Johann Baptist Vanhal, originally Jan Křtitel Vaňhal (1739-1813) was a Czech composer of the classical period.
Born on 12th May 1739 in Nechanice, Bohemia, to a Czech peasant family, Vanhal received his early training from a local musician, and went on to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster. The Countess Schaffgotsch, who heard him playing the violin, took him to Vienna in 1760 where she arranged lessons in composition with Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf. Further patronage helped him to travel and gain further knowledge of music, and by the age of thirty-five he was moving in exalted musical company: it is reported that he played quartets with Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as well as with Dittersdorf.
He was reported to have suffered from an unspecified "nervous disorder" (possibly depression, or bipolar disorder) which eventually went away, but the quality of Vanhal's compositions is said to have deteriorated with the disappearance of his condition.
He became so famous that he was probably the first musician to earn a living entirely from composing without any appointment or patronage. He had to be a prolific writer to meet the demands made upon him, and attributed to him are 100 quartets, at least 73 symphonies, 95 sacred works, and a large number of instrumental and vocal works. The symphonies, in particular, have been committed increasingly often to compact disc in recent times, and the best of them are comparable with many of Haydn's.
Such was his success that, within a few years of his symphonies being written, they were being performed around the world, and as far away as the United States. In later life, however, he rarely moved from Vienna, where he was also an active teacher. He died on 20th August 1813.
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