Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Johann Joachim (“J. J.”) Quantz

I regularly receive emails from people who want to post music blogs on my Facebook Page, for which – they are always thrilled to tell me – they’ll only charge me $50, or $100, or $200; whatever.

Holding my 1966 edition of Quantz’s On Playing the Flute
Holding my 1966 edition of Quantz’s On Playing the Flute

I receive, on average, upwards of 500 emails per day, and while I do my best to keep up (honestly, I do, even though any number of you continue to wait for responses from me), these uninvited missives from people I do not know, sadly but inevitably fall, mysteriously, of their own accord, into my computer’s trash basket. (I do not mean to be impolite, but I fear that answering these people would be like feeding a dog scraps from the table: once done, I would never be rid of them.)

Be assured that I would never run a blog by a stranger, even if that person offered to pay me for the opportunity. However, if an important, leading member of the larger musical community had something to say to my musical community (meaning my followers on Patreon, Facebook, and on my own website), I would indeed allow them access, providing I had editorial control over the content.

Which is why we’ll be hearing today from my good buddy, the composer and flutist Johann Joachim Quantz: Jay-Jay to his friends, which included some really high-end movers-and-shakers. I am aware that the dude’s been dead since 1773, but that has not precluded us from having at least a one-sided friendship based on my respect for him as a composer, performer, and as an astute observer of things musical.

You see, Quantz wrote a book entitled On Playing the Flute, which was first published in 1752, when he was 55 years old. Given its title, it sounds like a specialized text, but in fact, it is not: only five of its eighteen chapters exclusively concern flute playing. The others are dedicated to such topics as “Of the Qualities Required of Those Who Would Dedicate Themselves to Music”; “What a Beginner Must Observe in His Independent Practice”; “Of Good Execution in General in Singing and Playing”; and “How a Musician and a Musical Composition Are to Be Judged.”

I am crazy about this book. It is filled with observational gems and outlandish opinions of every stripe, and Quantz has allowed me to excerpt it in such a way as to create a sort of “state of musical practice as of 1752” so that we might all profit from his High Baroque/early Classical era wisdom. In the end, what is so remarkable about Quantz’s commentary is how utterly contemporary it is: when it comes to music students, their training, and what it takes to be a professional musician and composer, it would seem that nothing has changed in the last 270 years.… continue reading, only on Patreon.

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