Monday, December 12,2011: Father & Son

Like father, like son, the composing gene ran in the Stamic family

Father & Son

Somebody should write a novel about this.

The life, death, and sons of Jan Václav Antonín Stamic (or Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz, if you prefer the German) is rife with the stuff to make a fantastic historical novel. Or a great romantic-mystery film.

The musically-talented Stamic family was originally from Slovenia; Jan was born in today’s Czech Republic city of Havličkův Brod in 1717. He receives an education typical for the times, and goes off to study philosophy in Prague. After a year he disappears.

At least, official traces of him do. His life for the next half-dozen years is an empty page. Suddenly he turns up, around 1741 or so, at the court in Mannheim.

He performs as a virtuoso violinist and begins writing his own music; he’s a great success. A trip to perform in Paris apparently gives him the self-confidence to begin publishing his compositions. Today, Jan Stamic is credited with creating some of the important bridges between the Baroque and classical styles, including the addition of a fourth movement to the symphony form.

In all he composed almost 60 symphonies, many concertos, and several vocal works before dying at the age of 39.

Two of Jan’s sons, Karel and Anton, are still remembered today for their music. And it’s Karel (or Carl, if you prefer the German) who continues with the material for our novel.

Like father, the son is a talented violinist. He receives musical instruction at his successful father’s knee; he continues his studies with his dad’s friends, other leading composers of the time. He shows remarkable talent in composing, too. His dad is wealthy and successful, and his son is set up for certain success.

But it’s success that never arrives.

Karel Catches ‘Gold Fever’

Despite composing more than 50 symphonies and 60 concertos, those for clarinet and viola being noted as exceptional, Karel never holds a job for long. For 25 years he disappears and pops up, earning a living as a traveling musician, performing in cities all over continental Europe, as well as in Russia and England.

The Alchemist Sendivogius by Jan Matejko, 1867

But he finally dies in poverty in 1801. When his property is cataloged, it appears that he had been spending a lot of time studying alchemy in search of the method to manufacture gold, or so the story goes. When his belongings are put up for auction, nothing is sold, and everything, like many of his father’s compositions before him, has been lost to history.

However, all is not truly lost. You can hear works by both the father and the son performed by the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra next Mon, Dec 19 at 7:30 pm at the Rudolfinum.

Father Stamic’s Symphony No 2 in D Major, Opus 4, Pastorale and son’s Symphony Concertante in C Major will be directed by Jiří Stárek. The program also includes Vilém Blodek’s Concert for Flute and Orchestra, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, with the Prague Philharmonic Choir.

Go to the concert, get inspired for the novel, and get out your pen (or Kugelschreiber, if you prefer the German). – oo

– Mary Matz

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