Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739–1813) was an extremely prolific composer whose works are still the subject of research. One of the difficulties facing scholars is the location of original manuscripts. Towards the end of his life, Vanhal is said to have given away pages of his music to friends as they left his house! Only quite recently a divertimento was pieced together from manuscript fragments discovered in Prague, Bologna, Vienna and Paris. He was born in Bohemia and began life as an organist and choirmaster, but his ability as a violinist and composer impressed Countess Schaffgotsch, who took him to Vienna in about 1761 where he studied with Dittersdorf. He subsequently became a teacher himself, with Pleyel among his pupils. By 1800 his popularity as a composer had spread as far as America and he had many works in print; although his later works fell victim to his own mental frailty, the best of his symphonies (of which there are over seventy) and his chamber music (probably around a hundred works) deserve more attention than they receive. He left more than seven hundred works when he died, many of which were considered in his day to stand up well to some by Mozart and Haydn. He was one of the first independent artists of his time and throughout his life held no official appointment, living much in the way that a freelance professional musician does today.
from notes by Rodney Slatford © 2000