Johann Christian Innocenz Bonaventura Cannabich (1731-1798)
Johann Christian Innocenz Bonaventura Cannabich, was born in Mannheim in 1731. He received his early training from his father Martin Friedrich Cannabich. Christian Cannabich entered the Mannheim court orchestra as a prodigy at the age of 12 in 1744, due to his great promise in the study of the violin. He eventually became a pupil of Johann Stamitz, the noted composer and leader of the orchestra. In 1746 or 1747 he was formerly appointed as a violinist to the orchestra at 125 gulden per year (around $ 5000 US). The Elector Carl Theodor sent him to study in Italy and in the autumn of 1750 he began to take composition lessons from Jommelli in Rome, where he remained until 1753. Cannabich is known to have accompanied Jommelli to Stuttgart but he returned to Italy in 1754. He stayed there until his appointment as leader of the Mannheim court orchestra, which occurred following the death of Stamitz in 1757. By 1759 he advanced to the post of Konzertmeister where he was lauded for his conducting technique and violin playing.
Cannabich accompanied Duke Christian IV to Paris in 1764 to help encourage the spread of compositions by the Mannheim school of composers .In 1766 he was in Paris again where he was able to publish six symphonies and six trios. There as well he met Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart on their first major tour across Europe. With the success of his first publishing efforts, Parisian publishers issued most of Cannabich’s works after 1766. In a later visit (1772) he appeared as a soloist at the Concert Spirituel and won a medal in a prestigious composition competition for a symphonie concertante, believed to be No. 42 in e flat. Also in 1772, Dr. Charles Burney visited Mannheim and was very impressed by the abilities of the orchestra under Cannabich. His famous, oft-quoted remark that the orchestra appeared to him like “…an army of generals, equally competent to plan a campaign and fight in it” shows that while many creative composers were orchestra members, Cannabich was able to weld them into a formidable ensemble by use of his personality and an effective orchestral discipline. The Mannheim orchestra practiced weekly, strove for clarity and brilliance, and was considered by all who heard it as the finest orchestra in Europe.
In 1774 Cannabich formally succeeded to the position as director of instrumental music, thereby becoming sole conductor and trainer of the most celebrated orchestra in Europe. His pay rose to the astounding level of 1500 gulden, or about $60, 000 US, well above the normal for the time. The next four years, until the court moved to Munich in 1778, was a time of great success and renown for the composer. His house was always open to visiting artists and he had contact with numerous musicians across Europe. Mozart, who with his mother was on another tour in 1777-79, reported in a letter to his father "I cannot tell you what a good friend Cannabich is to me". Cannabich worked to assist Mozart in acquiring a post and commissions while he stayed over the winter of 1777-78 in Mannheim. Mozart lived for a time in the Cannabich household and gave almost daily keyboard lessons to the Cannabich's daughter, Rosina, for whom he composed the Sonata in C, K.309.
In 1778, Elector Carl Theodor became the ruler of the combined Palatinate and Bavaria. To secure his rule over Bavaria, he moved the court and its orchestra to Munich. Cannabich became the director of the combined orchestras, still at 1500 gulden per year. He acquired additional responsibilities, which included conducting opera performance, subscription series concerts and weekly musical academies. Apparently though, he began having troubles keeping solvent, making several requests of the Elector for additional amounts of money. In the 1790s musical activity overall at the electoral court was curtailed and Cannabich, like his colleagues Toeschi and Fraenzl, was forced to complain about these cutbacks in the musical establishment, and, more seriously, about cuts in his salary. In the last year of his life, Cannabich took a one third cut in pay and found it necessary to undertake concert tours to make his ends meet. He died on 20 January 1798 in Frankfurt while on a visit to his son Carl.
Although Cannabich's fame today lies principally in his role as director of the famous Mannheim court orchestra, he was a prolific and successful composer whose works were admired equally in both Mannheim and Paris. From around 1758, when he returned from Milan, he began collaboration with the newly appointed court ballet-master Etienne Lauchery that brought about a flowering of dramatic ballet in Mannheim. Dr Charles Burney gave the highest praise to Cannabich's ballet La foire de village hessoise that he saw at Schwetzingen in 1772 and it has been asserted by scholars that ballet was probably the best medium for Cannabich's compositional style. His symphonies, however, have attracted less than enthusiastic praise. They have been regarded as guilty of falling into what Leopold Mozart considered “…the affected Mannheim taste”. Wolfgang also criticized the fact that they all begin alike: in unison with long note values and large leaps (letter of 20 November 1777) although he also drew attention to the elegant instrumentation heard in the more recent works. Cannabich’s last symphonies, though not published at the time and apparently little circulated, are very good representations of the mature Classical style. One may suspect that Mozart influenced him as well.
In spite of his professional qualms about Cannabich's style, Mozart appears to have deliberately employed a fair number of Cannabich’s stock compositional devices around this time. Most notably, it appears, in the Paris Symphony K.297, probably the Sinfonia Concertante K.297b and the later Sinfonia Concertante, K.364. The first two were geared for Paris where, as noted earlier, Cannabich’s compositions had been very successful. On December 6, 1777, from Mannheim Mozart wrote his father he has already transcribed a contredance for piano for Cannabich. Wolfgang also wrote that Cannabich found him useful to transcribe selections of his ballet music, as Cannabich cannot do so. However Mozart does not specifically write that he actually did this, or for what work. Mozart liked and admired him immensely, writing to Leopold that: “Cannabich, who is the best director that I have ever seen, has the love and awe of those under him” (letter of 9 July 1778).
Cannabich is credited with:
23 or more ballets, circa 70 symphonies, 2 symphonie concertantes, 4 violin concerti, 7 concerti with organ and other solo instruments, a keyboard concerto, and much chamber music. Naxos has two CD’s of symphonies available, and at about $8.00 each, are very worth obtaining to discover this gifted composer.
Sadie, Stanley (Ed.) The New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians 2nd Edition Groves Dictionaries, New York 2000
Artaria Composers page
Liner notes to the Naxos CDs of Cannabich’s symphonies; 8.553960 and 8.554340
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