Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A New Book About The Abbé Vogler


Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814), Catholic priest, composer, organ virtuoso - "Europas 1. Orgelspieler" (see Musikalische Korrespondenz 1790, p. 122) -, organ designer, musicologist and music educator, was one of the most interesting and fascinating musicians of his time. He traveled far and wide all over Europe, was very popular and a kind of celebrity. The contemporary press reported regularly about him. But the Abbé also happened to be quite controversial and some even thought him a charlatan. This he surely was not, but - judging from many accounts - a very impressive performer and also an innovative theorist and teacher. 

I must admit that I am mostly interested in one particular part of his work (see this little piece here in my blog): Vogler was among the first to publish compilations of international national airs, tunes of "Volkslieder". Polymelos ou Caractères de Musique de differentes Nations in 1791 (at BLB Karlsruhe, DonMusDr 272) included six tunes with variations: one from Sweden - where he was working at that time -, one from Scotland - "Birks of Invermay", in fact the first Scottish national air published in Germany - , two from Russia - one of them a Danse des Cosaques -, a Polonaise and an Italian song.

He also made a kind of "field-trip" to North Africa to study non-European music (see Vogler 1806, p. 24) and brought back some even more exotic tunes. In his Pieces de Clavecin faciles (1798) we can find - besides the Chinese melody and some European tunes - also a Romance Africaine as well as an Air Barbaresque from Morocco (see p. 6, p. 20). In 1806 a new version of Polymelos - "Ein nazional-karakteristisches Orgel-Koncert, in zwei Theilen, zu 16 verschiedenen Original-Stücken" - was published, once again a selection of international tunes, but this time combined with Bavarian "Volkslieder" written by Vogler himself (see Verzeichnis Falter, 1810, col. 43, Schafhäutl, No. 185, pp. 267-8). Besides these three major works there were also several editions of sheet music including pieces from this repertoire, for example one with variations on two Swedish tunes (at the Internet Archive). 

But Vogler also performed these foreign and "exotic" tunes on stage. He used them as themes for his improvisations on the organ. A typical concert usually included a selection of national airs and the audience was treated to pieces like the "Terrassenlied der Afrikaner, wenn sie Kalk stampfen" (AMZ 3, No. 12, 17.12.1800, pp. 192-4). To play something like this - in churches! - was very uncommon at that time. In fact he brought both European "Volkslieder" and - notwithstanding the perhaps dubious authenticity of his pieces - examples of non-European music to the attention of a wider audience. In this respect he really was a pioneer. This was something new but surely more than only a novelty act. I think that what Vogler tried here was an attempt to do with the tunes what Herder in his Volkslieder (1778/9) had done with the texts. 

In this respect he also seems to have been quite influential, not only in Germany. I recently noted that Edward Jones, Welsh bard and at that time the foremost expert on international national airs in Britain, "borrowed" - without giving appropriate credit to his source - the three Swedish tunes in Vogler's Pieces de Clavecin (here pp. 10, 16, 30) for his own Lyric Airs. Consisting of Specimens of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Chinese and Moorish National Songs and Melodies (c. 1805, see pp. 27-8). On the title-page he claimed that this was the "first selection of this kind ever yet offered to the public". But - as we can see - it wasn't and Mr. Jones must have been familiar with Vogler's work in this field. 


I am not a musicologist and I am not able to judge the quality of his many compositions. Nor do I want to comment on the value of the Abbé's theoretical works. But nonetheless: I don't get the impression that Vogler's music historical importance is adequately reflected in the amount of literature about him. There is no critical biography. We still have to work with Schafhäutl's groundbreaking book published in 1888 (available at the Internet Archive). Then there is In Praise of Harmony by Margaret and Floyd Grave (1987), a useful discussion of the his life and work but surely not exhaustive. 

Besides these two we also have a considerable number of articles, many of them informative and helpful. All in all this is not much. But thankfully today a reappraisal of such an unfairly neglected figure like the Abbé Vogler is much more easily possible. Many of his publications as well as numerous contemporary sources about him - especially in newspapers and the music press - have been digitized and are now available online. 

