Monday, October 3, 2011:Sturm und Drang

The German Strum und Drang influenced literature, art, and even music

Sturm und Drang and Jan Vanhal

Sturm und Drang, the late-18th century German literary style, also influenced art and music. The style is characterized by a sense of restlessness and uneasiness – perhaps similar to the world situation even today. But these influences also came together two centuries ago, in the Czech musician Jan Vanhal, born in 1739.

There are lots of interesting reasons.

For one, his very name creates confusion. His first names are variously listed as Jan, Johann Baptist, Jan Ignatius, and Jan Křtitel. His last name is spelled Vanhal, Vanhall, Wanhal, Vaňhal, and other variations.

Further, he was born into serfdom in a village near today’s Hradec Králové, but eventually, thanks just to his music, he was able to purchase his freedom. The former bonded servant supposedly at one time later played in a quartet with Mozart, Haydn, and Dittersdorf; our Jan played the cello.

Our Jan of the many names

Around 1760 he moved to Vienna and gave music lessons and was riding the contemporary wave composing symphonies in a new style, contributing to the development of the Viennese Style. This music is typical of those composers playing in that aforementioned quartet, and of Beethoven, Schubert, and others.

Then his own Sturm und Drang surfaced in an interesting way. He accepted a financial offer from Baron Riesch of Dresden in 1769 to do a musical tour of Italy, in order to prepare for the position of Kapellmeister in the baron’s court. He may have written two operas during his travels.

But after his successful, year-long tour he returned to Vienna and turned down the baron’s job.

Some of Vanhal’s biographers claim that Vanhal had suffered some kind of mental problem, but today this diagnosis is questioned.

Vanhal then began to change his focus, away from opera and symphonies, and concentrating instead on composing string quartets and keyboard music, and publishing, publishing, publishing. According to some sources, he wrote more than 1,300 works.

Intriguingly, many of them have disappeared.

The story of their whereabouts may contribute even more to the story of restlessness in this influential and still popular Czech composer who died at age 74, Jan Vanhal …or Vanhall, Wanhal, or Vaňhal. – oo

— Mary Matz

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