Born: September 6, 1781; Mattsee
Died: April 7, 1858; Vienna, Austria
Anton Diabelli, a competent and very productive composer of attractive music, is best known as the author of a musical idea from which another composer made a masterpiece.
He was a choir boy in Salzburg Cathedral and is reputed to have had lessons with Michael Haydn there. Before he was 20 he wrote notable compositions, including six masses. In 1800 he joined the monastery at Raitenhaslach, Bavaria. There he might have remained, butRead more Bavaria closed all its monasteries in 1803. He went to Vienna, where he taught piano and guitar, made arrangements, and continued to compose. He got work proofreading for a music publishing firm, which gave him knowledge of the process and business of publishing music, and continued to compose; among his works is the comic opera Adam in der Klemme (1809). In 1817 he started in business for himself, partnering the following year with a dealer named Pietro Cappi to create the firm of Cappi & Diabelli.
The partners were astute in their choices of music. Primarily, they specialized in popular music for home music making, including opera tune arrangements, dance music, collections for guitar or piano, and their most popular series, 429 volumes of the Latest Popular Comic Theater Songs.
In a masterly idea for promotion, Diabelli sent a waltz theme he had written to every important Austrian composer, inviting them to write variations on it for inclusion in a "patriotic anthology." By 1824, 50 composers had responded, and Carl Czerny wrote a coda for the set. The collection included the first published composition by the 11-year-old Franz Liszt. Franz Schubert, the Archduke Rudolf, Pixis, Moscheles, and Kalkbrenner were among the contributors. The 50-composer set of "Diabelli Variations" merits more investigation than it has received.
Yet the idea's greatest significance was that it inspired Beethoven to one of his greatest bursts of creativity. It is not known exactly why Beethoven expanded the original commission, but it seemed for a time that he could not stop writing variations on the theme; the eventual set of 33 variations, known as the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, is one of the all-time masterpieces in the variation form. It also consigned Diabelli to the same position in music as Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who supplied the theme that Johann Sebastian Bach used in his great Goldberg Variations.
Diabelli's greatest publishing success, however, lay in recognizing the genius of Franz Schubert and bringing him into print for the first time in 1821 with the song "Erlkönig" (The Erl-King). This started a series of publications of Schubert's work. It came temporarily to an end in 1823, due to some misstep of Cappi's that caused Schubert to leave the firm. Cappi and Diabelli parted company in 1824, and the firm was renamed Anton Diabelli & Cie. It entered upon a highly profitable period in which Diabelli took care of artistic matters and his partner Anton Spina (1790 - 1857) did the business work.
The association with Schubert was reestablished posthumously: Diabelli bought a large bulk of the late composer's musical estate from his brother Ferdinand Schubert. The firm systematically and slowly published these works; as with Elvis Presley and the Beatles, "new" Schubert works were still appearing even after Diabelli's death in 1858, 30 years after their composer's death.
Diabelli retired in 1851; Spina continued to run the firm, which became the principal publisher of the music of Johann Strauss II and his brother Joseph. Read less