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Johann Baptist Vanhal

Vanhal portrait
Fact file
Year of birth1739
Year of death1813
NationalityCzech Republic
PeriodClassical
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A rare double bass concerto in Belgrade

Cristian Mandeal and the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra © Marko Djokovic | Belgrade Philharmonic
Alongside Filip Savić's performance of Vanhal's Double Bass Concerto in D major, Cristian Mandeal conducts a fine New World Symphony with the Belgrade Philharmonic. 
****1
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An intriguing program of rarities in Chicago

Alexander Hanna © Todd Rosenberg
James Conlon lead the CSO in a selection of four rarely heard works.
***11
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Biography

Wanhal was born in Nechanice, Bohemia. He received his first musical training from his family and local musicians, excelling at the violin and organ from an early age. From these humble beginnings he was able to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster. By the age of 21 Wanhal must have been well under way to become a skilled performer and composer, as his patron, the Countess Schaffgotsch, took him to Vienna as part of her personal train in 1760. There he quickly established himself as a teacher of singing, violin and piano to the high nobility, and he was invited to conduct his symphonies for illustrious patrons such as the Erdődy families and Baron Isaac von Riesch of Dresden. During the years 1762-63, he is supposed to have been the student of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, even though they were born the same year. Baron Riesch sponsored a trip to Italy in 1769, so that Wanhal could learn the Italian style of composition, which was very much in fashion. After his journey to Italy, Wanhal returned to Vienna rather than to go to Riesch in Dresden. Claims have been made that Wanhal became heavily depressed or even insane, but these claims are likely to have been overstated. During this period he is supposed to occasionally have worked as a de facto Kapellmeister for Count Erdődy in Varaždin, although the small amount of compositions by him remaining there suggests that this was not the full-time employment that would have been expected from Riesch, which may have been why he preferred it. There is no evidence of visits after 1779. Around 1780, Wanhal stopped writing symphonies and string quartets, focusing instead on music for piano and small-scale chamber ensembles, and Masses and other church music. The former, written for a growing middle class, supplied him with the means to live a modest, economically independent life; for the last 30 years of his life he did not work under any patron, probably being the first Viennese composer to do so. During these years, more than 270 of his works were published by Viennese composers. In the beginning of the period he was still an active participant in Viennese musical life, as is witnessed in Michael Kelly's legendary account of the string quartet Wanhal played in together with Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf in 1784. After 1787 or so, however, he seems to have ceased performing in public, but he nevertheless was economically secure, living in good quarters near St. Stephen's Cathedral. He died in 1813, an elderly composer whose music was still recognized by the Viennese public.