Franz (Czech: Franti?ek) Xaver Richter, known as François Xavier Richter in France (December 1, 1709 - September 12, 1789) was an Austro-Moraviansinger, violinist, composer, conductor and music theoretician who spent most of his life first in Austria and later in Mannheim and in Strasbourg, where he was music director of the cathedral. From 1783 on Haydn's favourite pupil Ignaz Pleyel was his deputy at the cathedral.
The most traditional of the first generation composers of the so-called Mannheim school, he was highly regarded in his day as a contrapuntist. As a composer he was equally at home in the concerto and the strict church style. Mozart heard a mass by Richter on his journey back from Paris to Salzburg in 1778 and called it charmingly written. Richter, as a contemporary engraving clearly shows, must have been one of the first conductors to actually have conducted with a music sheet roll in his hand.
Richter wrote chiefly symphonies, concertos for woodwinds, trumpet, chamber and church music, his masses receiving special praise. He was a man of a transitional period, and his symphonies in a way constitute one of the missing links between the generation of Bach and Handel and the Viennese classic. Although sometimes contrapuntal in a learned way, Richter's orchestral works nevertheless exhibit considerable drive and verve. Until a few years ago Richter "survived" with recordings of his trumpet concerto in D major but recently a number of chamber orchestras and ensembles have taken many of his pieces, particularly symphonies and concertos, in their repertoire.
Franz Xaver Richter was probably born in Holleschau, now Hole?ov),Moravia (then part of Habsburg Monarchy, now the Czech Republic), although this is not entirely certain. There is no record of his birth in the Holleschau church register. In his employment contract with the Prince Abbot of Kempten it says that he hailed from Bohemia, the musicologist Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg has Richter being from Hungarian descent and on his Strasbourg death certificate it says: "ex Kratz oriundus".
Although his whereabouts until 1740 are nowhere documented, it is clear that Richter got a very thorough training in counterpoint and that this took place using the influential counterpoint treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Josef Fux; Richter may even have been Fux's pupil in Vienna. Richter's lifelong mastery of the strict church style which is particularly evident in his liturgical works but also shines through in his symphonies and chamber music, is testimony to his roots in the Austrian and south German Baroque music.
On April 2, 1740 Richter was appointed deputy Kapellmeister (Vize-Kapellmeister) to the Prince-Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldeg of Kempten in Allgäu. Reichlin Meldeg as Prince Abbot presided over the Fürststift Kempten, a large Benedictine Monastery in what is now south-western Bavaria. The monastery certainly would have had a choir and probably a small orchestra (rather a band, as it was called then), as well, but this must have been a small affair. Richter stayed in Kempten for six years but it is hard to imagine that a man of his education and talents would have liked the idea of spending the rest of his life in this scenically beautiful but otherwise completely parochial town.
Twelve of Richter's symphonies for strings were published in Paris in the year 1744. In February 1743 Richter married Maria Anna Josepha Moz, who was probably from Kempten. It is assumed that Richter left Kempten already before the death of Reichlin-Meldeg in December 1747.
Just how much Richter must have disliked Kempten can be deduced from the fact that in 1747 his name appears among the court musicians of the Prince elector Charles Theodore in Mannheim - but not as music director or in any other leading function but as a simple singer (bass). Obviously Richter preferred being one among many (singers and orchestra combine numbered more than 70 persons) in Mannheim to acting deputy Kapellmeister in a small town like Kempten.
Because of his old fashioned, even reactionary music style Richter was not popular in Mannheim. The title awarded to him in 1768 as Cammercompositeur (chamber composer) seems to have been merely an honorary one. He was slightly more successful as a composer of sacred music and as music theoretician. In 1748 the Elector commissioned him to compose an oratorio for Good Friday, La deposizione dalla croce. It is sometimes concluded that this oratorio was not a success as there was only one performance and Richter was never commissioned to write another one.
Richter was also a respected teacher of composition. Between 1761 and 1767 he wrote a treatise on composition (Harmonische Belehrungen oder gründliche Anweisung zu der musikalischen Ton-Kunst oder regulären Komposition), based on Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum - the only representative of the Mannheim School to do so. The lengthy work in three tomes is dedicated to Charles Theodore. Among his more notable pupils were Joseph Martin Kraus, probably Carl Stamitz and Ferdinand Fränzl.
After 1768 Richter's name disappears from the lists of court singers. During his Mannheim years Richter made tours to the Oettingen-Wallerstein court in 1754 and later to France, the Netherlands and England where his compositions found a ready market with publishers.
