Georg Christoph Wagenseil


Born: January 29, 1715; Vienna, Austria   Died: March 1, 1777; Vienna, Austria  
Georg Christoph Wagenseil was a composer who made the transition from the Baroque era to the Classical. His father and grandfather were officials in the Imperial Court in Vienna. His musical training seems initially to have been the sort of instruction every higher class person got in the course of education, but when he was a teenager he started to compose and received more advanced keyboard instruction from the organist at St. Michael's Church Read more in Vienna. The court Kapellmeister, Johann Joseph Fux, noticed his accomplishments and recommended him for a scholarship in 1735. He studied keyboard, counterpoint, and composition with Fux and with Matteo Palotta. After three years, Fux enthusiastically recommended him and Wagenseil obtained the post of composer to the court and kept that job until he died.

From 1740 to 1751, he was also the private chapel organist for Dowager Empress Elisabeth Christine and in 1749 was appointed Hofklaviermeister (Court Keyboard Master) to the Imperial archduchesses. He was given leave to travel to Italy at times to present some of his operas there. In the mid-1750s, he was given a broad privilege to publish music. As a result, he was able to produce and sell a huge quantity of instrumental compositions. It is known that both Mozart (who played a piano concerto of his for the Empress in 1762) and Haydn were familiar with his works. Wagenseil was a first-rate pianist until 1765, when gout struck his left hand. The disorder progressively restricted his activities until it virtually confined him to his rooms, but he continued to compose and teach. His pupil J.B. Schenk (later, Beethoven's teacher) left a detailed description of Wagenseil's teaching methods, which were remarkable for their time for their use of Handel and Bach as examples for study.

Wagenseil's earliest notable compositions were masses, ranging in instrumentation from a cappella works to orchestral masses with colorful orchestration involving four trumpets, timpani, cornet, trombones, bassoon, organ, and strings. They show remarkable contrapuntal skill. In addition, Wagenseil was very imaginative in the way he blended the voices and the instruments. Then he moved to theatrical works, as the years 1745 to 1750 were occasions of many birthday and name day celebrations for Imperial family members. Here, Wagenseil employed the far less contrapuntal galant style in keeping with changing tastes in Europe. He had a strong enough dramatic sense that he tired of the ordinary divisions between sections of operas and tended to write his works in larger unified scenes that blended recitative, aria, ensemble, and choruses that actually preceded Gluck's operatic reform of 1762.

He wrote numerous keyboard sonatas, preferring a three movement form, either fast-minuet-fast or fast-slow-minuet layout. The keyboard writing is imaginative in its use of the instrument's registers and for using folk-like melodies. Most of his concertos are not what we would understand by the term, but solo works for an amateur to play at home with chamber accompaniment by friends. His symphonies, mostly in three movements, are more significant and he was a leader in increasing the depth and importance of the final movements. Since they were widely distributed because of Wagenseil's license to print, they were exceptionally influential in the development of symphonic form. Read less

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