Johann Baptist Wendling: Biography

Johann Baptist Wendling (1723-1797) was an eighteenth-century flautist and composer, acknowledged as one of the finest virtuosos of his day. He held the position of first flute in the famous Mannheim court orchestra during its golden age. He was renowned throughout Europe due to his many concert tours and the publication of his compositions, and he had personal contact with both J. C. Bach and W. A. Mozart, significantly influencing their writing for the flute. He was an important figure in the history of the flute, of equal importance to Blavet, Quantz, and Devienne.


Source: Emily Jill GUNSON: “Johann Baptist Wendling (1723–1797): Life, Works, Artistry, and Influence; including a Thematic Catalogue of all his Compositions” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Western Australia, 1999)

Johann Baptist WENDLING (1723-1797)

Flautist and composer

Johann Baptist (Jean Baptiste)

WENDLING (Vendling, Vindling, Windling, Windlingue, Wendeling)

Wendling was born in Ribeauvillé (Rappoltsweiler) in Alsace, France, in the Rue de l'Église (today, 9 Grand Rue de l'Église) and was baptised on 17 June 1723 at the nearby Catholic church of St. Gregoire. This region had a strong musical tradition particularly of fife playing. Wendling's birthplace Ribeauvillé was also known as the Pfeiferstadt, with an annual music festival (Pfifferdaj) celebrated there from at least 1390 to the present day, and the local rulers, the seigneurs (later counts) of Ribeaupierre (Rappoltstein), bore the honorary title of Pfeiferkönig. Wendling was a product of this ancient musical tradition. His father Jean Charles Wendling (1688-1773) and grandfather Jean Charles Wendling (1664-1716) were musicians, and his maternal great-grandfather André Beysser (1640-1713) was a Pfeiferkönigsleutnant.

In around 1745 Wendling entered the service of the court of Deux-Ponts (Zweibrücken) as flute teacher to Duke Christian IV (1722-1775), whose family had inherited the county of Ribeaupierre in 1673 along with the title of Pfeiferkönig. Wendling travelled with the duke to Mannheim several times a year, and also to Paris and other European centres, achieving international fame. In 1749 he performed four times with great success before King Frederick the Great in Berlin and was presented with a golden snuff-box. From March to June 1751 he made the first of many visits to Paris, where he performed at the Concert Spirituel for the first time on 12 April 1751.

On 9 January 1752 Wendling married the singer Dorothea Spurni (1736-1811) at the Catholic church of St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier in Mannheim. From February to June they visited Paris again with Duke Christian IV, and the couple performed at the Concert Spirituel on 27 and 29 March 1752. Dorothea was the daughter of two Stuttgart court musicians, the horn player Franz Spurni and Maria Dorothea née Saint Pierre, a lutenist. Her family had close connections in Mannheim, and at this time she was residing there with her uncle, the concertmeister Alexander Toeschi. Dorothea Wendling became one of the leading singers in Mannheim and later Munich from 1753 to 1781. Their first child, a daughter, Elisabeth Auguste was born on 4 October 1752. They also had a son Johann Peter (1755-1763), and three other sons, none of whom survived infancy.

Towards the end of 1752 Wendling was appointed as first flute in the Mannheim court orchestra and flute teacher to Elector Carl Theodor of the Palatinate (1724-1799), upon the retirement of Mathias Franz Cannabich. Throughout his long career at Mannheim, and later Munich, Wendling was one of the most highly paid members of the court orchestra, on an initial salary of 800 florins rising to 1000 florins in 1763.

Wendling was now a member of the finest orchestra in Europe. Some of the other elite musicians were: the kapellmeister Ignaz Holzbauer; violinists Johann Stamitz and his sons Carl Philipp and Anton, Alexander Toeschi and his sons Carl Joseph and Johann Baptist, and Christian Cannabich; cellists Innocenz Danzi and his son Franz, and Anton Filtz; Friedrich Ramm, oboe; and Georg Wenzel Ritter, bassoon.

Wendling's wife Dorothea was also appointed to the Mannheim court in 1752, and his younger brother Franz Anton (1733-1786) joined the orchestra as a first violinist in 1756, later marrying the singer Elisabeth Auguste née Sarselli (1746-1786).