Therefore I am glad to see that a new book has just been published that from now on will serve as a starting-point and foundation for all future research into the life and work of the Abbé Vogler. In fact this is an outstanding handbook that puts together much of what is known about him and helps to close many gaps: 
  • Bärbel Pelker & Rüdiger Thomsen-Fürst, Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814). Materalien zu Leben und Werk unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der pfalz-bayerischen Dienstjahre, PL Academic Research, Frankfurt am Main, 2016, 2 Bde. (= Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mannheimer Hofkapelle 6) 
Both authors are associated with the Forschungsstelle Südwestdeutsche Hofmusik, an important project dedicated to research about music at the courts in Southwestern Germany. There is also an excellent website - - that offers, besides information about other relevant musicians, a helpful resource for anybody interested in Vogler: a short introduction as well as an extended bibliography enhanced with links to digital copies of many of the publications listed. 

In the first volume of this new book we can find a comprehensive chronological documentation of the Abbé Vogler's life and career on nearly 700 pages that is based on numerous archival and printed sources, for example letters, concert programs or articles in newspapers. Many of them are either quoted in full or reprinted in facsimilé. The second volume offers an extensive bibliography including archival sources. A list of his publications, both the musical works and the theoretical writings, is particularly valuable. 

This is one of the most impressive works I have seen for a long time. The wealth of information provided here is astonishing. It is not only fascinating to read and study but also helps to appreciate Vogler's achievements much better than anything else published until now. In fact it can be used both as an encyclopedic handbook and as a biography in documents. All the contemporary accounts included here allow a good understanding of the music scene at that time and the historical context.

As mentioned above I am interested in his Polymelos and all the foreign and "exotic" tunes Vogler has performed and published. I was a little bit surprised to see that he had started this project a little bit earlier than I thought. It was performed first not in London in 1790 but in several concerts in the Netherlands the year before (see pp. 293-4). In Rotterdam on September 3 in 1789 Vogler played "Nieuwe Europasche Nationale Caracter-Stukken (bestaande uit 10 Deelen genaant Polymelos)". This may have been the debut performance of this work. A concert in Amsterdam on September 22 offered "Polymelos, of de Nationaale Carakter-Stukken, en Musicq van differente Volken" including a Scottish tune. This means that he knew a melody from Scotland already at that time. I had assumed he had learned it in London. 

On October 16 in Den Haag he again performed a Scottish tune - probably the same - and described it as "Gesang des Bergschotten [...] ächt und aus den ältesten Zeiten". Swiss writer David Hess was there and felt inspired to write a long poem which was then published the next year in a periodical in Switzerland (see Schweizerisches Museum 6, 1790, pp. 61-7, here pp. 62-3). There is good reason to assume that the tune was "Birks of Invermay", the one Vogler included in the published version of the first Polymelos (1791, No. 4, pp. 4-6). 

I found it particularly helpful that so many of his concerts are documented here, often with the program performed there. When did he play what piece? When did he introduce a particular tune? How did his repertoire develop over the years? It is clear to see that these national airs were most of the time a major part of of his public performances and it seems to me that he regarded it as an important project. At that time nobody else did something like that. A statistical analysis of his repertoire - what Vretblad (1927) once did for the concerts in Stockholm - would surely be worthwhile. 

Interestingly he had some more "exotic" tunes that he didn't include in any of his published works. For example a piece called "Índianische Arie" was performed in a concert in Sweden in March 1796 (p. 382). It is not clear if this was a melody from the Americas or from India. But in both cases it would have been something new. At that time only very few original Indian or American tunes were available in Europe. Interestingly some years later he wrote the music for Samori, an opera staged in India and also - for Kotzebue's Rollas Tod, oder Die Spanier in Peru - a piece called "Peruanisches Volkslied" (see Der Freimüthige oder Ernst und Scherz. Ein Unterhaltungsblatt 2, No. 177, 4.9.1804, pp. 187-8). 

