One of the best known and most intriguing musical anecdotes from the late eighteenth century can be found in the entertaining if not always reliable memoirs of the Irish tenor Michael Kelly. Kelly, who spent several eventful years in Vienna performing at the Burgtheater, was well connected with many of the leading composers and performers in the city including Mozart. In his Reminiscences, Kelly relates that his friend
“[Stephen] Storace gave a quartett party to his friends. The players were tolerable; not one of them excelled on the instrument he played, but there was a little science among them, which I dare say will be acknowledged when I name them:
- The First Violin … HAYDN
- Second Violin … BARON DITTERSDORF
- Violoncello … VANHALL
- Viola … MOZART
The poet Casti and Paesielli formed part of the audience. I was there, and a greater treat, or a more remarkable one, cannot be imagined.
On the particular evening to which I am now specially referring, after the musical feast was over, we sat down to an excellent supper, and became joyous and lively in the extreme”.1
Kelly does not record precisely when this event took place nor does he mention which works were performed. Given that neither Haydn nor Dittersdorf lived in Vienna at this time and Dittersdorf’s visits to the imperial capital were comparatively infrequent, this particular gathering was perhaps even more remarkable than Kelly’s report suggests. Nonetheless, if the gathering of the four composers was unusual they were certainly not strangers to one another. Haydn and Dittersdorf had known each other for many years; Dittersdorf and Wanhal had been acquainted since at least 17632 – and indeed in his autobiography, Dittersdorf makes passing reference to Wanhal as his pupil although there is no independent evidence to substantiate this claim3 – and Haydn and Mozart were close friends. If their playing was not of the highest standard, it was certainly not due to any lack of innate ability. Dittersdorf was a child prodigy, and in his youth and early professional career, he appeared frequently as a soloist often in concertos of his own composition; Mozart too was a fine violinist who until ca 1780 was far more professionally active as a string player than as a fortepianist. He played as a member of the Archbishop’s Kapelle in Salzburg and also performed frequently as a soloist and chamber musician. In 1777, while visiting Augsburg, he performed his G major Concerto, K.216 in one concert and Wanhal’s Violin Concerto in B flat (Weinmann IIb: B1) in another.4 Haydn was also a very proficient violinist – he considered it his best instrument – and although we know considerably less about Wanhal’s cello playing, he was certainly an accomplished violinist. Perhaps the point that Kelly is really making is that he was seeing these famous composers in an unexpected context and none more so than his friend Mozart, the greatest keyboard virtuoso of his time, playing the viola in a string quartet. The implication that the playing was not of the highest standard no doubt reflects the nature of the performance: four friends sight-reading complex chamber music with no audience but themselves and a few close friends. It is highly likely that both Dittersdorf and Mozart were better violinists than Haydn, and assuming Kelly’s recollection was accurate, Haydn’s role in the quartet as the first violinist might better be understood as a gesture of respect from friends and colleagues who held him in such high esteem.
Of the four composers, Dittersdorf was the least experienced in the field of quartet composition with just six works, composed between 1782 and 1788, which were published early in 1789 by Artaria by which time Storace and Kelly had both left Vienna.5 While it is possible that one of Dittersdorf’s string quartets may have been performed that evening, it seems more likely that he and his friends played works by Haydn, Mozart or Wanhal. Haydn’s works would surely have featured and it is possible that one or more works from his epochal Op.33 quartets of 1781 was played, while Mozart’s response to these works, the six brilliant quartets he dedicated to Haydn at the time of their publication in 1785, are also obvious candidates. By an odd coincidence, Wanhal, a prolific and fine composer of string quartets, also published a set of quartets as his Op.33 in 1785 and these too suggest themselves as a possibility. With such riches to choose from, Kelly’s description of the event as a “musical feast” seems very appropriate.
