GEORG WENZEL RITTER (1748 - 1808)
The Ritter family had a close connection with Mannheim and its famous court orchestra. Heinrich Ritter, who was born in Bayreuth in 1716, held the position of bassoonist in the Mannheim orchestra, and was followed by his son Georg Wenzel, who was playing in the orchestra by 1763. When the court moved to Munich in 1778, Ritter became a member there of the orchestra of the new Elector Palatine, playing second bassoon, it seems, to the virtuoso Antonio Conti. He moved in 1788 to join the Prussian court orchestra of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, the cellist nephew of Frederick the Great, a position which brought him the significant salary of 1,600 thalers or 6,000 French francs. He remained there until his death in 1808. Other members of the family included his uncle, Georg Wilhelm, an oboist and later a violinist in the Mannheim orchestra, and his two sons, the cellist and composer Peter and the violinist Heinrich, who also enjoyed successful careers, with the former winning respect as a composer of operas and theatre music for Mannheim and as a Kapellmeister there, in Baden and at Karlsruhe.
Georg Wenzel Ritter was a gifted player and wrote principally for his own instrument, leaving two Bassoon Concertos in addition to the present Six Quartets for Basson and Strings, Op. 1, dating from about 1779 and dedicated to the Marquis de Turpin, as the Paris edition of the work by Sieber indicates. Ritter had a reputation also as a teacher, while his ability as a player is reflected not only in his own compositions, but also in the part intended for him by Mozart in his Sinfonia concertante, K.297b, and obbligato parts in the opera Idomeneo, which was staged in Munich in 1781. Johann Christian Bach also wrote obbligato parts for him in two of his operas first staged in Mannheim. Other evidence of Ritter’s prowess as a performer may be seen in the concert tours he undertook during his Mannheim years, with appearances at the court of Oettingen-Wallerstein, in London and in Paris.
The Mozarts had had some acquaintance with Ritter in 1763 in Schwetzingen, during the course of their extended tour of Europe. In September 1777 Mozart had secured his release from employment in Salzburg and set out to visit important musical centres in South Germany, in the hope of finding a better position for himself. He spent some months in Mannheim, from where, in a letter to his father in December 1777, he writes of ‘Herr Ritter, a fine bassoon-player’, who was planning to leave for Paris and had suggested that Mozart travel with him, a prospect that appealed strongly to Mozart. Later in Paris Mozart’s friendship with Ritter continued, as in 1780 in Munich.