Franz Xaver Richter

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Franz Xaver Richter conducting

Franz (Czech: František) Xaver Richter, known as François Xavier Richter in France[1] (December 1, 1709 – September 12, 1789) was an Austro-Moravian[2] singer, violinist, composer, conductor and music theoretician who spent most of his life first in Austria and later in Mannheim and in Strasbourg, where he was music director of the cathedral. From 1783 on Haydn’s favourite pupil Ignaz Pleyel was his deputy at the cathedral.

The most traditional of the first generation composers of the so-called Mannheim school, he was highly regarded in his day as a contrapuntist. As a composer he was equally at home in the concerto and the strict church style.[3] Mozart heard a mass by Richter on his journey back from Paris to Salzburg in 1778 and called it charmingly written.[4] Richter, as a contemporary engraving clearly shows, must have been one of the first conductors to actually have conducted with a music sheet roll in his hand.

Richter wrote chiefly symphonies, concertos for woodwinds, trumpet, chamber and church music, his masses receiving special praise. He was a man of a transitional period, and his symphonies in a way constitute one of the missing links between the generation of Bach and Handel and the Viennese classic. Although sometimes contrapuntal in a learned way, Richter’s orchestral works nevertheless exhibit considerable drive and verve. Until a few years ago Richter "survived" with recordings of his trumpet concerto in D major but recently a number of chamber orchestras and ensembles have taken many of his pieces, particularly symphonies and concertos, in their repertoire.

Biography[edit]

1709–1739 Origins and education[edit]

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Holešov (modern view)

Franz Xaver Richter was probably born in Holleschau, now Holešov),[5] Moravia (then part of Habsburg Monarchy, now the Czech Republic), although this is not entirely certain. There is no record of his birth in the Holleschau church register. In his employment contract with the Prince Abbot of Kempten it says that he hailed from Bohemia, the musicologist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg has Richter being from Hungarian descent and on his Strasbourg death certificate it says: "ex Kratz oriundus".[6]

Although his whereabouts until 1740 are nowhere documented, it is clear that Richter got a very thorough training in counterpoint and that this took place using the influential counterpoint treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Josef Fux; Richter may even have been Fux’s pupil in Vienna. Richter’s lifelong mastery of the strict church style which is particularly evident in his liturgical works but also shines through in his symphonies and chamber music, is testimony to his roots in the Austrian and south German Baroque music.

1740-1747 Vize-Kapellmeister in Kempten[edit]

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Fürststift Kempten (Modern view)

On April 2, 1740 Richter was appointed deputy Kapellmeister (Vize-Kapellmeister) to the Prince-Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldeg of Kempten in Allgäu. Reichlin Meldeg as Prince Abbot presided over the Fürststift Kempten, a large Benedictine Monastery in what is now south-western Bavaria. The monastery certainly would have had a choir and probably a small orchestra (rather a band, as it was called then),[7] as well, but this must have been a small affair. Richter stayed in Kempten for six years but it is hard to imagine that a man of his education and talents would have liked the idea of spending the rest of his life in this scenically beautiful but otherwise completely parochial town.

Twelve of Richter's symphonies for strings were published in Paris in the year 1744. In February 1743 Richter married Maria Anna Josepha Moz, who was probably from Kempten. It is assumed that Richter left Kempten already before the death of Reichlin-Meldeg in December 1747.[8]

1747-1768 Singer and Cammercompositeur[9] in Mannheim[edit]

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Mannheim (1755)

Just how much Richter must have disliked Kempten can be deduced from the fact that in 1747 his name appears among the court musicians of the Prince elector Charles Theodore in Mannheim – but not as music director or in any other leading function but as a simple singer (bass). Obviously Richter preferred being one among many (singers and orchestra combine numbered more than 70 persons) in Mannheim to acting deputy Kapellmeister in a small town like Kempten.

