pieces […] This gave me an advantage at that time, from which I have still drawn much benefit in later years.” Despite everything, the violin remained his favourite instrument, and by the age of 16, in December 1713, as he was beginning to look for work, he was already able to play works by Corelli and Telemann.


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These were eventful months: Prince Friedrich Erdmann, the brother of the Duke of Merseburg, died shortly after his wedding and a three-month silence on music is ordered which was unfavourable for a musician looking for work. In Radeberg, the town Quantz was living in, was burnt down after a lightning strike. Surrounded by flames, he survived with great luck and moved on.

In June 1714, Quantz finally became the town piper in Pirna. Thus has already moved him a few kilometres closer to his declared goal, namely the city of Dresden. And the most important thing from his point of view: “In Pirna I got to see the Vivald Violin Concertos for the first time. They made […] no small impression on me. The magnificent ritornelle […] have served me […] as a good model”. He is not yet satisfied. A few restless months followed, as he also had to perform in Merseburg after the mourning period there had passed.

Eventually, he was called to Dresden by Gottfried Hayne to join the Stadtkapelle. He arrived there in March 1716. Illustrious names were to be found there among the members of the royal orchestra (it is the second and better orchestra in the town). Johann Georg Pisendel was the concertmaster there and Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin played the flute. Quantz noted that significantly higher demands were placed on the musician than “merely hitting the notes”.

In Dresden, the “egale”, a balanced, even, style of performance that originated in France, was a popular choice for musicians. Before Pisendel, the French-trained, Jean-Baptiste Volumier was the concertmaster and helped his orchestra to achieve a “special flor” and a “fineness of excecution”. His work allowed the orchestra to be known Europe-wide. Johann Joachim was full of admiration and ambition. He soaked up all the knowledge that was around him and thought about swapping the piper’s trade for that of a royal musician.

Another ban on music came in for three months when August IIs mother passed away, and it couldn’t have been more opportune. It allowed for Quantz to journey across Europe, travelling to Silesia, Moravia, Austria and Prague. In Vienna, he met Zelenka who taught him counterpoint. He most likely also encountered other colourful and varied music with its different manifestations of the late Baroque period.

In 1718, the time had come. He became oboist in the Polish Chapel at the court of Elector August II in Dresden. He soon realised that with this instrument, he had no chance of advancement. All of his colleagues had been in service longer than he has had and are were, therefore, preferred for promotion. Quantz went on to learn the flute, taking lessons with Buffardin, the famous French flutist of the Dresden court orchestra.

The “flute transversiere” was now in his life, as was the task of expanding its repertoire and the possibilities of this instrument.

No sooner had he switched to the flute, than he discovered that there was very little literature available for the new instrument. To quote Quantz: “At that time, there were not many pieces that were actually set for the flute. One made do with hobo or violin pieces that everyone made usable themselves […].”

The friendship Quantz had found with Pisendel, who was ten years older, grew closer and closer. The violin virtuoso impressed him with his diligence, integrity and his “exquisitely touching way” of playing. Pisendel encouraged Quantz to compose, which he learned eagerly.

Pisendel, a native of Franconia, had met Vivaldi a few years earlier on a trip to Italy, and he and Vivaldi have been warm friends ever since. Subsequently, Vivaldi dedicated many works to the violinist. And through the presence of some French musicians at the Dresden court, Pisendel was also able to get to know and appreciate their music. So Quantz now makes this exciting mixture his own. “If one knows how to choose the best from the tastes of different peoples […], then a mixed taste flows from it, which one could now, without overstepping the bounds of modesty, call […] the German taste”.

In Germany, impoverished and divided by the Thirty Years’ War, had not been possible to develop a musical style of its own. It becomes apparent that the creative powers of the musical talents in Germany, which were indeed present in large numbers, were stimulated by outside influences. The “sensitive” or “gallant style” began to emerge. An important feature of this new style was the turn towards the music lover, or amateur musician, who until now had played hardly any role at all in the development of music. The music became less scholarly, less complicated, much shorter and much lighter. Instead, feelings and passions are to be expressed. A 180-degree turn – here music was once seen as a reflection of the divine order, it was now supposed to be a reflection of the human soul.


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The new impressions are multiplying!

In 1719, Italian operas were performed in Dresden for the marriage of the Saxon Elector, Fredrich August, to the Austrian Emperor’s daughter, Josepha. The Zwinger was built especially for this celebration, and the most famous singers of the time were invited. Quantz studied their strengths, tonal ranges and the different expressive and ornamental techniques in detail.

In 1723 he was then allowed to travel to Prague for the coronation of Charles VI. This event was also celebrated with great pomp and music again played an important role. Johann Joseph Fux composed the opera, Constanza e Fortezza, especially for these festivities and adapted it to the course of the courtly ceremony. Antonio Caldara took over the musical direction.

