Pavel Vranický



Pavel Vranický (1756–1808) was born in Nová Říše in West Moravia, a small town but an important cultural centre with lively musical activity. He learned the basics of music at the local Premonstratensian school. After he completed a Jesuit Gymnasium in Jihlava he studied theology in Olomouc and later in Vienna. Then he changed his mind and decided to devote himself to music.

In the mid-1780s he was appointed Musikdirektor at the court of Count Esterházy of Galantha, and in 1790 director of the orchestra of the Burgtheater and Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. It was in Vienna that he composed his many stage compositions (21), symphonies (51), quartets (over 70), quintets, etc. He was also a celebrated violinist and conductor – in 1799–1800, both Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven asked him to conduct the premières of their works (respectively, The Creation and Symphony No. 1).

Vranický was one of the few people in history who not only knew the famous trio of Vienna classics – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven – but who earned artistic recognition and friendly respect from each of them. Vranický also held a prominent position at the court of Franz II, at the Vienna Tonkünstler-Societät, and was a high-ranking official of one of the masonic lodges.

In the middle of a brilliant career he died suddenly of a typhoid-type “Nervenfieber”.



Vranický’s 51 symphonies were written over two decades before 1805. Having long been forgotten they are now being resuscitated but still only a few are performed. They provide an example of a post-classical extension of some movements, a predomination of melodic invention over treatment, and outstanding orchestration modelled with particular plasticity in the wind section. Just like Haydn and Beethoven (but not Mozart), Vranický often has the last movement preceded by a slow introduction.

Soon after his death Vranický’s work fell into oblivion from which it began to be recovered only recently in isolated editions and recordings of his quartets and symphonies.

Symphony in D major, Op. 52

1. Adagio maestoso – Allegro molto
2. Adagio
3. Menuetto
4. Finale. Vivace assai

Symphony in C minor, sine Op.

1. Grave – Allegro assai
2. Adagio
3. Allegretto
4. Presto

From his Symphony in C minor from his earlier years, and Symphony in D major from his mature years we can judge that he was an author of great invention and perfect compositional technique of the period of high classicism. The gist of both works seems to be concentrated in the first two movements. The “triumphal arches” of the free introductions remind us of Haydn. The first sonata movements are very dynamic: in the first movement of the symphony in D major the rococo theme gradually loses its original playfulness in the course of a stormy, harmonically variegated execution. The Allegro of the symphony in C minor opening with a dark unison changes (like same of Schubert’s movements in the minor key) into large sequences in the major key. Particularly fine are the free movements: the dramatic, romantically unfolded Adagio of the symphony in D major reaches, thanks to its grandiose concept of a large sequence, far into the 19th century. The finales following the minuet are light-toned, full of composition wit. Their straightforwardness of mood again tells of a Haydnian model.

Both works show that Vranický had at his disposal an excellent orchestra the high artistic level of which was, most probably, achieved largely thanks to him. It was not only his work but also his practical musical activities which contributed to the fame of classical Vienna’s musical life that still await a modern assessment.

Symphony in D major, Op.36

1. Adagio – Allegro molto
2. Russe. Allegretto
3. Polonese
4. Finale. Largo – Rondo. Allegro

Symphony in C major, Op. 11

1. Adagio maestoso – Vivace assai
2. Larghetto con moto. Affetuoso
3. Finale. Allegro

Both symphonies were written to attract the widest possible audience, as can be judged from the relation between the introduction and the principal movement: the contrasts are much more striking than in the “classical” symphonies.

In the Symphony in D major, Op. 36 (around 1800), the ceremonial entrée is followed by a playful, teasing theme, and after the mysterious introduction of the winds (4th movement), reminiscent of the world of The Magic Flute, the trumpet puts an end to the previous mood and opens up a new World of more down-to-earth ideas. A similar contrast between a “solemn” introduction and a considerably more popular principal movement was present more visibly from the early 19th century, especially in concert pieces intended for more sophisticated urban audiences and in theatre music. The inner movements of this symphony carry distinctive and intelligible musical symbols: the Russian melody and the Polonaise are period elements whose fashionablenees probably depended on the movement of the troops of different nationalities across Europe at the time of Napoleonic wars.

Central in the Symphony in C major, Op. 11 is a largescale Larghetto with melodiousness its chief asset. It is mostly by means of fundamental harmonic functions that an idyllic atmosphere is maintained throughout the Larghetto prefiguring the bourgeois style of the early 19th century. The outer movements remind of the world of the theatre, be it the overture character of the first movement, or the finale the beginning of which creates the impression of a prototype buffo situation – thumping at a locked door. It was probably due to such places that Vranický was reproached in the past for using comic elements proper to the theatre in such “serious” compositions as symphonies and quartets. Today, however, we feel no aesthetic reservations about such refreshing features.

Olga Zuckerová
Translation: Zoja Joachimová