Franz Xaver Richter (1709-1789, Austro-Moravian)

Music lovers with a taste for the off-the-beaten track repertoire will know Franz Xaver Richter as one of the founders and participants of the Mannheim School (link will open new tab to Wikipedia), together with Johann Stamitz (1715-1757), Ignaz Holzbauer (1711-1783), Franz Ignaz Beck (1734-1809) and Christian Cannabich (1731-1798), that revolutionized symphonic writing in the mid-18th century. To situate Richter on the chronology, he’s the same generation as the two Bach sons Wilhelm Friedemann (born 1710) and Carl-Philip Emmanuel (born 1714), Gluck (born 1714) and 10 years older than Leopold Mozart.

I have a few CDs in my collection of Richter’s symphonies (by Mathias Bamert on Chandos, and two volumes on Naxos) that are awaiting listening time. But Richter didn’t end his career in Mannheim. In 1769 he was appointed Kappellmeister of the Strasbourg Cathedral, where his duties were to write tons of religious and other occasional music. The Cathedral maintained a substantial musical ensemble including 24 singers and 30 instrumentalists, the second in size after only the orchestra (Chapelle Royale) of Versailles. In the course of his career there, Richter composed 39 Masses, a Magnificat, a Dixit Dominues, and over fifty cantatas and motets, so we know where to look whenever we’re tired of Mozart and Haydn.

But so far, among that part of his output, I’ve reviewed only his Leçons des Ténèbres (Lamentations) on Cyprès CYP1624 (2000), performed by Isabelle Poulenard (soprano), Pascal Bertin (alto), Gilles Ragon (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass), Stradivaria under Daniel Cuillier. The music’s beauties are somewhat austere, as befits the genre.

Incidentally, it is sometimes a little difficult to designate the nationality of composers from some centuries ago, when the borders between and even designation of countries, kingdoms, principalties, duchies, weren’t the same as today. It doesn’t work to characterize them according to the current national delineations, because these change, and many of them had utterly no meaning to people of the past.

Richter is a good case in point. Although there is some uncertainty about that (his birth certificate hasn’t been found there), he was born in  Holleschau, now HolešovMoravia, one of the historical Czech lands  (capital: Brno), together with Bohemia and Czech Silesia and now part of the Czech Republic, but back then (until 1806) an imperial state of the Holy Roman Empire ruled by the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy (links will open new tabs to the relevant entries on Wikipedia). So, “Moravian” because that’s where Holleschau is located, but also “Austro-” not only because Moravia was ruled by the Austros: apparently, the guy’s language was German, he didn’t speak Czech.

Incredible the amount of persnickety historical detail you have to go through to create a composer’s entry.

Comments are welcome