In 1724 the opportunity arose for Quantz to travel to Italy with the Count of Lagnasco. There, Quantz met the elderly Gasparini, who taught him counterpoint. He met Scarlatti, who had just arrived from Portugal, and Johann Adolph Hasse, who later became the Saxon Kapellmeister. Here, too, he listened and watched closely, reporting in great detail on techniques, voice pitches and skills. Quantz also met the castrato Farinelli in Naples, and finally, his musical role model, Vivaldi, in Venice.

From Turin he finally travelled on to France with royal permission and support. In Paris, he heard Blavet and Naudot play the flute. They became friends, pondering together about discrepancies of the flute. Not long after, Quantz added a second key to the single-key flute that had been common until then, the beginning of modern flute making.

Following France, Quantz visited England. There, he again took a close look at the singers, church music and opera performances, of which there were many in London in 1727. Of course, he also met Handel, who wanted him to remain in England. Finally, Quantz travelled, via Amsterdam, Hanover and Brunswick, back to Dresden.

Now followed a time of reflection, presumably also of sorting out impressions. Quantz began to develop his own compositional style. He wrote solo sonatas for flute, but also trio sonatas for other various instruments. In 1728, he was appointed a full member of the Royal Saxon Court Orchestra. From now on, Quantz only played the flute.

It was in this capacity as flutist that the then Prussian Crown Prince, later Frederick the Great, heard him during a visit to the Saxon court. And during a return visit to Berlin, Queen Sophie Dorothea engaged Quantz as a flute teacher for the very musical and sensitive Crown Prince. His father, the soldier king Frederick William I, was reluctant to see these activities. An incident in passing: Quantz will later report that he once had to hide from Friedrich’s father in the cupboard during an inspection. So now he travels to Berlin twice a year to teach Frederick how to play the flute and the basics of composition.

In 1733 Augustus the Strong passed away and his son Augustus III came to power.

In 1737, Quantz, now 40 years of age, marries the widow, Anna Rosina Carolina Schindler. The marriage did not seem a happy one and remained childless. In 1739, Quantz began “to drill some of his own because of the lack of good flutes […]”. And in 1740 Frederick II ascends the Prussian throne after the death of his father.

The new King of Prussia immediately made Quantz an offer he could not refuse. They moved to Berlin, and Quantz was promised a 2000 thaler annual salary for life, special payments for compositions, and 100 ducats for each flute made. In addition, he was to report to the King and to no other superior. In the December of 1741, Johann Joachim Quantz entered the Royal Prussian service as a royal chamber musician. He was, by far, the King’s highest-paid instrumentalist.

At the Prussian court, in Berlin and Potsdam, he now gave the King lessons almost daily and was the only person to enjoy the privilege of criticising him. Quantz conducted house concerts and composed. He continued to make flutes and thought about passing on his knowledge. This resulted in an attempt to give instructions on how to play the flute traversiere, published in 1752. The work was met with a great response and was immediately published in several European languages which has seen many new editions to this day.

The instructions are a study work that reflects the playing of the flute through and through. However, not only instrument-specific problems are examined, but also questions about performance practice are answered, and further innovations in flute construction are explained. The reader and budding musician are given insights into all facets of musical life. “Of the qualities required of one who wishes to devote himself to music”, “Of the duties of those who accompany” or “Of the way to play the adagio” are three of the many chapter headings. Quantz also provides information about contemporaries of the time such as Vivaldi or Bach. Along the way, however, it is also an important concern of his to present his point of view, shaped by his time in Dresden, in the bitterly fought debate on aesthetics among his colleagues in Berlin (French versus Italian taste). Quantz finally sums up his doctrinal views depicted in the final vignette: Several musicians grouped around a harpsichord with a singer, as it is still singing which, in his opinion, should guide the art of flute playing.


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Johann Joachim Quantz wrote almost 200 sonatas for flute and 300 concertos, as well as chamber music in various instrumentations. These works form the core of the repertoire that Friedrich performed at his famous private concerts. Incidentally, one such concert is depicted in   Adolph von Menzel’s Flute Concerto in Sanssoucis. 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 seen at Frederick’s side.

Quantz remained at the Prussian court until the end of his life in 1773. A sonata that was unfinished at the time of his death was completed by the King himself – an extraordinarily appreciative gesture. Frederick had an elaborate tomb memorial erected for his royal chamber musician with sculptures made by the Räntz brothers.

Johann Joachim Quantz is remembered above all for his attempt at instruction. This reference work is an almost limitless source of information far beyond the flute. His compositions accompany us flutists throughout our lives – from the small duets to the large concerto, one can find something for all circumstances. And: Quantz was in the right place at the right time, when the first big step towards the formation of an unmistakable “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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