The other day I was working on records in the Salem Manuscript Books Collection. It had the tempo marking “Allegro,” and the only other marking was “III Concerto.” It continues for 7 pages with some sections marked “Solo” (which usually displayed faster passages in the right hand with few to no notes in the left hand) interspersed with sections marked “Tutti” which sometimes displayed repeated eighth notes in left hand or unison passages with the right.
My curiosity piqued, I wondered if I would be able to identify the work and the composer. I searched RISM and found over a dozen records for a keyboard concerto by Johann Samuel Schröter.
Now, maybe it’s just because it’s the Christmas season, and music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” has been heard recently. Maybe it’s because someone recently quipped at choir practice that Beethoven’s birthday was earlier that week, but I couldn’t help but think of Schroeder from the Peanuts comic strip when I saw Schröter’s name.
I googled Schultz and Peanuts (so I’d get cartoon characters and not legumes), and found the Wikipedia entry for Peanuts. I was disappointed that the picture of the Peanuts gang didn’t include Schroeder! What? I mean, sure he’s not one of the main characters with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, and Lucy; but certainly he should be pictured if Sally, Franklin, and Peppermint Patty are.
I started to think how Schröter and Schroeder were alike — both musicians lost in the background where louder characters elbowed their way to the front of the stage. I decided I had to find out more about Johann Samuel Schröter. Well, it’s a funny when you start pulling loose strings – you find all sorts of interesting connections – in fact, an entire web.
Johann Samuel Schröter was the son of Johann Friedrich Schröter, an oboist in the regiment of Count Brühl. If you’ve ever been to Dresden, that name might ring a bell. The Brühl Terrace (Brühlsche Terrasse) is an elevated walkway that stretches along several large buildings in the Old Town area of Dresden overlooking the Elbe River. It’s known as the “Balcony of Europe.”
In the service of Count Brühl (who was an official serving Elector Frederick August II) the Schröter family moved to Warsaw (around 1755) and later to Leipzig (around 1763). It was in Leipzig that the Schröter children studied with Johann Adam Hiller, who was the first conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and also served as Thomaskantor, the post earlier served by Johann Sebastian Bach. Hiller was also the director of the Abel Seyler theatrical company which hired Corona Schröter (Johann Samuel Schröter’s sister). Corona became known as a singer and as a composer. She moved to Weimar and became friends and collaborators with Goethe and Schiller. I recognized the name Corona Schröter from the research I did about Ernst Wilhelm Wolf and his Easter Cantata. Corona was living in Weimar at the time. Perhaps she even performed in the premiere at the town church which is now known as the Herderkirche for Johann Gottfried Herder, the Weimar court pastor and librettist of Wolf’s Easter Cantata.
But back to Johann Samuel Schröter. The Schröter family traveled to England from 1771 to 1772, where Count Brühl was serving as ambassador of Saxony. During this time they performed in the Bach-Abel concerts. This was John Christian Bach (son of J.S. Bach, known as the English Bach) who collaborated for many years with Karl Friedrich Abel. Karl was born in Cöthen where his father was a viola da gamba and cello player in the orchestra before becoming the director of the orchestra in 1723 when the previous director – Johann Sebastian Bach – left to take the job of Thomaskantor in Leipzig. When Karl grew up he went to Leipzig to study with J.S. Bach.
When the Schröter family returned to Leipzig sometime around 1773 or 1774, Johann Samuel stayed in England where he served for a time as organist in the German Chapel in London, a position later filled by Augustus Frederic Christopher Kollmann who is remembered as a music theorist and for the oft-cited diagram of the sun of composers in which Kollman placed J.S. Bach at the center surrounded by Haydn, Handel, and Graun, and all the radiating rays bear the names of composers seen countless times within GemeinKat as composers known and loved by Moravians. Kollmann actually mentioned Schröter in his magazine, the Quarterly Musical Register.
Through John Christian Bach, Schröter became acquainted with the English court; and when J.C. Bach died in 1782, Schröter was named music master to Queen Charlotte. Charles Burney wrote that Schröter “first brought to England the true art of treating [the piano].” He wowed audiences with his nimble performances of fast passages. The Musikalisches Wochenblatt reported “His touch was extremely light and graceful so that just to watch him play became a pleasure in itself.” (New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, vol. 22, p.649). Schröter’s piano concertos were among the first piano concertos published in England, and Mozart thought highly enough of them that he composed cadenzas for them.
So why have we never heard of Johann Samuel Schröter? He seems to have been outshined by the likes of J.C. Bach, Mozart, and even Haydn (with whom Schröter’s widow Rebecca studied when Haydn made his first trip to London. Haydn even dedicated a set of piano trios to her!).
It was interesting to see what collections and locations hold this particular concerto. Archives and libraries in Frankfurt, Bonn, Munich, Berlin, Leipzig and Wrocław, Poland (formerly Breslau) were not surprising. I noted with particular interest that the collection of the court of Öttingen-Wallerstein (where Antonio Rosetti served) and its neighboring principality of the Prince of Thurn und Taxis both owned copies of this concerto. However, Stockholm, Sweden, Montecassino and Brescia, Italy and a Benedictine monastery in Croatia were unexpected finds. Louisville, Kentucky was also a shock. There it is part of a collection of noble family from Florence, Italy.
I have also noted with delight that a piano sonata by Schröter was published by Oxford University Press in 1975 in a set of five which also included one of Christian Ignatius Latrobe’s piano sonatas (dedicated to Haydn). Schröter was not a Moravian, but he fits in nicely with those Moravians who were talented, well-connected, but ultimately forgotten by history. Perhaps, like Schroeder, it’s time to get Schröter, and Moravian composers out of the shadows of history and into the picture again.