Franz Ignaz Beck
was a German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...
and music teacher who spent the greater part of his life in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
, where he became director of the Bordeaux Grand Théâtre. Possibly the most talented pupil of Johann Stamitz
Jan Václav Antonín Stamic was a Czech composer and violinist. Johann was the father of Carl Stamitz and Anton Stamitz, also composers...
, Beck is an important representative of the second generation of the so-called Mannheim school
Mannheim school refers to both the orchestral techniques pioneered by the court orchestra of Mannheim in the latter half of the 18th century as well as the group of composers who wrote such music for the orchestra of Mannheim and others.-History:...
. His fame rests on his 24 symphonies that are among the most original and striking of the pre-Classical period. He was one of the first composers to introduce the regular use of wind instrument
A wind instrument is a musical instrument that contains some type of resonator , in which a column of air is set into vibration by the player blowing into a mouthpiece set at the end of the resonator. The pitch of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube and by manual modifications of...
s in slow movement
The Slow Movement advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace. It began with Carlo Petrini's protest against the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome in 1986 that sparked the creation of the Slow Food organization...
s and put an increasing emphasis on thematic development. His taut, dramatic style is also remarkable for its employment of bold harmonic progressions, flexible rhythms and highly independent part writing.
1734-1754 Youth in Mannheim
Franz Ignaz Beck began his violin studies with his father, Johann Aloys Beck (died 1742), an oboist and Rector of the Choir School at the Palatinate Court in Mannheim. He also learned double bass and organ, among other instruments, and eventually came under the tutelage of Johann Stamitz
Jan Václav Antonín Stamic was a Czech composer and violinist. Johann was the father of Carl Stamitz and Anton Stamitz, also composers...
, the director of instrumental music and leader of the brilliant Mannheim court orchestra. Beck's talents were quickly recognized and the Prince elector
The Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire, having the function of electing the Roman king or, from the middle of the 16th century onwards, directly the Holy Roman Emperor.The heir-apparent to a prince-elector was known as an...
of the Palatinate, Charles Theodore
Charles Theodore, Prince-Elector, Count Palatine and Duke of Bavaria reigned as Prince-Elector and Count palatine from 1742, as Duke of Jülich and Berg from 1742 and also as Prince-Elector and Duke of Bavaria from 1777, until his death...
undertook responsibility for his education. As a youth Beck was very much in favour with the Mannheim court and named chamber virtuoso of the Prince elector.
1755-1757 Violinist in Venice and Naples
His time in Mannheim came to an abrupt end when he - seemingly fatally - wounded an opponent in a duel
A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period especially among...
(allegedly because of jealousy), an act that forced him to leave Germany. It is hard to ascertain whether this is really what happened or just a Berlioz-like cloak and dagger story. The only source for this tale is Beck’s pupil Henri Blanchard who published this account in a biography of his former teacher in the Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris
(1845). According to Blanchard, Beck’s opponent had only feigned his death, but Beck was not to learn this for several years.
When Beck’s six symphonies op. 3 were published in Paris several years later (1762) the edition bore this title:
- SEI SINFONIE / A PIÙ STROMENTI / Composte / Dal Sigr. FRANCESCO BECK / Virtuoso di Camera di Sua / A. S. L’ELECTOR PALATINO, / & Actualmente Primo Violino / d’ell Concerto di Marsilia. /OPERA TERZA. /...Chez Mr. Venier...’
From this it is sometimes inferred that the story of Beck fighting a duel was probably a hoax. If Beck, so the reasoning goes, had in all truth been forced to flee from the Mannheim court because he had killed someone in a duel, then he would not have possessed the audacity to openly advertise the fact that he used to be a chamber virtuoso with exactly the same court. However, seen from another angle this might corroborate the truth of Blanchard’s story. If Beck had indeed not
killed the other man and he knew by then that everything had been a vicious prank and his opponent alive, then the story might be true after all.
Whatever the circumstances of his departure, from Mannheim Beck made his way to Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...
where he appeared as a violinist and studied composition with Baldassare Galuppi. Galuppi, whose name as a composer has faded over the centuries, was between 1750 and 1765 the most performed opera composer in Europe. In Mannheim he was especially well known. Several of his operas (16 all together) were staged at Mannheim in the middle of the 18th century. Thus, Galuppi would have known Mannheim and the fact that Mannheim had the leading orchestra in Europe. This helps to explain why Beck after his dramatic flight had probably little difficulty to establish himself in Venice and become Galuppi’s pupil.
After three years in Venice he eloped to Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...
with one Anna Oniga , his future wife and mother of his seven children. It seems that Beck's career as a composer started largely during his years in Italy; this may also explain why in many traits he shows himself to be quite his own man and rather independent of the typical Mannheim style.
1757-1760 Fame in France
After his sojourn in Italy Beck moved to Marseilles where he became concert master at the theatre orchestra. The exact date of his arrival in France is uncertain yet for the year 1757 the performance of one of his symphonies in Paris is documented. When Beck’s Parisian publisher Venier announced the publication of Beck's op. 3 in the November of 1762 he introduced Beck to with these words: Actualmente Primo Violino del Concerto di Marsilia
. Between 1757 and 1762 all of his 24 symphonies were published in rapid succession by Parisian firms. At least seven performances of Beck's symphonies are known to have been given in Marseilles in 1760-61.
