A Moravian in Vienna

The monastery in Nová Říše, early 19th century engraving.
The Monastery in Nova Rise
Pavel Vranický (1756-1808) was born in Nová Říše, Moravia, into a middle-class family of landowning innkeepers. Both he and his brother, Antonín Vranický (1761-1820), received their first lessons in music at the Premonstratensian Monastery grammar school in their home town. Pavel studied the organ, harpsichord, violin, and viola as a youngster before moving on to the Jesuit gymnasium at Jihlava in 1770. He continued his musical training there, along with his general education, for a year. In 1771 he moved to Olomouc (Olmütz) to study theology, which he had taken an interest in while studying at Jihlava. He never did relinquish his musical inclinations, and it was at this time that Vranický became known as an excellent violinist. He moved to Vienna in 1776 to continue his studies at a theological seminary, and made a living as a choir master to a local church. It was at this time that he, like so make other expatriates like him, that he Germanized his name to Paul Wranitzky . He clearly showed a strong interest in a professional musical career, and by the early 1780s, had given up his religious training. At this time he met Joseph Martin Kraus, 1756-1792, Kapellmästare (=Kapellmeister) to the court of Gustav III, the Swedish king, and studied music with him.

In the spring of 1784 Wranitzky received his first major musical position. He was appointed to the position of musikdirektor (music director) to the court of the Hungarian nobleman Count Johann Baptist Esterházy of Galantha. It was at this time that he met Joseph Haydn, Kapellmeister to the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at Eisenstadt. (The Galantha court was an offshoot of the main seat at Eisenstadt.) Though some claims have been made that Wranitzky studied with "Papa" Haydn, they have not been substantiated. It is known, however, that his brother Antonín (now Anton), studied with him. In October of 1785, Wranitzky received yet another important post, this time at the newly created Kärntnertrotheater orchestra, by becoming its direktor . Two years later he secured a post at the Burgtheater, the other main theater in Vienna, becoming its director.

Michaelerplatz in Vienna. The old Hofburg Theatre is the low building to the right.
The old Hofburg theatre in Vienna is the low building to the right

Wranitzky remained in the center of Viennese musical life for the rest of his life. As a well-established and respected composer, conductor, and violinist, his works were published and released all over Europe. He was invited to the coronation festivities of Leopold II in 1790, where he presented a gala performance of his widely acclaimed opera, Oberon , which had been a huge success in Vienna. He was also a valued member of the musical department of Emperor Franz II, who he wrote a coronation symphony for in 1792. The empress, Marie Therese, considered him one of her favorite composers, especially of symphonies. It was these symphonies, along with his stage works, that earned him such a reputation. He was frequently commissioned to write symphonies and similar orchestral works for royal events. The products of these commissions represent some of his finest work, and certainly may be held in comparison to the works of Haydn and even Mozart, both of whom were intimate friends.

He continued to shine brightly in Vienna, even after the deaths of his royal patrons, as a figure in the city's theaters and musical societies. Keep in mind that he was the director of two major venues. He was secretary of the famed Tonkünstler-Sozietät, a society of musicians, and because of his great fame, he settled numerous disputes amongst its members, including one involving Franz Joseph Haydn. He also aided the widowed Constanze Mozart by acting as a legal mediator with music publishers. Then, in 1808, he died rather suddenly as a result of what death records show as "nervenfieber", now identified as a type of typhoid fever. It seems that his popularity slid rapidly after his passing. He was succeeded at both of his theater directorships by his younger brother Anton.

by Robert Bonkowski

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , s.v. "Wranitzky, Paul," by Milan Postolka and Roger Hickman.

The Symphonist

Paul Wranitzky most likely composed over sixty symphonies, of which approximately 45 are known today. He started writing his essays in the genre relatively late in his career- in the 1780s. By this time, when his first symphonies made their début, the genre had grown so common that it graced the programs of nearly all musical events. Symphonies were used as introductions, entr'actes, and afterpieces to stage works, and were even played, in part or in whole, at High Mass. During Lent, when the theaters were closed, so-called akademien , or "academies", which were musical societies that offered orchestral (and often sacred) works in lieu of operas and plays. The Tonkünstler-Sozietät was one of these academies which Wranitzky was associated with. It was in these concerts that symphonies had major roles, and in fact Wranitzky composed many of his works for these concerts.