On 18 July 1763 Wendling performed in a concert specially organised for the Mozart family who were then touring Europe, and Leopold Mozart singled him out for praise: "Besides good singers, I had the pleasure of hearing a wonderful flautist, Monsieur Wendling, and the orchestra is without doubt the finest in Europe" (letter from Leopold Mozart to Lorenz Hagenauer, 19 July 1763).

During the 1760s Wendling regularly returned to Paris in association with the publication of his compositions (including 6 duets, GUN 2, 1760; and 6 sonatas, GUN 3, 1762). He also gained a reputation in Paris as a teacher, and his pupils included Adrien Louis Bonnières de Souastre, Count (from 1776, Duke) of Guines, to whom he dedicated his first two sets of trios (GUN 4, 1766; and GUN 8,1769). Another visit to Paris was in the winter of 1763/4 in the company of his former patron Duke Christian IV, Carl Joseph Toeschi, and the painter Johann Christian von Mannlich. On 24 January 1764 Wendling, Toeschi and Mannlich attended the controversial revival of Rameau's opera Castor et Pollux, described by Mannlich in his memoirs.

From April 1771 to mid-1772 Wendling spent more than a year in London, where he resided with Johann Christian Bach. He performed as a soloist, and one of his concertos was published in London (GUN 13, 1771). He also collaborated with Bach in chamber music concerts and in the presentation of Bach’s serenata Endimione (6 April 1772), which features an aria with flute obbligato. He renewed his association with Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (1740-1799), whom he had met previously in Germany and to whom he dedicated his third set of trios (GUN 14, 1772). Other tours took him to The Hague (1775), Vienna (1776 and 1779), Italy and Prague.

Wendling had a significant influence on Mozart, both personally and musically. When Mozart and his mother visited Mannheim in 1777-8, Wendling gave substantial support, helping them to find accommodation and providing meals at his home and a room with a piano in which to compose. Mozart's mother remarked that "all this has been done by Monsieur Wendling, who loves Wolfgang as his own son" (letter from Maria Anna Mozart to Leopold Mozart, 18 December 1777). Wendling organised the commission from Ferdinand Dejean which resulted in Mozart’s flute works: quartet in D (K.285), concerto in G (K.313/285c), andante in C (K.315/285e) and possibly concerto in D (K.314/285d), quartet in G (K.285a) and quartet in C (K.Anh.171/285b). In November 1777 Mozart orchestrated ("die instrumenti gesezt") one of Wendling’s flute concertos (K.284e, not identified).

Wendling was a member of the Masonic lodge Karl zur Eintracht, refounded in Mannheim on 28 January 1778, at the time of Mozart’s visit. He held the offices of Archivist and Keeper of the Seal.

From February to June 1778 Wendling visited Paris again to perform at the Concert Spirituel. As well as playing solo concertos, he also performed in a newly composed symphonie concertante by Giuseppe Cambini (12 and 19 April 1778), together with his Mannheim colleagues Ramm (oboe) and Ritter (bassoon) and the travelling horn virtuoso Giovanni Punto (Johann Wenzel Stich). When Mozart arrived in Paris (23 March 1778) he was inspired by these four soloists to compose a sinfonia concertante (K.Anh.9/297b, lost). Wendling also introduced Mozart to the duke of Guines, which led to some employment teaching the duke's daughter and the commission that resulted in Mozart's concerto for flute and harp (K.299/297c).

Wendling accompanied the Mannheim court when it moved to Munich in 1778, and he was listed as first flautist there at least until 1790. In 1780 he made a final successful tour to Paris with his wife Dorothea, performing together at the Concert Spirituel several times between 19 March and 3 April 1780. He also performed at the Concert de la Reine with the duke of Guines in two Symphonies Concertante for two flutes by Anton Stamitz, in the presence of Queen Marie Antoinette.

In Munich in 1780-1 Wendling hosted rehearsals of Mozart’s opera Idomeneo (K.366) in his home, and Mozart was inspired by the Wendlings to compose an extra aria for soprano with obbligato flute, oboe, bassoon and horn, "Se il padre perdei." In his latter years Wendling revisited Mannheim to perform at the Concerts de Monsieurs les Amateurs.