Equally impressive is the documentation of his travels (see pp. 14-5). He was nearly constantly "on the road" and didn't spend too much time in Stockholm where he was the Swedish King's direktör för musiken from 1786 until 1799. Vogler went as far as Spain, Greece and Africa and he at least once also intended to travel to America. A letter to him from June 1797 refers to an "americanische Reise" (p. 329). This apparently didn't work out. In 1805 the Abbé attempted to join a Russian embassy to China but to no avail (see p. 498). He also wrote a piece about the midnight sun in Lapland - with words by the famous Italian traveler Acerbi (p. 396; see AMZ 1, 1799, p. 592, Beylage 24 [music not scanned correctly]; RISM SchV 166) - but it seems in this case he himself wasn't there but only some of his friends. 

All in all this is an outstanding work that will be indispensable for anyone with even the slightest interest not only in Vogler but also the music of that time in general. I am glad that it was published in a book. But we are living in the digital era and I really hope that this database will be made available online. Then it would be much easier to access. The printed version is quite expensive and not every library will be able or willing to purchase such a tome. But it would also be much easier to use. There is only a index of names and it can get difficult at times to find what one is looking for. A search function is indispensable. Besides that this would make it possible to add links to digital copies of the original publications. In fact many of the sources referred to here have already been digitized. As mentioned above this has already been done for the bibliography available on But the documentation in the first volume would also benefit greatly from such digital enhancements.  


A work of this kind is of course not complete. The authors note that "eine vollständige Zusammenstellung in einem angemessenen Zeitraum unmöglich erreicht werden konnte" (p. 10). In fact it will never be complete. New information will be found and formerly unknown sources will appear. I have also some minor additions. 

In 1790 Vogler spent some months in London. This visit is of course also documented here but only partly (pp. 319-23). A while ago I checked the 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers database for relevant articles in the English press. Among those I found are some that are not used in this book. 

At the end of March, most likely on the 29th , he performed at St. Paul's Cathedral. I haven't seen an announcement but there were two interesting reports. One appeared in the London Chronicle (No. 5243, 30.3./1.4.1790) and the Diary or Woodfall's Register (No. 315, 31.3.1790). The reviewer must have been a very perceptive listener. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Abbé had helped him out a little bit. It is worth quoting here in full:
"Specimen of Imitative Music.
The executor of this performance, which was done in order to try the organ at St. Paul, was the Abbe Vogler, Director of the King of Sweden's Oratorios, one of the first musicians in Europe. The music was all voluntary, and such indeed is all that he plays. It was divided into three parts, and opened with a grand prelude, which was followed by a most capital performance descriptive of the storming of Jericho, and beginning with the prayer of the Israelites when entering into the Land of Canaan; the trumpets then resounded, and were succeeded by a most dreadful crash of falling walls at three different shocks, intermingled with the sound of trumpets. After the conquest, a thanksgiving hymn was heard. In the 2d part was displayed a most melodious piece of music in imitation of flutes, and imitated in such a manner as to deceive the auditors. The 3d part represented the sound of human voices, interrupted by an approaching storm, which by degrees swelled and encreased with great vehemence, and terrible peals of thunder were heard. The whole performed by this most wonderful musician on the organ alone, without the assistance of any other instrument whatever. The Abbe Vogler has published a Dissertation on Imitative Music, wherein he shews that the imitation of natural sounds is not only undegrading to the art of music, but even productive of many great and surprising beauties". 
The second one, a little bit shorter, can be found in the Public Advertiser (No. 17391, 3.4.1790):
"On the organ of St. Paul's, Abbé Vogler, a Swede, played the other day a complete Sacred Drama. He began with the imitation of the Siege of Jericho, he next proceeded to imitate the fall of the walls of that city, and the groans and lamentations of its citizens; he then concluded with a most rapturous praise of thanksgiving. He has, it seems, published a book on the subject of Imitations by Music, the title is perhaps, "Musique Sacrée Imitatione"".
Fot the concert in the Pantheon on May 25 (p. 321) there is also an advert with the complete program (Diary or Woodfall's Register, No. 361, 24.5.1790): 

