About this Recording
8.554340 - CANNABICH: Symphonies Nos. 47 - 52
English  French  German 

Christian Cannabich (1731-1798)
Symphonies Nos. 47-52

Johann Christian Innocenz Bonaventura Cannabich, son of the flautist and composer Martin Friedrich Cannabich, was born in Mannheim in 1731. A pupil of Johann Stamitz, Christian Cannabich entered the Mannheim court orchestra as a 'scholar' at the age of twelve and in 1746 or 1747 he was formally appointed as a violinist. The Elector Carl Theodor granted him an electoral stipend to study in Italy and in the autumn of 1750 he began a course of tuition with Jommelli in Rome where he remained until 1753. He accompanied Jommelli to Stuttgart but returned to Italy in 1754 where he remained until his appointment as leader of the Mannheim court orchestra following the death of Stamitz in 1757. His marriage in 1759 to Maria Elisabeth de la Motte, lady of the bedchamber to the Duchess of Zweibrücken, proved extremely useful to Cannabich since through his Zweibrücken family connections he was able to encourage Duke Christian IV to use his influence to promote the works of Mannheim composers in the French capital. Cannabich accompanied the Duke to Paris in 1764 and lived at his Parisian palace. In 1766 he was in Paris again where he obtained a privilege to print six symphonies and six trios. After this date most of Cannabich's works were issued by Parisian publishers. In a later visit he appeared as a soloist at the Concert spirituel and won a medal in a prestigious composition competition.

In 1774 Cannabich officially succeeded to Stamitz's position as director of instrumental music, thereby becoming sole conductor and trainer of the most celebrated orchestra in Europe. The next four years, until the court moved to Munich, was a time of great success and renown for the composer. An amiable man – and one who was universally respected by his colleagues – Cannabich more or less kept open house for local and visiting musicians. Mozart, whom Cannabich had met in Paris in 1766, stayed in the Cannabich household in 1778 and gave daily keyboard lessons to his daughter, Rosa, for whom he composed the Sonata in C, K. 309. Mozart liked and admired him immensely, observing that 'Cannabich, who is the best director that I have ever seen, has the love and awe of those under him' (letter of 9th July, 1778). Cannabich was extremely helpful to Mozart and certainly played an important part in securing a commission for him to write an opera (Idomeneo) for the electoral court several years later.

In the 1790s musical activity at the court was curtailed and Cannabich, like his colleagues Toeschi and Fränzl, was forced to complain about cut-backs in the musical establishment and, more seriously, about the withholding of wages, In the last year of his life, Cannabich received only a third of his annual salary and found it necessary to undertake concert tours to supplement his income. He died on 20th January, 1798 in Frankfurt am Main while visiting his son Carl.

Although Cannabich's fame today lies principally in his rôle as director of the famous Mannheim court orchestra, he was a prolific and successful composer whose works were admired in equal measure in both Mannheim and Paris. Dr Charles Burney gave the highest praise to Cannabich's La foire de village hessoise which he saw at Schwetzingen in 1772 and indeed ballet seems to have been a medium in which he excelled. His symphonies, however, have attracted less enthusiastic praise. Leopold Mozart was critical of what he considered 'the affected Mannheim taste' and his view may well be reflected in Wolfgang's observation that they all begin alike, '…in unison with long note values and large leaps…' (letter of 20th November, 1777).  Nonetheless, he also drew attention to the elegant instrumentation heard in more recent works and took care to employ a good number of the older composer's stock devices in a number of works written around this time, notably the Paris Symphony and the later Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364.

The six symphonies published in Mannheim by Götz in 1772 as Op. 10 were written mid-­career. In his own catalogue of the 76 symphonies Cannabich allocated the numbers 47-52 for these works. Although partial autographs survive for all six works, the Götz publication date is the earliest verifiable date for the works. We can assume that they were published relatively close to the date of composition and probably conceived as a set. The order in which the works appear in the published set does not correspond with Cannabich's own numbering system: Op. 10 No. 1 is No. 51; Op. 10 No. 2 is No. 47; Op. 10 No. 3 is No. 48; Op. 10 No. 4 is No. 49; Op. 10 No. 5 is No. 50 and Op. 10 No. 6 is No. 52. While the title page of the Götz print specifies oboes and horns: 'Six Symphonies / A deux Violons, Alto et Basse, / Hautbois & Cors / Dediés / A son excellence / Monsieur le comte de sickingen .../ Composés Par / Mr Cannabich / Directeur de la Musique Instrumentale / Oeuvre x... ': three of the symphonies (Nos. 47, 50 & 52) call for pairs of flutes and horns. Although the parts are clearly intended to be interchangeable, the substitution of flutes for oboes in the G major, D minor and E major symphonies contributes greatly to the subtlety of the orchestral palette; the wind instruments are omitted from all six slow movements. Several cues for bassoon (i.e. Vc. & Fag.) occur in Op. 10 No. 6 which probably imply the addition of a bassoon to the bass-line in every symphony in the set. All six works are cast in three movements – a departure from the prevailing four-movement cycle of the late Johann Stamitz symphonies – and they share similar structural principles.

The Opus 10 symphonies are beautifully composed. There is a wealth of subtle orchestral detail in the spirited outer movements and the lovely central movements, invariably scored for strings, possess a poise and compositional finish from which even a Mozart could learn. The sombre power of the opening Allegro non tanto of the Symphony in D minor and the skittish charm of the Finale to the Symphony in G major contain many stylistic elements which are now considered Mozartian. If Mozart acquired his great technical virtuosity through his careful study and profound appreciation of Haydn's works, his orchestral sound and the sensuousness of much of his writing owe much to the works of his friend Christian Cannabich.

Dr Allan Badley

Close the window