1761-1791 Kapellmeister in Bordeaux
In 1761 Beck moved from Marseilles to Bordeaux where he became director of concerts and was appointed conductor of the Grand Théâtre. He also was active as organist and teacher. Among his more prominent pupils were Pierre Gaveaux, Henri Blanchard and one Boscha. On 24 October 1774 he was appointed organist at St Seurin, Bordeaux, where his improvisatory powers won him admiration from the congregation.
By the time he was settled in Bordeaux Beck's best times as a composer were all but over. Much of what he wrote there seems to have been either lost or destroyed by Beck himself. His greatest success came in 1783 when he travelled to Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
to direct the first performance of his Stabat mater
Stabat Mater is a 13th-century Roman Catholic hymn to Mary. It has been variously attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi and to Innocent III...
The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles....
As did many other composers, Beck wrote patriotic and revolutionary music during the Revolution, including a Hymne á l'Être Suprême
. Nevertheless, in 1791 he got into trouble with the new authorities when through caustic remarks he openly ridiculed some overzealous partisans of the new spirit. He seems to have been a self-assured, proud and stubborn man. When he was subsequently put before a revolutionary trial in his nightshirt, he answered questions concerning his attitude towards the revolution with the exclamation: "What could I do against the revolution!?"
1791-1809 Last years in Bordeaux
Beck’s fortunes declined in the aftermath of the French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...
. Whereas in the year 1791 he was still able to pay his mother in law a pension of 400 Livres, a few years later he was barely able to support his family.
In 1806 he sent the score of his Stabat Mater with a personal dedication to Napoleon – whether out of genuine admiration or in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the great Corse is hard to decide.
Beck had six daughters, two of whom died early. His only son was commander of a French corvette during the Napoleonic wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...
, and was held captive by the English for a long time.
Beck’s 24 symphonies are in three movements and follow the Italian sinfonia
with the customary tempi: fast-slow-fast. The Minuet
A minuet, also spelled menuet, is a social dance of French origin for two people, usually in 3/4 time. The word was adapted from Italian minuetto and French menuet, and may have been from French menu meaning slender, small, referring to the very small steps, or from the early 17th-century popular...
, as third movement already ubiquitous in Johann Stamitz’ symphonies, is omitted by Beck. The symphonies Op. 1 are scored for string orchestra; in Op. 2, No. 1 (Callen 7) in addition to the strings two French horns are demanded; op. 3 and 4 are scored for oboes and horns in addition to the string quintet.
- Six Symphonies Op. 1 (Callen 1-6; publ. Paris 1758)
- Six Symphonies Op. 2 (Callen 7-12; publ. Paris 1760)
- Six Symphonies Op. 3 (Callen 13-18; publ. Paris 1762)
- Six Symphonies Op. 4 (Callen 19-24; publ. Paris 1766)
- Ouverture La mort d'Orphée
- Ouverture L'île déserte
- Stabat Mater (1782)
- Orchestra quartets
- La belle jardinière (Bordeaux, August 24, 1767)
- Pandora (Paris, July 2, 1789)
- L'Isle déserte (1779, unperformed)
- Six Symphonies, Op. 1. New Zealand Chamber Orchestra, Donald Armstrong, Naxos 8.554071
- Symphonies op. 3, Nr. 1, 2, 6. La Stagione, Frankfurt am Main, Michael Schneider, CPO
- Symphonies op. 3, Nr. 3-5. La Stagione, Frankfurt am Main, Michael Schneider, CPO
- Symphonies op. 4, Nr. 1-3. La Stagione, Frankfurt am Main, Michael Schneider, CPO
- Badley, Allan. Franz Ignaz Beck - Six Symphonies, Op. 1 (CD-Booklet). Naxos Rights International Ltd., 2005.
- Badley, Allan. Franz Ignaz Beck - Six Symphonies, Op. 1 (CD-Booklet). Naxos Rights International Ltd., 2005. Online version
- Blume, Friedrich
Friedrich Blume was professor of Musicology in Kiel University from 1938-1958. He was a student in Munich, Berlin and Leipzig, and taught in the last two of these for some years before being called to the chair in Kiel. His early studies were on Lutheran church music, including several books on...
, Hrsg. Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. Ungekürzte elektronische Ausgabe der ersten Auflage. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1949-1987.
- Slonimsky, Nicolas
Nicolas Slonimsky was a Russian born American composer, conductor, musician, music critic, lexicographer and author. He described himself as a "diaskeuast" ; "a reviser or interpolator."- Life :...
, ed. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 5th Completely Revised Edition. New York, 1958.
- Walther Killy, Rudolf Vierhaus, Hrsg. (ed.) Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopäde (German Biographic Encyclopaedia). Bd. (Vol.) 5. K-G. 10 Bde. (Vols.) Munich: KG Saur, 1999. ISBN 3598231865
- Würtz, Roland, Hrsg. (ed.) Mannheim und Italien - Zur Vorgeschichte der Mannheimer. Mainz: Schott, 1984. ISBN 3795713269
- Artaria Artaria Editions providing orchestra scores with Callen catalogue numbers