 He also took care of the organ at the Pantheon (see also p. 322): 
"Abbé Vogler has not been heard yet to advantage in this country. Our organs are not sufficiently large for him. By additional stops, however, to that of the Pantheon, by pedals, and by a contrivance to touch the different bars of keys at the same time, he may most likely be able on Tuesday next to realize the great expectations that have been formed of his powers upon that instrument, both in compass and execution" (Public Advertiser, No. 17434, 24.5.1790). 
"The Abbé Vogler having examined several Organs in London, has expressed the greatest satisfaction upon trying one at St. George's, Bloomsbury, made by Mr. Holland; the Abbé, therefore has employed this eminent Builder, to furnish him with those stops he has projected for the Organ at the Pantheon [...]" (World, No. 1058, 25.5.1790). 
Then there were - on June 5 and June 14 - two free shows at the manufactory of Longman & Broderip, instrument makers and music publishers in London. The adverts tell an amusing story: 
"[...] Mess. Longman and Broderip respectfully inform the Nobility, Gentry, and Professors of Music, they have finished a large Organ for the Town of Stafford, upon an extensive Plan, with a great Variety of Stops - and on Saturday next, the 5th of June, the Abbé Vogler will perform on the various Stops of the Organ, from Twelve till Four o'clock. Tickets (gratis) may be had by applying to them [...]" (Public Advertiser, No. 17443, 3.6.1790; World, No. 1066, 3.6.1790). 
"Messrs Longman and Broderip, respectfully acquaint the Nobility, Gentry, and Professors, who honor them by their attendance to hear the Abbé Vogler's performance, that owing to the numerous applications for Tickets, which they could not with politeness refuse, it will be necessary to divide the Abbés performance into two acts [...]" (World, No. 1067, 4.6.1790).
" [...] Mess. Longman and Broderip beg leave to inform their Friends, and Musical Amateurs in general, that in consideration of the numerous disappointments, occasioned by the want of room to accommodate them on Saturday last, the Abbé Vogler has obligingly promised to perform on the Organ, at their Manufactury at Tottenham-court road, on Monday, the 14th instant, from twelve to two o'clock. Tickets of Admission to be had gratis [...]" (Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, No. 19194, 12.6.1790).
On June 26 Vogler apparently played at the "church of St. Andrew, Holborn". This is mentioned in an article in the Public Advertiser (No. 17466, 30.6.1790, pp. 1-2, here p. 2): 
"[...] The abilities of the Abbe on the organ are so transcendent, and so very different from what we have been used to hear on that instrument, that panegyric would be fulsome, and description impertinent [...] the church of St. Andrew, Holborn, where the Abbe exhibited such a degree of musical science on Saturday last [...]". 
It seems that the Abbé's visit in London caused quite a stir and his performances must have been very impressive. But for some reason he never returned. At least he learned here the Chinese tune that he would play regularly in his concerts for the next two decades. In the announcement for the first Polymelos in the Musikalische Korrespondenz in December 1790 (p. 183) he claimed that the Emporer of China had sent this melody to London and the Secretary of War made it available to him. This of course sounds more than doubtful. Interestingly at that time a popular show with the title "The Mandarin" was performed in London (see f. ex. Public Advertiser, No. 17466, 30.6.1790, p. 1). Unfortunately the music - by one Mr. Taylor - has not survived and it is not possible to check if he has borrowed the melody from this play. But this would be much more reasonable than the dubious story about the Emporer of China: 

 Back from England Vogler traveled - in August and September - through Western and Southwestern Germany and gave a series of concerts (see pp. 323-33). One in Ulm on September 29 can be added. It is documented in a rather obscure article (Beck 1894, at UB Heidelberg). I must admit I only found it because it has been digitized. The day before he had played in Augsburg (p. 333), a town nearly a 100 km away. Here we can see once more that he had at times a really challenging schedule. This concert, by the way, also included the Chinese tune Vogler had learned in England. It seems he started to perform it on this tour, always as a part of a simulated flute concert: "Statt Rondo eine Chinesische Arie, die der Kaiser von China neuerdings nach London gesandt". It is first mentioned in the program for a concert in Mainz on August 23 (p. 324).