Title page of Wranitzky's Symphony Op. 2 as published by André in Offenbach in 1791.
Title page of Wranitzky's Symphony Op. 2

Vienna was a city of great musical patronage. As one individual noted, music "is the only thing about which the nobility shows taste". The wealthy, music loving nobility spent lavish sums on music, either in buying the best seats in the opera houses (which were highly inflated) or in musical patronage. In Vienna such individuals as Prince Dmitri Golitsïn (Galitzin), the Russian ambassador to Vienna from 1762-1792, and Baron Gottfried van Sweiten sponsored lively musical events at their private residences. Subscription concerts were given by both men, whose love of music was the inspiration for many great works. Their orchestras were of reasonable skill level, with the better ones being comparable to present-day college and university ensembles. The city's orchestras in general were of particularly high quality compared to elsewhere. To quote a foreign visitor:

Many noble houses have their own bands of musicians, and all the public concerts bear witness that this aspect of art is in high repute here... I have heard 30 or 40 instruments playing together, and they all produce one tone so correct, clean and precise that one might think one is hearing a single, supernaturally powerful instrument. One stroke of the bow animated all the violins and one breath, all the wind instruments.

The orchestra that was referred to in this passage was most likely that of the Burgtheater, which Wranitzky directed from 1787 until his death in 1808. The Burgtheater's ensemble was considered one of the finest in the city. By the mid 1780s, the orchestra had approximately 35 players: twelve violins (six first and six second), 5 violas, three cellos, and four double basses. The remainder of the orchestra consisted of pairs of wind instruments- oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets. Timpanists and other musicians were drawn either from the orchestra, or were hired as necessary. It is presumed that many of Wranitzky's symphonies were played in concerts given by this orchestra.

While the Burgtheater orchestra was one of the largest consistent orchestras, the ensemble of the Tonkünstler-Sozietät, which gave bi-yearly concerts, had as many as 150 musicians. Wranitzky, who was an official in the society, had many of his symphonies, including numerous premières, played in these concerts often for the benefit of the widows and orphans of deceased musicians.

Marie Therese, engraving after a painting by Kreuzinger
Marie Therese after a painting by Kreuzinger

After the short, two year reign of Leopold II, Wranitzky gained much seniority in the inner musical circles upper crust Viennese society. With the assent of Franz II as emperor, and Marie Therese as empress, Wranitzky's musical career was elevated to new heights. Both sovereigns were extremely gifted musically, and spared no expense in their court's musical events, but Marie Therese took a clear dominance in the musical dealings of the court. Wranitzky was a favorite of the empress, who owned a large collection of his music, including numerous symphonies. She kept a private coterie of professional musicians and virtuosi, who would provide her with musical entertainment, playing symphonies, concertos, and much vocal music from the sacred and operatic repertoire.

The Empress' private orchestral forces remain unclear, but one can deduce their approximate size through an examination of the various orchestral parts and the quantities of them that were present in her archives. Most of her stringed instrument sources contained two to three parts for first and second violins, and one to two for viola and one to three for basso parts. Individual parts existed for each wind part, i.e. first and second horn, etc. If it is assumed that two string players played from each set of parts, then the average size of the strings would be sixteen to twenty-two- a very respectable number for private concerts. Winds would be added as necessary, although oboes, horns, flutes, clarinets, and bassoons, as well as trumpets and timpani were all called for frequently and were likely a part of the empress' regular orchestra. On occasion, however, more rare and exotic instruments were necessary, including percussion. Wranitzky was often capricious in his symphonic writing; this is especially evident in his programmatic and theatrical works. His symphony in d-minor La Tempesta uses frequent and poignant dissonances and a "grand tympano" (bass drum) to great effect in painting a musical portrait of a storm. In his satirical melodrama Macbeth, he calls for a meat-roasting spit to be used as a percussion instrument.

by Robert Bonkowski

About Us | Contact | © 2006-2022