One composer there that evening who had not written any string quartets was the host, Stephen Storace. His interest lay primarily in the field of opera and it was this which had brought him to Vienna in late 1784 after his sister Nancy, who by this stage was well established as member of Joseph II’s new Italian opera company at the Burgtheater, secured a commission for him to compose an opera.6 Gli sposi malcontenti was performed in Vienna in June 1785 with mixed success (Michael Kelly sang in this production alongside Storace’s sister, Nancy, who lost her voice) but it was subsequently staged in Prague, Leipzig and Dresden. But Storace’s first-hand experience of Vienna’s musical life, as his quartet party suggests, was far deeper and more wide-ranging than its thriving operatic culture. He very quickly came to view the music being composed there as being on a wholly different level to that which he had encountered elsewhere. It was not just his friendship with Mozart that convinced him of this, but also his growing acquaintance with the music of other composers. At some point during his sojourn in Vienna, Storace may have conceived a plan to curate and publish a selection of works that he considered representative of the exciting, progressive ‘new’ style which would later be realized in the ambitious Storace’s Collection of Original Keyboard Music which he published in London between 1787 and 1789.
A cursory glance through the contents of the Collection, which was issued in two volumes, each of six parts, reveals an overwhelming preference for works by living composers working in Vienna or closely associated with the city. Of the thirty-four compositions published over the twelve parts of the Collection, no fewer than twenty-four are by ‘Viennese’ composers: Leopold Koželuh (9), Mozart (7), Wanhal (5), Haydn (2) and Hoffmeister (1). Three of these composers were present at the famous quartet evening and Storace must have known Koželuh personally since he was a prominent musical figure in Vienna. Thus, the Collection, as well being a fascinating anthology of musical works, also gives us an invaluable insight into Storace’s network of personal and professional contacts.
In my paper “Storace’s Collection of Original Harpsichord Music as a Harbinger of Modernity”7 I suggest that the Mozart works published in the Collection offer proof that in selecting them, Storace was acting in part as the composer’s advocate, and as such, their inclusion was part of a larger if rather nebulous plan to promote his music in England. The grounds for reaching similar conclusions concerning the other Viennese composers are considerably weaker, but in the case of Wanhal, the inclusion of two otherwise unknown compositions argues that he too was closely involved in Storace’s choice of works.
Wanhal, a prolific and highly respected composer of instrumental works, was an automatic choice for inclusion in the Collection, but the selection of works was no means as clear cut. As a freelance musician, Wanhal derived a high proportion of his income from teaching and he also composed and published a great deal of music for the fortepiano that was closely related to this field of activity. Although Wanhal seems only to have begun focusing on the composition keyboard music from the early 1780s, Storace would have been confronted with a formidable choice of works by the time he left Vienna in 1787 ranging from easy sonatas for beginners through to impressive multi-movement capriccios and concertos His choice of works, therefore, is particularly interesting: an accompanied sonata, a duetto, two concertos and a set of variations for solo keyboard.
Storace’s edition of the (accompanied) Sonata in C (Weinmann XIa:14) is the earliest known print of the work and he may have acquired the composition in manuscript directly from or through Wanhal himself. This argument is strengthened considerably by the inclusion of two otherwise unknown works in the Collection: a Concerto in B flat (with an accompaniment of 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings) and a set of variations on the arietta, ‘Viva, viva la Regina’ from Martin y Soler’s dramma giocoso, La cosa rara. Neither work is listed in Alexander Weinmann’s thematic catalogue of Wanhal’s compositions.8
From its premiere at the Burgtheater on 17 November 1786, La cosa rara had proved a sensational success in Vienna and it is unsurprising that Wanhal was quick to compose a set of variations on one of its many popular melodies. The choice itself, however, may be of special significance since the duet ‘Viva, viva la Regina’ was sung by Nancy Storace who created the role of Lilla in the production. This apparently circumstantial detail strengthens the argument that the Variations were composed expressly for inclusion in the Collection: as such, the choice of theme might be seen as a personal gesture on Wanhal’s part; a graceful tribute to Nancy united in a personal gift for Stephen.
The order in which Storace published the two Wanhal concertos in the Collection suggests that he brought a copy of the Concerto in D (Weinmann IIa: D1) back with him from Vienna in 1787 and acquired the B-flat Concerto at a later date. However, the publication of editions of Concerto D1 in Paris by Barbieri, three months after it appeared in Volume 1 Part 5 of Storace’s Collection, and three months after that, in December 1788, by André in Offenbach am Main, could also constitute evidence that the work was already in circulation. Only a close study of the extant sources would be able to determine their relationship to Storace’s first edition.
