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Carl Friedrich Abel (Composer, Bach's Pupil)

Born: December 22, 1723 - Köthen, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
Died: June 20, 1787 - London, England

Carl Friedrich Abel was a German composer of the Classical era. He was a fine player of the viola da gamba, and composed important music for that instrument. He was the son of Christian Ferdinand Abel, the principal viola da gamba and cello player in the court orchestra of J.S. Bach. By the time of his birth J.S. Bach left Köthen for Leipzig, but Abel later had close contacts with members of the Bach family. According to the historian Charles Burney (1726-1814), he became a pupil of J.S. Bach in Leipzig. Actually, there is no proof that Abel studied at the Thomasschule Leipzig, but it was on J.S. Bach's recommendation that in 1748 he was able to join Johann Adolf Hasse's court orchestra at Dresden where he remained for ten years. No doubt he knew Wilhelm Friedemann Bach at Dresden during this tenure. .

In 1759 (or 1758 according to Chambers), he went to England and became chamber-musician to Queen Charlotte. He gave a concert of his own compositions in London, performing on various instruments, one of which was a five-string cello known as a pentachord, which had been recently invented by John Joseph Merlin.

In 1762, Johann Christian Bach, the 11th son of J.S. Bach, joined him in London, and the friendship between him and Abel led, in 1764 or 1765, to the establishment of the famous Bach-Abel concerts, England's first subscription concerts. In those concerts, many celebrated guest artists appeared, and the works of Haydn received their first English performance.

For ten years the concerts were organised by Mrs. Teresa Cornelys, a retired Venetian opera singer who owned a concert hall at Carlisle House in Soho Square, then the height of fashionable events. In 1775 the concerts became independent of her, to be continued by Abel and J.C. Bach until J.C. Bach's death in 1782. Abel still remained in great demand as a player on various instruments new and old. He travelled to Germany and France between 1782 and 1785, and upon his return to London, became a leading member of the Grand Professional Concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms in Soho. Throughout his life he had enjoyed excessive living, and his drinking probably hastened his death, which occurred in London on June 20, 1787.

Abel's own music consists manly of orchestral and chamber works, most of them presumably composed for his own concerts (the programmes of which have not survived). One of the most widely known works of Abel became famous due to a misattribution: in the 19th century, a manuscript symphony in the hand of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was catalogued as his Symphony No. 3 in E flat, K. 18, and was published as such in the first complete edition of Mozart's works by Breitkopf & Härtel. Later, it was discovered that this symphony was actually the work of Abel, copied by the boy Mozart - evidently for study purposes - while he was visiting London in 1764. That symphony was originally published as the concluding work in Abel's Six Symphonies, Op. 7.

Selected works by opus number

Op. 1: 6 Overtures or Sinfonias (1761)
Op. 2: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin and Cello (ad libitum) (1760)
Op. 3: 6 Trio Sonatas for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo (1762)
Op. 4: 6 Overtures or Sinfonias (1762)
Op. 5: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin and Cello (ad libitum) (1762)
Op. 6: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Flute (1763)
Op. 7: 6 Symphonies (1767)
Op. 8: 6 String Quartets (1768)
Op. 9: 6 Trio Sonatas for Violin, Cello and Basso Continuo (1771)
Op. 10: 6 Symphonies (1771)
Op. 11: 6 Concerti for Keyboard and Strings (1771)
Op. 12: 6 Flute Quartets (1774)
Op. 13: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin (1777)
Op. 14: 6 Symphonies (1778)
Op. 15: 6 String Quartets (1780)
Op. 16: 4 Trio Sonatas for 2 Flutes and Basso Continuo (1781)
Op. 16: 6 Trio Sonatas for Violin, Viola and Cello (1782)
Op. 17: 6 Symphonies (1785)
Op. 18: 6 Sonatas for Keyboard and Violin (1784)

Portrait of Carl Friedrich Abel by Thomas Gainsborough (1777)

Source: Wikipedia Website; Malcolm Boyd (Editor): Oxford Composer Companion - J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (February 2010)

Bach's Pupils: List of Bach's Pupils | Actual and Potential Non-Thomaner Singers and Players who participated in Bach’s Figural Music in Leipzig | Bach’s Pupils - Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2

Links to other Sites

Carl Friedrich Abel (Wikipedia)



Chambers Biographical Dictionary, p. 3
"Abel, Karl Friedrich" in Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.) (1911)
S.M. Helm: Carl Friedrich Abel, Symphonist (London, 1953)
S. McVeigh: Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn (Cambridge, 1993)

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