Because of his old fashioned, even reactionary music style Richter was not popular in Mannheim.[10] The title awarded to him in 1768 as Cammercompositeur (chamber composer) seems to have been merely an honorary one.[11] He was slightly more successful as a composer of sacred music and as music theoretician. In 1748 the Elector commissioned him to compose an oratorio for Good Friday, La deposizione dalla croce. It is sometimes concluded that this oratorio was not a success as there was only one performance and Richter was never commissioned to write another one.[12]

Richter was also a respected teacher of composition. Between 1761 and 1767 he wrote a treatise on composition (Harmonische Belehrungen oder gründliche Anweisung zu der musikalischen Ton-Kunst oder regulären Komposition[13]), based on Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum – the only representative of the Mannheim School to do so. The lengthy work in three tomes is dedicated to Charles Theodore. Among his more notable pupils were Joseph Martin Kraus, probably Carl Stamitz and Ferdinand Fränzl.

After 1768 Richter's name disappears from the lists of court singers. During his Mannheim years Richter made tours to the Oettingen-Wallerstein court in 1754 and later to France, the Netherlands and England where his compositions found a ready market with publishers.

It seems clear from Richter’s compositions that he did not really fit in at the Mannheim court. Whereas his colleagues at the orchestra were interested in lively, energetic, homophonic music that focused on drive, brilliancy and sparkling orchestral effects gained from stock devices, Richter, rooted in the Austrian Baroque tradition, wrote music that was in a way reminiscent of Handel and his teacher Fux. Thus, when in 1769 an opening at Strasbourg's cathedral became known Richter seems to have applied right away.

1769-1789 Maitre de Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Strasbourg[edit]

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Strasbourg street sign "Rue François Xavier Richter" (2010)
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Strasbourg (ca. 1644)

In April 1769 he succeeded Joseph Garnier as Kapellmeister at Strasbourg Cathedral, where both his performing and composing activities turned increasingly to sacred music. He was by then recognized as a leading contrapuntist and church composer. Johann Sebastian Bach’s first Biographer, composer and musicologist Johann Nikolaus Forkel, wrote about Richter in 1782:

"Ist ein sehr guter Contrapunktist und Kirchenkomponist."[14] ("Is a very good contrapuntist and church composer.")

In Strasbourg Richter also had to direct the concerts at the Episcopal court (today Palais Rohan); in addition to that he was for a time also in charge of the town concerts which were held at regular intervals. The main part of Richter’s sacred music was composed during his Strasbourg years. He was active as a composer until his last year. During his last years Haydn's favourite pupil Ignaz Pleyel served as his assistant at the cathedral.

In 1787 he visited Munich, where he met Mozart’s father Leopold, one last time. In Munich he met most of his former colleagues of the Mannheim court orchestra who by then had moved to Munich to where the court had been transferred.

From 1783 on, and due to Richter's advanced age and declining health, Joseph Haydn's favourite pupil Ignaz Pleyel served as his assistant. He would succeed him at the post after his death.

Richter died, aged 79, at Strasbourg, in the year of the French Revolution. Thus he did not have to witness his deputy Ignaz Pleyel being forced to write hymns to praise the supreme being and the death by guillotine of Jean-Frédéric Edelmann, a gifted composer from Strasbourg.

1770 Richter meets Marie Antoinette[edit]

Marie Antoinette (1769)
Strasbourg's Palais Rohan where Marie Antoinette stayed and where Richter conducted the Tafelmusik (Modern view)

In 1770 Marie Antoinette, future queen of France, on her way from Vienna to Paris passed through the Alsatian capital, where she stayed at the Episcopal Palace, the Palais Rohan. Richter, who almost certainly directed the church music when Marie Antoinette went to mass the next day,[15] witnessed the earliest stages of historical events that would later contribute to the downfall of the French monarchy. The prelate who greeted Marie Antoinette on the steps of the cathedral, probably in Richter’s presence, was the same Louis Rohan who would later, duped by a prostitute impersonating Marie Antoinette, trigger the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Several historians and writers think that this bizarre episode undermined the trust of the French in their queen and thus hastened the onset of the French Revolution.[16]

But Richter did not live to see this. What he saw was Strasbourg all dressed up to greet the Dauphiness:

