Carl Friedrich Abel

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Portrait of Carl Friedrich Abel by Thomas Gainsborough, 1777

Carl Friedrich Abel (22 December 1723[n 1] – 20 June 1787)[2][3] was a German composer of the Classical era. He was a renowned player of the viola da gamba, and composed important music for that instrument.


Abel was born in Köthen,[3][4] a small German city, where his father, Christian Ferdinand Abel, had worked for years as the principal viola da gamba and cello player in the court orchestra. In 1723 Abel senior became director of the orchestra, when the previous director, Johann Sebastian Bach, moved to Leipzig. The young Abel later boarded at Leipzig's Thomasschule, where he was taught by Bach.

On Bach's recommendation in 1743 he was able to join Johann Adolph Hasse's court orchestra at Dresden where he remained for fifteen years.[3][5] In 1759 (or 1758 according to Chambers),[1] he went to England and became chamber-musician to Queen Charlotte, in 1764.[3][5] He gave a concert of his own compositions in London, performing on various instruments, one of which was a five-string cello known as a pentachord, which had been recently invented by John Joseph Merlin.[6]

In 1762, Johann Christian Bach, the eleventh son of J.S. Bach, joined him in London, and the friendship between him and Abel led, in 1764 or 1765, to the establishment of the famous Bach-Abel concerts, England's first subscription concerts. In those concerts, many celebrated guest artists appeared, and many works of Haydn received their first English performance.

For ten years the concerts were organized by Mrs. Theresa Cornelys, a retired Venetian opera singer who owned a concert hall at Carlisle House in Soho Square, then the height of fashionable events. In 1775 the concerts became independent of her, to be continued by Abel and Bach until Bach's death in 1782. Abel still remained in great demand as a player on various instruments new and old. He traveled to Germany and France between 1782 and 1785, and upon his return to London, became a leading member of the Grand Professional Concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms in Soho. Throughout his life he had enjoyed excessive living, and his drinking probably hastened his death, which occurred in London on 20 June 1787.[citation needed] He was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.

One of Abel's works became famous due to a misattribution: in the 19th century, a manuscript symphony in the hand of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was catalogued as his Symphony no. 3 in E flat, K. 18, and was published as such in the first complete edition of Mozart's works by Breitkopf & Härtel. Later, it was discovered that this symphony was actually the work of Abel, copied by the boy Mozart—evidently for study purposes—while he was visiting London in 1764. That symphony was originally published as the concluding work in Abel's Six Symphonies, Op. 7.

Selected works by opus number[edit]

(adapted from the listing in the article on Abel at

  • Op. 1: 6 Overtures or Sinfonias (1761)
  • Op. 2: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin and Cello (ad libitum) (1760)
  • Op. 3: 6 Trio Sonatas for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo (1762)
  • Op. 4: 6 Overtures or Sinfonias (1762)
  • Op. 5: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin and Cello (ad libitum) (1762)
  • Op. 6: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Flute (1763)
  • Op. 7: 6 Symphonies (1767)
  • Op. 8: 6 String Quartets (1768)
  • Op. 9: 6 Trio Sonatas for Violin, Cello and Basso Continuo (1771)
  • Op. 10: 6 Symphonies (1771)
  • Op. 11: 6 Concerti for Keyboard and Strings (1771)
  • Op. 12: 6 Flute Quartets (1774)
  • Op. 13: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin (1777)
  • Op. 14: 6 Symphonies (1778)
  • Op. 15: 6 String Quartets (1780)
  • Op. 16: 4 Trio Sonatas for 2 Flutes and Basso Continuo (1781)
  • Op. 16: 6 Trio Sonatas for Violin, Viola and Cello (1782)
  • Op. 17: 6 Symphonies (1785)
  • Op. 18: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin (1784)

Works list[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Chambers Biographical Dictionary gives his year of birth erroneously as 1725.[1]
  1. ^ a b Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 3
  2. ^ Randel, Don Michael, editor (1996). "Carl Friedrich Abel". The Harvard biographical dictionary of music. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 0-674-37299-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abel, Carl Friedrich". Encyclopædia Britannica. I: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  4. ^ "Abel, Karl Friedrich" in Chambers's Encyclopædia. London: George Newnes, 1961, Vol. 1, p. 7.
  5. ^ a b Sadie, Stanley, ed. (2001). "Carl [Karl] Friedrich Abel". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I A-Aristotle (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Grove's Dicitonaries Inc. pp. 15–18. ISBN 1-56159-239-0. 
  6. ^ Freiberg, Sarah. Conversation with Magical Merlin, Internet Cello Society. Retrieved 29 January 2009.


External links[edit]