Between 1791 and 1798 Vogler gave several concerts in Christiania (i. e. Oslo). They are all documented in Huitveld's Christiania Theaterhistorie (1876, here pp. 143-4, pp. 150-1, pp. 164-6, at the Internet Archive; see also Schwab, p. 335). Huitveld used as source the adverts and announcements published in a newspaper, the Norske Intelligens-Sedler. This paper has been digitized by the Norwegian National Library and therefore is also easily available online:
  • 13.5.1791 (N. I.-S. 1791, No. 19, 11.5., p. 1
  • 17.10.1791 (N. I.-S. 1791, No. 41, 12.10., p. 1
  • 5.8.1794 (N. I.-S. 1794, No. 31, 30. Juli, p. 1
  • 24.8.1797 (N. I.-S. 1797, No. 34, 23.8., p. 2
  • 1.5.1798 (N. I.-S. 1798, No. 17, 25.4., p. 9
  • 4.5.1798 (N. I.-S. 1798, No. 18, 2.5., p. 1
For the concert in August 1794 the complete program was announced. The audience heard for example an "Arabisk Romance", an "Afrikansk Allegro" and a piece called "Mohrernes Begravelses-Sang". These were three of his most "exotic" tunes, all apparently collected during his trip to North Africa. But he also performed there some of his so-called "musical paintings": one about a sea-battle and the other one a pastoral piece - one of his most often played, it seems - with the title: "Die Hirtenwonne, vom Donner unterbrochen". 

In 1797 he was announced as "den berömte Abed Vogler". This was quite common at that time. On May 4, 1798 the Abbé introduced a popular Norwegian tune and it was apparently the first time he played it: "Iblandt mange nye piecer opføres den bekjendte Norske Døle-Viise med Forandringar". This was the melody of a song that was usually known as "Stusle Søndagskvelden" or "Skogmøte has Torjer Skjeille". Around 1770 young Norwegian poet Edvard Storm had written new words to a couple of older tunes, among them this one. These songs would become known as Døleviser, "songs from the valley" (see Storm 1949). 

Vogler later included this particular tune in the second edition of his Polymelos in 1806, but strangely as an "old" air from Greenland: "Der klagende Normann, vom A. V. dort selbst aufgesetzt" (Schafhäutl, p. 268; Leopold, p. 215). We can see that he was not always reliable. I assume he only wanted to have a Greenlandic song because Herder had included one in his Volkslieder (1778/9). Therefore he needed one, too. This piece was later also published in Norway - in fact it was the first Norwegian "folk-tune" made available there as sheet music - but then of course with the correct title: Norsk Fjeld-Sang, Stusle Söndags Qvællen med 5 lette Variationer (1822, see Morgenbladet, 5.4.1822, p. 991; see Schwab, p. 315, p. 337). 

But the tune also became popular in Germany. Carl Maria von Weber - who surely had learned it from Vogler and knew about its real origin - published it 1812 as IX Variations sur un Air Norvégien pour Pianoforte at Violon concertants (Op. 22; see later ed., 1879, at SB Berlin; see Jähns, No. 61, pp. 77-8). Other composers also tried it out, for example Ludwig Berger (Air norvégien avec douze variations pour le piano-forte, op. 3, Christiani, Berlin, 1812) and Carl Arnold (Divertissement No. 1: Rondeau sur un Théme norvégien pour le Pianoforte, Op. 12, Schlesinger, Berlin, 1819). There must have been a kind of fashion for this melody at that time. 