The absence of any other sources for the Concerto in B flat, however, argues that like the Variations, Storace very likely acquired the work directly from the composer. Its publication in Volume 2 Part 2 possibly indicates that it was composed later than Concerto D1 and was sent to Storace after his return to London. We know nothing of any contractual arrangements that may have existed between Storace and the composers he published, but the absence of other sources for the B-flat Concerto could indicate that he had exclusive rights to the work, something he clearly did not have in the case of Mozart’s compositions.
What connection any of this has with the quartet party is of course speculative. From Kelly’s account of the evening, it seems highly unlikely that Storace would have taken the opportunity to discuss business arrangements with his guests and we cannot even be certain that at this point he had even thought about such a project. We do not even know when Storace first met Wanhal, but it is difficult to imagine that the first occasion was at the quartet party. It is unlikely that his relationship with him was as close on a personal level as it was with Mozart who was only a few years older than him. Nonetheless, he clearly regarded Wanhal as an important representative of the dynamic musical environment in Vienna that he wished to showcase in the Collection and almost certainly dealt directly with him in the selection of works to be published. The likely composition date of the B-flat Concerto and its publication in 1789 in the second volume of the Collection indicates an ongoing if limited relationship between the two musicians. It also shows that Wanhal, who had a well-developed entrepreneurial streak, was sufficiently impressed with Storace’s plan and confident of his ability to execute it, to assign to him the rights to publish a work of this consequence. It also throws up an interesting point of comparison with Haydn. Not only was he numerically the least well represented of the Viennese composers in the Collection after Hoffmeister,9 but the two works of his that were published were both relatively unimportant: a Minuet with Variations in A (Hob. XVII: 2) in Volume 2 Part 1 and the Arietta with Variations in E flat (Hob. XVII: 3), composed in 1774, in Volume 2 Part 2. While Haydn might have led the quartet at Storace’s party, he seems to have been a rather more reluctant participant in his ambitious publishing venture.
- Michael Kelly, Reminiscences of Michael Kelly, of the King’s Theatre, and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (London: Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street, 1826), Vol. I, 237-238
- Wanhal, along with Ditters[dorf], is listed among the members of the first violin section in a repeat performance of Gluck’s opera Orphée et Euridice that took place on 31 July 1763. See A-Wn Mus. Hs. 3480/c: “Repertoire / de / l’Année / i763: / du / Premier Janvier jusqu’ au dernier / Decembre / Compinant / tous le Spectacles, les Acteurs, Dançeurs, Musiciens et autres gens du theatre Receuilli / Par / Philippe de Gumpenhueber / à Vienne”. This is the earliest known documented reference to Wanhal in Vienna. Since he was not listed in the earlier performance of the opera on 14 July, he may have arrived recently and was engaged as a casual player upon the recommendation of Ditters. This is given greater credence by the presence of both Joseph and Alex Ditters in the second violin section which suggests that Ditters had few inhibitions about acting as a fixer.
- Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, The Autobiography of Karl [sic] von Dittersdorf – Dictated to his Son, trans. Arthur Duke Coleridge (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1896), 225
- See Johann Baptist Wanhal, Violin Concerto in B flat (Weinmann IIb: B1) edited by Allan Badley and Cliff Eisen (Wellington: Artaria Editions, 2005)
- Hugo Unverricht, “Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf als Quartettkomponist: Ein Konkurrent Haydns, Mozarts und Pleyels?” Haydn-Studien, 7(3-4), February, 1998, 315-327.
- Jane Girdham, “Storace, Stephen (John Seymour)”, Oxford Music Onlinehttps://doi-org.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.41410(accessed 27.ii.22)
- Allan Badley, “Storace’s Collection of Original Harpsichord Music as a Harbinger of Modernity”, https://remix.berklee.edu/haydn-journal/vol8/iss2/2/
- Alexander Weinmann, “Themen-Verzeichnis der Kompositionen von Johann Baptiste Wanhal” Wiener-Archivstudien, Bd.11(Wien: Musikverlag L. Krenn, 1987)
- Hoffmeister is represented in the Collection by the [accompanied] Sonata in A which appeared in Vol.1 Part 6 (entered at Stationers’ Hall 26.vii.1788)