It’s time for another installation of the flute composer of the month, and this month I’m featuring Johann Joachim Quantz. I chose him primarily because he is the composer of one of my favorite concertos I have ever played, his G Major concerto, but it turns out that there is so much more to his history! He was a prolific composer, flute maker, and author of one of the most extensive histories on making and playing flutes at the time.
Quantz was one of the first professional flute players in 18th-century Europe. He began as a town musician and was trained to play all instruments, but after gaining a post as an oboist in the prestigious Dresden court ensemble, he began to specialize in the flute in 1719. Between 1724 and 1727, Quantz completed his education by doing a “Grand Tour” of Europe as a flutist. He studied counterpoint with Francesco Gasparini in Rome, met Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, befriended the flutist Michel Blavet in Paris, and in London was encouraged by Handel to remain there, which he did until he was appointed to a more permanent position in Berlin.
One of his principal contributions to music is a book that was written in 1752 entitled in English, “On Playing the Flute.” This book is not only a flute tutor-type book for the Baroque Traverso but a historical reference for how music in general should be performed from that time period in history. Quantz also began making flutes in 1739, and built as many as eighteen instruments for Frederick the Great during his employment. His flutes are unlike other baroque flutes in a number of interesting ways. In 1726 he invented a second key, for D#, to the one for Eb already present on all flutes. Making a distinction between these and other enharmonic pairs was important to Quantz’s idea of playing in tune.
Surprisingly, few of his pieces were published during his life and even after his death; most of them are for transverse flute, including more than 200 sonatas, around 300 concertos, 45 trio sonatas, and various flute duets, trios, and quartets. Probably his most well-known piece today is his Concerto in G major, QV:5, 174, composed in 3 movements around 1745. This is one of my all-time favorite concertos. Please enjoy this wonderful recording from the 1978 Zurich Orchestra, featuring Peter-Lukas Graf.
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