Voices from the 18th Century: Johann Joachim Quantz on ‘one of the greatest violinists’

16

March
2010

The most prolific writers about music during the Baroque Era came from Germany. They were verbose, opinionated, and unselfconscious. Thanks to their efforts we get comparatively more information about musical life in Europe than we do from writers of other nationalities.

In spite of this, few German authors from the baroque period are widely read today, but there are significant exceptions.

Johann Joachim Quantz (pictured) is one of them.

Quantz, flute teacher and adviser to Frederick the Great, wielded considerable influence during his lifetime in matters of musical performance, composition, and decorum, which he covered extensively in “On Playing the Flute,” a book that wasn’t just another flute tutor, mind you, but a practical guide intended for other instrumentalists and singers, as well.

Apart from the book on the flute, Quantz wrote an autobiography.

Published in 1754, he shared with us a relatively detailed account of his life, travels, and many musical influences. Like other German writers, Quantz gives us quite a bit of personal opinion, sharing his uncensored impressions of famous performers, sometimes revealing more about them than we know today.

After hearing Giuseppe Tartini perform, he echoes the typical assessment of the day, yet finishes with a surprise.

“During my stay in Prague I also heard Count von Hartig, a great master of the clavier; Frau von Mestel, one of the most skillful lutenists; and the famous Italian violinists, Tartini, then employed by Count von Kinsky. Tartini was indeed one of the greatest violinists. He created a beautiful tone on his instrument, and had equal control of both hands and the bow. He mastered the greatest difficulties without great effort, playing with pure tone. Trills, even double trills, he could execute with all fingers equally well. He mixed double stops in fact as well as slow movements, and he liked to play in the first position. Yet his performance was not moving, nor his style lofty, in fact, quite contrary to good singing style.” (Translation: Paul Nettl)

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