A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Cannabich, Christian

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CANNABICH, Christian, a violin-player, composer, and renowned orchestral conductor, was born at Mannheim in 1731. He was a pupil first of his father, a flute-player, and afterwards of Stamitz (see that name), the celebrated violinist at the head of the Mannheim orchestra. The Elector afterwards sent him to Italy, where he studied composition under Jomelli. In 1765 he was appointed leader, in 1775 conductor, of the orchestra at Mannheim; and in 1778 followed the Elector in the same capacity to Munich. He died in 1798 at Frankfort, while on a visit to his son.

Cannabich was a very good violinist and a fair composer, but all contemporary writers on musical matters lay most stress on his great skill as a leader and conductor. Mozart in many letters to his father praises the perfect ensemble in the orchestral performances at Mannheim, and speaks of Cannabich as the best conductor he ever met with. Burney, in his 'Tour through Germany,' is not less hearty in his praise, and Schubart, a German writer of considerable authority, reports upon the Mannheim orchestra in the flowery style of the period as follows: 'Here the forte is a thunder, the crescendo a cataract, the diminuendo a crystal streamlet babbling away into the far distance, the piano a breeze of spring.'

There can be no doubt that the performances at Mannheim under Cannabich enjoyed a special reputation for refinement and observance of nuances, somewhat like those of the Paris Conservatoire concerts at a later period. And although it has been suggested with much probability, that Cannabich had in this respect derived his experience from Italy, where his master Jomelli had introduced more refinement into orchestral playing, he must still be considered as one of the first and most successful promoters of that exact style of performance, which alone can do justice to the works of the great modern composers. He was also a successful teacher. Most of the violinists at Mannheim,—some of them artists of reputation,—were his pupils. That he was not only a fervent admirer of Mozart's genius, when it was by no means universally recognised, but also for many years a true and useful friend to the great master, is another point which secures him a lasting place in history, and in the hearts of all lovers of music.

He composed a number of operas, which however were not particularly successful. Some ballets and a considerable number of symphonies and quartets were much liked at the time, but appear to have been of little importance.

His son Carl, born at Mannheim in 1769, was also a good violinist and composer. After having for some time conducted the opera at Frankfort he succeeded his father in 1800 aa conductor at Munich, and died there in 1806. His compositions are numerous but of no importance. Lists of the works of both father and son are given by Fétis.

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