1730 – 1765

BOHEMIA AND ITALY

 

18th Century Bohemia (now Czech Republic) had a great reputation for music, and the high quality of its music education. The country had suffered very severely from religious divisions in the Reformation. An unusual result of this conflict was that the Roman Catholic Jesuit order decided to use music as a way of attracting people back from the Lutheran church, which made music, especially hymn-singing, which everyone could take part in, a central part of its worship.

Charles Burney travelled through Europe in the early 1770s, gathering material for a book on “The Present State of Music.”

He wrote:

“I had frequently been told that the Bohemians were the most musical people of Germany, or, perhaps, of all Europe…I went into the school, which was full of little children of both sexes, from six to ten or eleven years old, who were reading, writing, playing on violins, hautbois, bassoons, and other instruments. (Burney, Charles. The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and United Provinces, London, 1775)

Bohemia, like most of Europe, was still what we would think of as a feudal society. 18th century England was an enormous contrast, and a shock to visitors from other countries. In Europe musicians were often employed, and bound, to aristocratic masters, who might have given them a regular income and a home, but who also demanded loyalty and could control their movements. In England things were very different. Music was already a commercial business. A performer depended on the sale of tickets to survive. Publication of music brought in very little money, and the composer sometimes had to pay for the initial production of the scores. There were opportunities to make money, ticket prices were very high and the audience were the wealthy aristocracy or middle class, but competition was intense. The audience was not big enough to support more than one star singer or virtuoso at a time.

But the musicians in England were free to do what they wanted, and, even more startling for someone used to the ways of Europe, they could be treated almost as equals by musical enthusiasts from the upper classes. In the 1790s Joseph Haydn, a few years ago a servant of his prince, found himself being introduced on friendly terms to the Prince of Wales.

Coming to England did not mean that a Bohemian musician could escape the feudal world at home. The horn-player Jan Václav Stich, who performed under the name of Giovanni Punto, found himself pursued by soldiers who had been sent to find him by his master. They were ordered to knock out Punto’s front teeth so he would not be able to play the horn again. Fortunately, the soldiers did not catch up with him and he travelled through Italy unharmed. He was in London in 1772, performing with his countryman Kammell at Thomas Anson’s London house.

Anton Kammell was baptised on 21st April 1730 at Běleč, a village about 24 miles east of Prague. It is a small village even today, and, looking at it on Google Earth, one can imagine that it has not changed very much in nearly three hundred years. Today it is not particularly remote. It’s on the B81 bus route from the city to Křivoklát.

Běleč church, from the Prague bus time tables

 

 

Kammell’s father was a forester and the musician’s trip to England was tied up with his own responsibility to his Lord and Master, Count Vincent Ferrerus Waldstein, as a merchant of timber. In some way this journey, which allowed him to develop a musical career in the new country, was bound inextricably to a load of ships’ masts which the Count was trying, unsuccessfully, to sell to the Royal Navy.

The most important source of information in this story is Kammell’s letters to the Count, which seem to be informal and friendly – but there is always the nervousness about his feudal responsibility and the weight of timber.

 

 

 

Count Waldstein’s castle, Mnichovo Hradiště (Wikipedia)

Waldstein was a music lover. (It was his cousin’s son who was an early patron of Beethoven.) He had supported the Bohemian composer Myslivicek and he must have recognised the talent of Anton Kammell and encouraged his violin playing and composing, while still keeping the feudal tie of the timber business.

Kammell’s was not taught by the musical Jesuits as a boy. He went to the school at Slaný, to the north east of Běleč, which was run by the Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools. This religious order specialised in teaching the children of poor families. Seventy years later Schubert would be taught at a Piarist school.

Chapel of the Piarist College, now a museum

 

For someone from the apparently humble background of a small Bohemian village Kammell’s education was on a surprisingly high level. After his school years, according to Michaela Freemanova, he studied philosophy, and after that law, at Prague University.

He was a highly educated man. In England his friends were not only fellow musicians but patrons of the arts, intellectuals, and philosophers. In a few years he was transformed from a country boy to a gentleman in a social world where philosophy and the arts would be subjects for everyday conversation.

During these years of education he must have been developing his musical skills. By 1759, when he was 29, he was in Padua, studying with the most influential violin teacher of the time, Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770).

