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Vanhal, Johann Baptist
Johann Baptist Vanhal
May 12, 1739 – August 20, 1813

Johann Baptist Vanhal was born at a time of serfdom. His family were peasants, and servants of wealthy nobles. Vanhal originally learned violin and music from local instructors and his family. He transformed these skills into work as an organist and choirmaster, and, eventually, bought his own freedom from nobility.

He moved to Vienna, and taught nobles there violin, piano, and singing. Wealthy families invited him to conduct symphonies. He traveled to Italy, where he gained an appreciation of opera, and wrote a few pieces in that style.

He returned to Vienna, and continued composing symphonies and string quartets, though he later shifted to smaller works for piano and chamber ensembles. He also produced some Masses and church music. They became popular. Vanhal was finally financially independent. Thereafter he performed less, but continued composing works that remained popular with the Viennese public.

Vanhal’s work is characterized by minor key compositions. His pieces also displayed an evolution from a Baroque style to the Sturm und Drang form. He was aware of the styles of the day, and as such he abandoned symphonic works around 1780, as they were no longer popular in Vienna.

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