Antonio Rosetti Portrait

The Career of an Eighteenth-Century Kapellmeister:
The Life and Music of Antonio Rosetti

University of Rochester Press, 2014
Sterling E. Murray

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Sterling E. Murray
Professor Emeritus
West Chester University


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Although defined today almost exclusively by the works of Haydn and Mozart, the classical style in music developed and was shaped through the contributions of many composers. Indeed, the musical production of this rather short epoch was voluminous, with the works of the Viennese masters constituting only a small portion of the total. The remainder was the product of dozens of capable composers working throughout Europe. For modern-day listeners, most are shadowy figures whose contributions remain largely unnoticed and unacknowledged. Characteristically identified as “minor masters” (Kleinmeister) with the implication that they produced more or less uniformly inferior music, the work of these composers has been tacitly relegated to a mass of mediocrity surrounding the period’s acknowledged giants. Although the names of some may appear in historical surveys, the music of all but a few has remained unexplored except by a handful of specialists.

Fortunately, this pattern has begun to change in recent years. Curiosity about “the others” has led to performances and recordings of a wider range of the period’s music. While many Kleinmeister fail to measure up to the masters of the period, others emerge as not only capable, but often highly imaginative and creative practitioners of the classical style. Although we have not yet discovered another Mozart or Haydn, it is clear that to consign all of their con- temporaries to a common group would be a misrepresentation of their abilities. Rather there seems to be a middle ground lying somewhere between the accomplishments of the masters and those of the more pedestrian Kleinmeister, and a thorough comprehension of the classical style is impossible without considering their contributions. Particularly striking are the accomplishments of those composers born and trained in what is today the western part of the Czech Republic, an area recognized in the eighteenth century as Bohemia. This work focuses on dispelling the shadows around one of the most talented of this group: Antonio Rosetti (ca. 1750–92). Although from a family of Italian ancestry, Antonio Rosetti was born in the town of Litomřice (Leitmeritz) in northern Bohemia at the confluence of the Labe (Elbe) and Ohře (Eger) rivers. He was raised and educated in Bohemia and clearly considered himself Bohemian by cultural inclination as well as geographic location. Rosetti received his early musical training in Prague, but, like others of his generation, he opted to leave his homeland to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Some time around 1773, after serving briefly as composer to a Russian militia unit, Rosetti joined the Hofkapelle of Prince Kraft Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein in the Donau-Ries region of southern Germany. He spent the next sixteen years at Wallerstein. Beginning as a servant-musician, Rosetti later was elevated to court musician, and finally Kapellmeister. In 1789, he moved to Ludwigslust in northern Germany to become Hofkapellmeister to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Rosetti died there three years later in 1792.


Antonio Rosetti and the Oettingen-Wallerstein Hofkapelle have been a research interest of mine since the completion of my dissertation on the symphonies of this fascinating composer at the University of Michigan in 1972. The Career of an Eighteenth-Century Kapellmeister: The Life and Music of Antonio Rosetti completes a four-part investigation of Rosetti’s life, compositional milieu, and music. The initial phase of this extended study resulted in a thematic catalog of the composer’s work: The Music of Antonio Rosetti (Anton Rösler) ca. 1750-1792: A Thematic Catalog (Harmonie Park Press, 1996). This study, based upon data collected over many years, served as the basis for the rest of my investigations. A prolific composer, in his short life span—only seven years longer than Mozart—Rosetti authored over 400 compositions in most of the genre popular in his day. Today these works have been preserved in manuscript and printed sources in more than 280 libraries, archives, and private collections in twenty-three countries. Most of these sources were consulted in the preparation of this study. The catalog identifies every composition I found attributed to either Antonio Rosetti or Anton Rösler. Each work is identified with a musical incipit for each of its movements and assigned a reference number arranged by genre and then grouped by tonality. Most compositions exist in multiple manuscript copies and printed sources, each of which is identified by library and archive shelf numbers. Whenever possible other information is also provided, including variant instrumentations, identification of copyists’ hands, watermarks, arrangements, and significant misattributions.

Almost all of these compositions have been preserved in sets of parts. In order to subject them to any serious stylistic investigation, scores had to be created from individual parts. This process encompassed the second phase of my investigation. In the early stages of work on this project, scores were created by hand copying parts, but later I was able to take advantage of the newer technology of programs like Finale. Along the way, several of these scores were published or loaned to other scholars, performers, and ensembles for use in the study and performance of Rosetti’s music.

The next component of my investigation involved the analytical study of this complete body of music. These three phases of the project overlapped one another, with points at which I was involved in all three tasks at the same time. The final phase, however, had to await full completion of the early parts of the project. The results of this part of the project were an attempt to pull together the research that I have completed over a long period of study and to place them in an historical continuum and against a general background of what is currently known about music and musical style in the court life of late eighteenth-century Germany.

My analytical investigation of the music of Rosetti revealed him to be an especially gifted composer, whose oeuvre includes works of exceptional ingenuity and originality. His special talent was also recognized by others, and in 1992 an International Rosetti Society (Internationale Rosetti Geschellschaft) was founded. This organization exists today under the patronage of Moritz, Prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein, whose ancestor, Prince Kraft Ernst, was the composer’s patron. Its purpose is to encourage the study and performance of Rosetti’s music. Beginning in 2000 this organization started publishing annually a journal, the Rosetti-Forum, which is devoted to research on Rosetti and his Wallerstein and Ludwigslust colleagues. Each year the IRA sponsors a Rosetti-Festtage in the area around Wallerstein during which the general public is treated to several days of musical performances in beautifully historic venues, including those in which the music was first heard. The Rosetti Society has also forged a valuable connection with the music publisher Amadeus Verlag in Switzerland to engage in the publication of a series of critical performance editions of compositions by the Wallerstein Kapellmeister. For a complete list of these works as well as more information on the activities of the Rosetti Society, please see their web cite at In the 1970s, Rosetti’s music began to attached the serious attention of a wide and impressive musical community of performers—first through his horn concertos and then extending to other genre. Since there approximately 80% of his oeuvre can be heard in quality performances by professional artists on various CD labels. The IRG maintains on their web site a up-to-date listing of. Also available on the website of the Rosetti Society is a record of CDs including music by Rosetti, some of which are occasionally reviewed in the Rosetti-Forum, and scholarly articles concerning Rosetti’s world and his music.

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