Tartini is often thought of a virtuoso in the same vein as Paganini, writing and playing impossibly difficult music with spectacular effects. His “devil’s trill” sonata is said to have been learned from the devil as a result of a Faustian bargain, a promise to sell his soul. This is a distortion of the original story. When Dr Burney visited in Padua to research his book on music in Europe, a year after Tartini’s death, he was told a different version. The deal with the devil was not to gain superhuman virtuosity. What Tartini heard in his dream was something incredibly beautiful which he tried unsuccessfully to write down when he awoke.

This is a very important difference, and is closer to the real spirit of Tartini. He was a theorist, writing unintelligible, and possibly misguided, mathematical analyses of musical harmony. He was also a mystic of a kind, as is particularly revealed in his unpublished writings. What he was most concerned with, though, was simplicity and expression.

Tartini’s published book on musical theory was translated into English and is the basis of a book published in 1771 by Benjamin Stillingfleet. Stillingfleet’s book is not a straightforward translation but a commentary, in which the translator attempts to make sense of the mathematics, sometimes becoming exasperated, but, far more interestingly, makes his own comments on Tartini’s views. Stillingfleet strongly approves of Tartini’s views that the most expressive and satisfying music is the simplest:

“Every nation…has its popular songs, many of which are of antient tradition, many newly composed, and adopted by common consent. In general, they are extremely simple; nay, the most simple are generally the greatest favourites……That the people listen with greater pleasure to one of these songs, than to the most exquisite song modulated through all the maze of harmony, is an observation as easy to make, as it is significant when verified…Nature has more power than Art…”

“…I believe most men, if they dared to speak their own feelings, would talk the language of Tartini; but the dread of being thought to have a vulgar taste, puts them under restraints, and makes them undergo the fatigue of silently listening, with a dozing kind of attention, as if they were well bred, and ashamed to interrupt others, to what they are told is fine ; but which they cannot, with all their endeavours, be brought to think agreeable ; whereas, many of our old simple songs steal our affections, in spite of all our prejudices, and even when we are almost ashamed to be touched by such low and vulgar things ; but high-bred taste, like high-born pride, is sometimes forced to listen to the humble dictates of Nature, and enjoy a pleasure it does not openly avow.”

 

(Tartini translated by Stillingfleet, in “The Principles and Power of Harmony” 1771)

Tartini demonstrated this belief in pieces, particularly in the solo violin sonatas he wrote for his private use, which were based on folk songs, including tunes sung by Venetian gondoliers. More than just being expressive, Tartini believed the music could convey the actual meaning of the words. Some of his scores contain poetry from the works of Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) which he is attempting to translate into pure music.

This is the kind of quality, of intense expression, which Kammell would have been aiming for when he played.

“When I played the Adagio one could hear the ladies sigh.” (Letter to Count Waldstein, 7th August 1765. FREEMANOVA 1)

The style and ideas of Tartini must have been discussed in Kammell’s circle in England. Benjamin Stillingfleet, the great enthusiast for the Italian maestro, was one of the group of four close friends, including Kammell, who were left annuities in Thomas Anson’s will. Stillingfleet was primarily a botanist but he was also a cellist and, at least in his youth, a composer. He had connections with the musical world. In 1763 he wrote the libretto for a successful opera by John Christopher Smith, “Medea”, and later adapted words from Milton’s “Paradise Lost” for an oratorio by Smith.

In his old age Stillingfleet was crotchety and eccentric. Surprisingly he was the original “bluestocking.” The term is associated with intellectual women of the 18th century who met for conversation parties rather than gambling sessions. Stillingfleet was the only man at the gatherings of Mrs Montagu. The gentlemen’s fashion was for black silk stockings, but Stillingfleet was always poor – he lived in the houses of his friends, including Thomas Anson’s Shugborough Hall – and he could only afford blue worsted stockings. Occasionally he was better off and could indulge himself. Mrs Montagu wrote:

“I assure you our philosopher is so much a man of pleasure, he has left off his old friends and his blue stockings and is at operas and other gay assemblies every night”.