Wendling was one of the most celebrated flautists of his day, "universally treasured and renowned as one of the greatest virtuosos of this instrument" (Lipowsky, Baierisches Musik-Lexikon, 1811). He was praised especially for his accurate intonation and his beautiful singing tone throughout the range of his instrument, the one-keyed flute. In 1763 Leopold Mozart described his playing as "bewunderungswürdig." Schubart heard him in 1773 and described him as "an excellent flautist who combines true principles with polished execution; his performance is clear and beautiful, and his tone equally full and incisive in the low and high registers." Wendling was the only visiting flautist to be consistently praised in the French press, and he was one of the pioneers of the classic French flute aesthetic, "more proud of bringing out the beautiful and the pleasing than the difficult, rapid or rushed" (Schubart, Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst, 1806).

Wendling's influence as a performer can be found in the compositions of all the important composers of the Mannheim school, and also in the works of J. C. Bach (six quintets, op.11) and Mozart (quartet in D major, K.285; and concerto in G major, K.313/285c). He was the inspiration for flute obbligatos in arias by Holzbauer (Günther von Schwarzburg), J. C. Bach (Endimione, Amor vincitore, Lucio Silla), and Mozart (Idomeneo, K.366). Many arias were composed for Wendling and his wife Dorothea, and their performance together was eulogised in verse (Mercure de France, 1762):

Fortunate Wendlings, how talented you are!

You enchant all who hear you;

And one is able to praise you justly

Only by comparing one to the other.

Wendling's pedagogical influence was felt in Germany and England through his pupils Johann Baptist Becke (1743-1817), Johann Georg Metzger (1746-1794), Johann Nikolaus Heroux (1755-after 1807), Jakob Heinrich Appold (1771-1857), and Christopher Papendiek (1755-1826), and particularly in Paris, where in 1778 he was nominated as the ideal professor of his instrument owing to his threefold reputation as a composer, virtuoso, and teacher (Bemetzrieder, Réflexions sur les leçons de musique, 1778).

Wendling composed a significant body of flute music, described by Schubart as "extremely sound and perfectly suited to the nature of his instrument." His published works of the 1760s pioneered a new style of idiomatic flute writing, extending its virtuosity and expressive capabilities, with brilliant cascading arpeggios, dramatic wide leaps, dynamic contrasts, chromaticism, and use of the high register up to a′′′, while in his quartets, GUN 23 (op.10, 1781), and trios, GUN 25 (op.11, 1785), he combined this with a concertante style supported by idiomatic string figuration in the style of the mature Mannheim school. His concertos have three movements, fast-slow-fast, while his chamber works have between two and four, including a variety of characteristic movements: allemande, march, polacca, minuet, rondo, and variations. His five sets of trios for flute, violin and cello represent a significant contribution to the genre. His works were printed in France, England, Holland, and Germany and were included in publishers’ catalogues from the 1760s until the early nineteenth century.

Assessments of Wendling's compositions have been distorted by the misattribution to him of a manuscript copy (in A-Wgm) of six quartets by Friedrich Hartmann Graf. One of these quartets was published under Wendling's name in DTB in 1914 (score), and the same quartet was subsequently published by Nagel in 1957 (parts). This misattributed work continues to be performed and recorded under Wendling's name.

Other musical members of Wendling's family include his wife Dorothea née Spurni (1736-1811), the prima donna of the Mannheim and Munich stage; his daughter Elisabeth Auguste (1752-1794) (known as "Gustl"), a singer who performed with success in Mannheim, Zweibrücken, Munich and Vienna; his brother Franz Anton (1733-1786), a first violinist at the courts of Mannheim and Munich; his brother's wife Elisabeth Auguste née Sarselli (1747-1786) (known as "Lisl"), a singer at the courts of Mannheim and Munich who usually sang seconda donna to her sister-in-law Dorothea; his niece Dorothea (1767-1839), daughter of Franz Anton, a singer and teacher at the courts of Mannheim and Munich; and his nephew Carl (1750-1834), son of Wendling's eldest brother, a violinist and conductor in Mannheim. Another nephew was Johann Nikolaus Heroux (1755-after 1807), son of one of Wendling's sisters, a flautist in Mannheim, Zweibrücken, Munich and Frankfurt on Main.

Ⓒ Emily Gunson (2024)