Friday, December 6, 2013

Frederick the Great's Patronage

The first time I heard of Frederick the Great was during a flute lesson in middle school--I was playing a duet by Johann Joachim Quantz and my teacher told me that Quantz was the court musician to Frederick the Great, for whom he wrote most of his music.  Frederick the Great also patronized C.P.E. Bach, the most notable son of Johann Sebastian and another prolific composer of flute music.  Between Quantz and Bach, Frederick's court produced a huge portion of the current flute repertoire; Frederick was also a flutist and amateur composer when he wasn't supporting Voltaire and company or off on campaign.  Here's a painting of the court; Frederick is playing flute, Bach is at the keyboard, and Quantz is against the wall on the far right:

All of this was partly because Frederick really did enjoy the flute, and partly because he wanted to convey the image of the learned, cultured, enlightened ruler--although when I read about Frederick, I'm actually more inclined to think that by the time he was free to sit around his palace and play flute, he was already so respected that he could really just do what he wanted.  Anyway, Freddie had a lot of impact on music and especially the flute: one of Quantz's jobs was to make Freddie's flutes, which led him to come up with some innovations in the key design, materials, and technique of the instrument; his flute method (a treatise on how to play the flute) is still in use today.  Also, both Quantz and Bach were to some extent against the old ideals of Baroque music (think J.S. Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi)--big displays and glorification of the patron.  They both tried more to evoke an emotional response, which foreshadows the late Classical period (Mozart, Haydn) and early Romantic (Beethoven and Mendelssohn).  This is a sonata for flute and oboe by Quantz:

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