Benjamin Stillingfleet (1702 – 1771) by Zoffany

Stillingfleet died in 1771, before he could receive the annuity, but in the years before that he would have been someone Kammell encountered at the private concerts, and in the drawing room, of Thomas Anson. Tartini would have been an inescapable topic of conversation. Stillingfleet’s writings also connect Tartini’s thought to the ideals of Ancient Greece which this small intellectual and musical circle were devoted to:

“Those feelings of nature, which, as Tartini observes, are and must be common to us and the Greeks…”  

The new style of music, in fact the “classical style”, which was emerging at this time might have nothing at all in common with the actual music of the Ancient Greeks, but it could strive to rediscover the simplicity, expression and “back to nature” ideals that the Greek Revival saw as the secret of the ancient world.

In London Kammell encountered at least one other student of Tartini, the violinist, composer and singer, Maddalena Lombardini, or Madame Sirmen. In 1771 they performed a double concerto in a public concert, and in 1772 they appeared together at one of the lavish and expensive private concerts at Thomas Anson’s London house.

After his time with Tartini Kammell returned to Bohemia. By 1764 he was back active in his home country as a virtuoso, and also as a composer. At the beginning of 1765 he left Bohemia for Germany, asking the Count for financial support. Two manuscripts of early symphonies, his earliest known works, survive in Czech archives, and there may be others. These, unusually, show direct links to the Rhineland, and may date from this period, though they could be from an earlier visit. One of the symphonies, in D major, has a movement with a title “Adagio representa Auerhann-Pfaltz.” The other, in G major, has finale titled “Allegro representa Burkheim-Pfalz.” (The G Major also has a very haunting middle movement headed “Allegretto alla Francese”.)

It is unclear what aspect of these places the music is representing, but the fact that manuscript copies were made (they are not the composer’s autographs) suggests that the symphonies were performed, presumably at the places names, or nearby. Quite where these places were seems hard to find. There seems to be nowhere called “Auerhann”. There is a place called Burkheim, near Freiburg, but that is not in the Rhineland are of Pfalz. Could the original have been Durkheim? Kammell shows himself to have been very muddled over geography in his travels in Britain. He might have made a mistake, or a D has ben copied as a B. Bad-Durkheim is in the Pfalz, and is close to Mannheim, a city with a famous musical tradition that would have attracted the composer.

In the middle of the eighteenth century the court orchestra at Mannheim was famous for its excellence and its virtuosity, and at Mannheim the symphony developed as a form to show off the orchestra and explore new dramatic effects. The most influential figure in this new style was Johann Stamitz (1717-1757). The manuscript Symphony in G, which is one of two Kammell symphonies to have been edited for a massive publishing project, “The Symphony, 1720-1840), shows signs that it was written in deliberate emulation of the Mannheim style, with sudden contrast and a passage which only makes sense as a gradual crescendo, a dramatic effect for which Mannheim was particularly famous. Kammell’s attempt is crude, compared to the symphonies he published in London, but these early works, and the possibility that he had travelled to Mannheim for musical reasons, suggest that he was eager to be a composer, studying the latest ideas, rather than a just virtuoso.

Another link with Mannheim, and with Johann Stamitz, is Kammell’s set of string trios were published in Paris as Op. 6, but which did not appear in England, where Op. 6 was a quite different work. The title page says that these may be played by a full orchestra – “Li qualli si Potranno Esequire a piena Orchestra”. This suggests a style different from that of his trios which were written for intimate music making. The idea of writing music in just three parts, two violin parts and a bass line, intended for orchestral performance, originated with Johann Stamitz, whose Op. 1 was a set of orchestral trios. This is a very Mannheim kind of thing. The style of the sonatas (as they titled in the parts) looks like orchestral music rather than the conversation of solo violins, and there are passages which look as if they are meant to be Mannheim crescendos, examples of the Mannheim “rocket”  – a dramatic upward ascent  through several octaves. It could be that these pieces were actually written before Kammell came to London.

 

 

 

In some way, which is never explained in his letters, he set off on his travels again as a timber merchant. Perhaps this was in return for the financial support. He visited Mannheim, famous for its ground-breaking orchestra, and Rotterdam, and eventually set sail from the Netherlands to London, where he arrived in March 1765, with musical ambitions and a large cargo of timber, which the count hoped would be sold to the Royal Navy. This cargo would be a burden and cause of anxiety for several years.