Composer, Conductor, Violinist. The founder of the Mannheim School, a movement that had a significant impact on 18th Century European music. He was the most important developer of the classical symphony before Joseph Haydn. Jan Václav Antonín Stamic was born in Nìmecký Brod, Bohemia (now Havlíèkùv Brod, Czech Republic), the son of a local organist. He studied music at Jilhava Gymnasium and at the University of Prague (1734 to 1735) before embarking on a career as a concert violinist, taking on the Germanized name Johann Stamitz. In 1741 he was hired as a string player in the court orchestra of Mannheim, Germany, and their fortunes rose together; in 1745 he was promoted to Konzertmeister, with the duties of conductor and lead violinist. His conducting skills must have been extraordinary. In a short time he disciplined a good ensemble into one of Europe's greatest, renowned for its precision and breadth of expression. English critic Charles Burney called the Mannheim Orchestra "an army of generals". Stamitz took them on an acclaimed tour of Germany in the late 1740s and Mannheim became an obligatory stop for traveling virtuosos and musical tourists alike. The increasingly sophisticated music Stamitz wrote for this group became their calling card and won immediate popularity, finding publishers in France, England and The Netherlands. In 1750 he was awarded the new position as Director of Court Instrumental Music. His prestige was enough to get him a one-year leave of absence (1754 to 1755) to conduct his music with the leading orchestras of Paris, the Concerts Spirituel and Concerts Italiens. Little is known of his life after he returned to Mannheim except that he died young, three months before his 40th birthday. The often-quoted entry of his death reads: "March 30, 1757. Buried, Jo'es Stainmiz, director of court music, so expert in his art that his equal will hardly be found. Rite provided". Interment was at Mannheim's Old Catholic Cemetery, near the city wall along the River Neckar. This burial ground was demolished in the late 1880s, and while several of its notable graves were transferred to the newer Main Cemetery, Stamitz's was not. An apartment block now stands on the resting place of the man who put Mannheim on the musical map. (His Czech compatriots have better memories - his birthplace has been preserved and in 1957 he was honored with a postage stamp). Stamitz was a vital figure in music's transition between the baroque and classical eras, especially in his pioneering accomplishments as a symphonist. In late baroque practice, the Italian "sinfonia" was a three-movement instrumental that served as a prelude to an opera; more than any composer before him Stamitz established it as an independent genre. Of the estimated 75 symphonies he produced from 1741 to 1757, 58 survive. He was the first to consistently write symphonies in four movements, inserting a minuet (a courtly dance) into the traditional fast-slow-fast pattern; this became standard with Haydn and was subsequently employed by Mozart and Beethoven. He made the wind instruments an essential component (his use of horns is distinctive), helped introduce the new clarinet to the ensemble, and expanded the bass parts for more rhythmic drive. His introduction of contrasting thematic material within a movement was an important step in the development of classical sonata form. The term "Mannheim School" grew out of Stamitz's influential style and unique relationship with his orchestra. Most of the players were excellent soloists and composers themselves and they inspired each other with their capabilities. Their famed dynamic control enabled Stamitz to solve problems of balance in writing concertos with full orchestral accompaniment, and to create novel effects such as orchestral crescendos (colorfully nicknamed the "Mannheim Steamroller", "Mannheim Rocket" and "Mannheim Sigh"). Two generations of his colleagues and students, including his sons Karl and Anton, won fame as symphonists, carrying his legacy into the early 1800s. Renewed interest in Stamitz was sparked in the early 20th Century by German musicologist Hugo Riemann, who tirelessly promoted him as "the missing link" between Bach and Haydn. Today a good selection of his output is available in recordings. Among Stamitz's other compositions are 10 orchestral trios, 14 violin concertos, 12 flute concertos, two harpsichord concertos, an oboe concerto, a solo clarinet concerto, chamber trios, sonatas and dances. His best known sacred work is the "Mass in D" (1755).
Bio by: Bobb Edwards