Wagenseil, Georg Christoph

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Wagenseil, Georg Christoph (1715-1777: Austrian Composer.

Georg Christoph Wagenseil was born in Vienna on January 29, 1715. Wagenseil’s father and maternal grandfather were affiliated with the Viennese imperial court. In his teen years, the young Wagenseil took keyboard instructions with Adam Weger. During these same years, Wagenseil also began to compose keyboard pieces. When his achievements came to the attention of Johann Joseph Fux, the latter procured a scholarship for the young musician and took him on as a student. Fux also helped Wagenseil obtain his lifelong appointment as composer to the court in 1739.

Wagenseil’s earliest works were in the realm of sacred music and included choral work that deftly fused voices and instruments. In 1745 he composed his first opera, in which he further welded the aria, ensemble, recitative and chorus into a unified effect, as exemplified in Euridice (1750).

He replaced the “secco recitatives and da capo arias” characteristic of the opera seria, with diminutive arias and “finely wrought choruses.” His innovations, starting with his first opera Ariadne (1745), set the stage for the operatic reform of Gluck, Christoph Willibald, which was to come in 1762.

Wagenseil’s compositions also include symphonies, harpsichord and other solo concertos, chamber music for strings, and solo keyboard pieces. As he abandoned the grand Baroque gestures of his earlier works, Wagenseil became a pivotal figure in the development of the Classical style. His accomplishments were known to Haydn, Franz Joseph, and to the young Mozart, who played one of Wagenseil’s concerts for Maria Theresa in 1762.

Further Reading:

John Kucaba, The symphonies of Georg Christoph Wagenseil, 1968.

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 26, 2000.

Sarah Tusa

Lamar University