Carl Friedrich Abel was born in Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt on 22 December 1723. He was the son and grandson of viola da gamba players: his grandfather Clamor Heinrich Abel had worked in Celle, Hanover and Bremen, and had published gamba music, while his father Christian Ferdinand worked at the Köthen court as a violinist, cellist and gamba player between 1714 and 1737. Christian Ferdinand must have been the person for whom Johann Sebastian Bach (who worked at Köthen between 1717 and 1723) wrote some of his viola da gamba works, including the sixth Brandenburg Concerto. Carl Friedrich presumably initially studied music with his father, and seems to have learned the flute and the harpsichord as well as the violoncello and the gamba. He studied in Leipzig with JS Bach, where he would doubtless have got to know Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian (1735–1782), who was to be his partner in promoting concerts in London. In 1745 Abel moved to Dresden, where he was employed as the court viola da gamba player. Charles Burney wrote (presumably on the basis on first-hand information) that Abel left Dresden in 1758 because of the turmoil produced by the Seven Years’ War, but in fact he seems to have left in 1755 or 1756, and there is some evidence that it was because of a disagreement with the Dresden court Kapellmeister, Johann Adolf Hasse, rather than the war. Whatever the truth, Abel arrived in London in the winter of 1758–9 and worked there for the rest of his life, with the exception of two years spent in Germany between 1782 and 1784. He died in London on 20 June 1787.
from notes by Peter Holman © 2007