"The city of Strasburg was in gala array. It had prepared for the dauphiness the splendours it had displayed 25 years before for the journey of Louis the Well-beloved. (...) Three companies of young children from twelve to fifteen years of age, habited as Cent-Suisses, formed the line along the passage of the princess. Twenty-four young girls of the most distinguished families of Strasbourg, dressed in the national costume, strewed flowers before her; and eighteen shepherds and shepherdesses presented her with baskets of flowers. (...)
On the following day (May 8, 1770) Marie Antoinette visited the cathedral. By a strange coincidence the prelate who awaited her with the chapter at the entrance to felicitate her, and who greeted her "the soul of Maria Theresa about to unite itself to the soul of the Bourbons", was the nephew of the bishop, that prince, Louis de Rohan, who was later to inflict upon the dauphiness, become queen, the deadliest of injuries. But in the midst of the then so brilliant prospect who could discern these shadows?"[17]

1778 Richter meets Mozart[edit]

W. A. Mozart (1780)

Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold knew Richter. Mozart would have met him still as a boy on his Family Grand tour in 1763 when the Mozart family came through Schwetzingen, the summer residence of the Elector Palatinate. Mozart met him once again in 1778 on his way back from Paris when he was headed for the unloved Salzburg after his plans to gain permanent employment in Mannheim or Paris had come to naught. In a letter to his father, dated November 2, 1778, Mozart seems to suggest that the by then elderly Richter was something of an alcoholic:

"Strasbourg can scarcely do without me. You cannot think how much I am esteemed and beloved here. People say that I am disinterested as well as steady and polite, and praise my manners. Everyone knows me. As soon as they heard my name, the two Herrn Silbermann [i. e. Andreas Silbermann and Johann Andreas Silbermann] and Herr Hepp (organist) came to call on me, and also Kapellmeister Richter. He has now restricted himself very much ; instead of forty bottles of wine a day, he only drinks twenty! ... If the Cardinal had died, (and he was very ill when I arrived,) I might have got a good situation, for Herr Richter is seventy-eight years of age. Now farewell ! Be cheerful and in good spirits, and remember that your son is, thank God ! well, and rejoicing that his happiness daily draws nearer. Last Sunday I heard a new mass of Herr Richter's, which is charmingly written."

However, Mozart was not one to laud lightly. The epithet “charmingly written” can be taken at face value and from someone like Mozart this was high praise indeed.

Works (overview)[edit]

Orchestral[edit]

  • Symphonies (approximately 80 are extant[18])
  • Thereof: Grandes Symphonies 1-6 (Paris 1744)
  • Thereof: Grandes Symphonies 7-12 (Paris 1744)
  • Several concertos for flute and orchestra, oboe and orchestra, and trumpet and orchestra

Sacred music[edit]

  • Kempten Te Deum for soli, choir and orchestra (1745)
  • 39 Masses[19]
  • La Deposizione della Croce (Oratorio, 1748)
  • Numerous motets and psalms.

Chamber music[edit]

  • Sonate da camera Op.2 Nr. 1-6 (sonatas for harpsichord, flute and violoncello)
  • String quartets Op. 5 Nr. 1-6 (1757)