It seems clear from Richter's compositions that he did not really fit in at the Mannheim court. Whereas his colleagues at the orchestra were interested in lively, energetic, homophonic music that focused on drive, brilliancy and sparkling orchestral effects gained from stock devices, Richter, rooted in the Austrian Baroque tradition, wrote music that was in a way reminiscent of Handel and his teacher Fux. Thus, when in 1769 an opening at Strasbourg's cathedral became known Richter seems to have applied right away.
In April 1769 he succeeded Joseph Garnier as Kapellmeister at Strasbourg Cathedral, where both his performing and composing activities turned increasingly to sacred music. He was by then recognized as a leading contrapuntist and church composer. Johann Sebastian Bach's first Biographer, composer and musicologist Johann Nikolaus Forkel, wrote about Richter in 1782:
In Strasbourg Richter also had to direct the concerts at the Episcopal court (today Palais Rohan); in addition to that he was for a time also in charge of the town concerts which were held at regular intervals. The main part of Richter's sacred music was composed during his Strasbourg years. He was active as a composer until his last year. During his last years Haydn's favourite pupil Ignaz Pleyel served as his assistant at the cathedral.
In 1787 he visited Munich, where he met Mozart's father Leopold, one last time. In Munich he met most of his former colleagues of the Mannheim court orchestra who by then had moved to Munich to where the court had been transferred.
Richter died, aged 79, at Strasbourg, in the year of the French Revolution. Thus he did not have to witness his deputy Ignaz Pleyel being forced to write hymns to praise the supreme being and the death by guillotine of Jean-Frédéric Edelmann, a gifted composer from Strasbourg.
In 1770 Marie Antoinette, future queen of France, on her way from Vienna to Paris passed through the Alsatian capital, where she stayed at the Episcopal Palace, the Palais Rohan. Richter, who almost certainly directed the church music when Marie Antoinette went to mass the next day, witnessed the earliest stages of historical events that would later contribute to the downfall of the French monarchy. The prelate who greeted Marie Antoinette on the steps of the cathedral, probably in Richter's presence, was the same Louis Rohan who would later, duped by a prostitute impersonating Marie Antoinette, trigger the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. Several historians and writers think that this bizarre episode undermined the trust of the French in their queen and thus hastened the onset of the French Revolution.
But Richter did not live to see this. What he saw was Strasbourg all dressed up to greet the Dauphiness:
Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father Leopold knew Richter. Mozart would have met him still as a boy on his Family Grand tour in 1763 when the Mozart family came through Schwetzingen, the summer residence of the Elector Palatinate. Mozart met him once again in 1778 on his way back from Paris when he was headed for the unloved Salzburg after his plans to gain permanent employment in Mannheim or Paris had come to naught. In a letter to his father, dated November 2, 1778, Mozart seems to suggest that the by then elderly Richter was something of an alcoholic:
However, Mozart was not one to laud lightly. The epithet "charmingly written" can be taken at face value and from someone like Mozart this was high praise indeed.
Adagio and Fugue in G minor for Strings(1760) is one of Franz Xaver Richter's symphonies, which features the learned style in 18th century orchestral works. His experience in churches also contributes to his sophisticated contrapuntal style in his orchestral works. The first movement begins with the tonic key, G minor, entitled Adagio and fugue, and it distinguishes from later sonata form by Haydn and Mozart. The opening material is quite different from the primary theme in symphonies by Mozart and Haydn. First, the opening material is not highly melodic recognizable and easy to grasp for the audience. One could call it primary key area instead of the primary theme. It is in highly learned style with a lot of sequential passages. The music progresses until m. 23 when it reaches a structural V chord in the first section after an augmented sixth chord (m. 25) is emphasized (Example A). Again the music is still in the tonic key area when the fugue begins. The fugue subject is in g minor, and the answer is in d minor. The music goes to B-flat major for the first time in m. 60 after a V-I motion. The B-flat major passage starts another sequence until m. 67. The third tonal area in this piece is C major, starting after a French augmented sixth chord resolving to a dominant chord (G-B-D) in m. 120. A cadence on C major is elided in m. 217, the bass progresses to a D-G motion, sitting on the tonic key G minor in m. 222. Overall, the first movement includes two section, Adagio (can be seen as an introduction to fugue) and a fugue (in fugue form), which is very different with sonata-allegro form composed by Mozart and Haydn. As Jochen Reutter acclaims, Franz Xaver Richter's compositional idiom "changed from a late Baroque sound to a tonal language which reached the threshold of the Classical style. He was influenced by the 18th-century learned style and he adapted the Mannheim symphonic style with his own differentiated instrumentation." According to Jochen Reutter, "his [Richter's] works from this period include such conservative traits as fugal techniques, Baroque sequences and the frequent use of minor tonality." As shown in this work Adagio and Fugue in G minor for Strings, the first movement is almost entirely based on various kinds of sequences and fugal style. This early symphony makes an intriguing subject for a scholar-study of early symphonies.