Vogler had turned a song into an instrumental piece. In 1837 Friedrich Silcher turned it back into a song, a modern "Volkslied". He combined the melody with a text by Franz Kugler and included it in the second volume of his Ausländische Volksmelodien, the most successful and influential collection of international national airs in Germany ("Wenn der Lenz erwacht", No. 6, p. 5). The new song became quite popular and can be found in several later anthologies, for example Kugler's own Liederhefte (Vol. 2, 1852, No. 10, p. 14), Schubert's Concordia. Anthologie classischer Volkslieder (Vol. 2, 1860, No. 431, p. 104) and Erk's Liederschatz (Vol. 3, c. 1870, No. 174, p. 171). But at that time it was already forgotten that Vogler had brought the tune to Germany. 

These are of course all only some minor additions that shed a little bit more light on some particular topics. More will be found in future and I hope that this new handbook will serve as a starting-point for more research into Vogler's life and achievements. He would have earned it. And I must admit that I really hope for a digital version of this work that would make the authors' substantial and important research much more easier to access and and to use. 

  • Paul Beck, Abbé Vogler in Ulm (dessen Orgelkonzert im Münster) – eine Säkularerinnerung, in: Diöcesan-Archiv von Schwaben 12, 1894, Heft 18, p. 72 (at UB Heidelberg
  • Floyd K. Grave & Margaret K. Grave, In Praise of Harmony. The Teachings of Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler, Lincoln, 1987 
  • H. J. Huitfeldt, Christiania Theaterhistorie, Hegel, Kjøbenhavn, 1876, at the Internet Archive 
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Jähns, Carl Maria von Weber in seinen Werken. Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichniss seiner sämmtlichen Compositionen nebtst Angabe der unvollständigen, verloren gegangenen, zweifelhaften und untergeschobenen mit Beschreibung der Autographen, Angabe der Ausgaben und Arrangements, kritischen, kunsthistorischen und biographischen Anmerkungen, unter Benutzung von Weber's Briefen und Tagebüchern und einer Beigabe von Nachbildungen seiner Handschrift, Berlin, 1871, at the Internet Archive 
  • Silke Leopold, Grönland in Mannheim. Abbé Voglers Polymelos und die Idee der "nazional-karakteristischen" Musik, in: Kreutziger-Herr, Annette (Hrsg.), Das Andere. Eine Spurensuche in der Musikgeschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (= Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft. Bd. 15), Frankfurt/M., 1998, pp. 203-224 
  • Karl Emil von Schafhäutl, Abt Georg Joseph Vogler. Sein Leben, Charakter und musikalisches System. Seine Werke, seine Schule, Bildnisse &c., Augsburg, 1888, at the Internet Archive 
  • Heinrich W. Schwab, "Gegen niemand ist noch so viel geschrieben worden, alsd gegen Vogler". Zum Auftreten von Georg Joseph Vogler im dänischen Gesamtstaat, in: Thomas Betzwieser & Silke Leopold (eds.), Abbé Vogler. Ein Mannheimer im europäischen Kontext. Internationales Kolloquium Heidelberg 1999, Frankfurt am Main, 2003 (= Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte der Mannheimer Hofkapelle 7), pp. 313-340 
  • Edvard Storm, Døleviser. Utgitt ved 200-Årsminne. Tegninger av Øystein Jørgensen. Litteraturhistorisk Oversikt og Kommentarer av Professor Didrik Arup Seip, Oslo, 1949 
  • Joachim Veit, Der junge Carl Maria von Weber. Untersuchungen zum Einfluß Franz Danzis und Abbé Georg Joseph Voglers, Mainz 1990 (online at Universität Paderborn, Digitale Sammlungen, urn:nbn:de:hbz:466:2-6908
  • Georg Joseph Vogler, Über die harmonische Akustik (Tonlehre) und ihren Einfluß auf alle musikalischen Bildungsanstalten. Rede gehalten in Verbindung mit den öffentlichen Vorlesungen im Saale der deutschen Schulanstalt in München vom wirklichen und ordentlichen Mitgliede der Königl. bairischen Akademie der Wissenschaften A. Vogler den 1. Juni 1806, Johann André, Offenbach, n. d. [1806], at Google Books & the Internet Archive 
  • Patrick Vretblad, Abbé Vogler som Programmusiker, in: Svensk Tidskrift for Musikforskning 9, 1927, pp. 79-98