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Richter et son temps, Les Dernières Nouvelles d'Alsace (French)
  2. ^ Richter was by all probability a native German speaker. There is no hint that he spoke Czech.
  3. ^ Lit. translation of German: Strenger Kirchenstil.
  4. ^ (Mozart 1866), p. 273
  5. ^ There has always been a strange confusion surrounding the question of Richter’s birthplace although Johann Nikolaus Forkel already in 1782 clearly (and probably correctly) named Holleschau.
  6. ^ Ex oriundus is Latin for: "hailing from"
  7. ^ Probably: 4-8 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 oboes and 2 horns. On festival occasions trumpets and kettle drums would have been provided by a town or regimental band.
  8. ^ Robert Münster: Entry „Franz Xaver Richter" in (Blume 1949-1987).
  9. ^ Why this strange mixture of German and French? In the 19th century French was to German what English is to German today. The court language in most German courts during the 17th and 18th century was French. To interlace German with French was a sign of education and breeding signalling rank and position to others.
  10. ^ (Alfried Wieczorek er. alii 1999), pp. 371-2
  11. ^ In (Alfried Wieczorek et. alii 1999) it is said: "1746 wechselte er (F.X. Richter) als Bassist an den Mannheimer Hof. Er tauschte damit eine leitende Position gegen die eines einfachen Hofmusikers ein. In den folgenden Jahren schrieb er zwar einige wenige Werke für den Mannheimer Hof, doch mehr als den Ehrentitel eines kurfürstlichen Cammercompositeurs konnte er seines konservativen Kompositionsstils wegen nicht gewinnen." Expanded Translation: In 1746 he (F.X. Richter) switched to the Mannheim court to take up a position as a bassist. By doing so he exchanged a leading position for the rank of a simple court musician. Although during the following years he wrote a few works for the Mannheim court, he never managed to raise above the rank of chamber composer to the Prince Elector, and this was an honorary title at that. The reason for this (and that he was excluded from promotions that came quite naturally to people like Christian Cannabich or Ignaz Holzbauer, who as composers were little or no better than Richter) must have been Richter’s conservative style of composition which did not endear him to the Charles Theodore.
  12. ^ (Alfried Wieczorek er. alii 1999), pp. 371-2
  13. ^ (Randel 1996), p. 743. What a title. Here is an attempt at a translation: "Harmonic instructions or systematic directives concerning musical art and the rules of composition." The treatise was published and translated into French (Traité d’harmonie et de composition, Paris 1804) by Christian Kalkbrenner. According to Édouard Sitzmann however the best of Richter's treatise was left out of the translation (Sitzmann's 1910 biographical dictionary online, p. 572).
  14. ^ (Forkel 1781), p.72
  15. ^ There is no direct source that says that Richter actually did meet Marie Antoinette, but it can be concluded from the events documented by a number of writers. It is clear that Marie Antoinette entered the cathedral on May 8, 1770, and went there again the next day to attend mass. The brothers Goncourt (Goncourt 1884, p. 17) also write that there was a messe en musique (a mass with music) and even report un grand concert au palais épiscopal (i.e. Palais Rohan). None other than Richter could have been in charge of the music on both occasions.
  16. ^ For instance the eminent historian and librarian Frantz Funck-Brentano writes: "Among all the trial cases recorded in history, the Affair of the Necklace is the one which has exercised the deepest influence on the destinies of our country (i.e. France). It was taken up with passion, and in the hands of politicians became a battering-ram for shattering the monarchy. The case of the Necklace, said Mirabeau, was the prelude of the Revolution." (Funck-Brentano 1911), p. 1
  17. ^ (Rocheterie 1895), pp. 16-17
  18. ^ (Randel 1996), p. 743
  19. ^ (Randel 1996), p. 743

Sources[edit]

  • Blume, Friedrich, Hrsg. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. Ungekürzte elektronische Ausgabe der ersten Auflage. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1949-1987.
  • Forkel, Johann Nikolaus. Musikalischer Almanach für Deutschland auf das Jahr 1782. Leipzig: Im Schwickertschen Verlag, 1781.
  • Funck-Brentano, Frantz. The Diamond Necklace. Translated by H. Sutherland Edwards. London: Greening & Co. LTD, 1911.
  • Goncourt, Edmond et Jules de. Histoire de Marie Antoinette. Paris: G. Charpentier et Cie., 1884.
  • Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. The Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Edited by Ludwig Nohl. Translated by Lady Wallace (i.e. Grace Jane Wallace). Vol. 1. 2 vols. New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866.
  • Randel, Don Michael, ed. The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-674-37299-9
  • Riemann, Hugo. Handbuch der Musikgeschichte. Die Musik des 18. und 19. Jahrhhunderts. Zweite, von Alfred Einstein durchgesehene Auflage. Bd. II. V Bde. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1922.
  • Rocheterie, Maxime de la. The Life of Marie Antoinette. Translated by Cora Hamilton Bell. Vol. 1. 2 vols. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1895.
  • Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 5th Completely Revised Edition. New York, 1958.
  • Alfried Wieczorek, Hansjörg Probst, Wieland Koenig, Hrsg. Lebenslust und Frömmigkeit - Kurfürst Carl Theodor (1724–1799) zwischen Barock und Aufklärung. Bd. 2. 2 Bde. Regensburg, 1999. ISBN 3-7917-1678-6

Discography (selection)[edit]

External links[edit]