December 12, 1731 - January 20, 1798
born in Mannheim, Germany, composed during the Classical period
A prolific composer, Christian Cannabich was also a violinist and conductor who presided over the Mannheim court orchestra during its period of greatest glory, helping it perfect the carefully gauged crescendos and decrescendos that became a trademark of the Mannheim school of composition.
His early violin training from his father was so thorough that Cannabich entered the Mannheim orchestra at age 12. He studied composition as well as violin with the orchestra's director, Johann Stamitz, whose family was developing a new, pre-Classical style of music coming out of Baroque models. Cannabich spent the early 1750s under the tutelage of composer Niccolò Jommelli, first in Rome and then in Stuttgart; during this period, Cannabich discovered the music of such Italians as the Sammartini brothers, which would influence his own work. He was back in the Mannheim orchestra by 1756, and was joint concertmaster by 1759; that position's duties included conducting the orchestra and preparing high-profile concerts. Mozart thought Cannabich was the best concertmaster he'd ever encountered, although his father called him a "wretched scribbler of symphonies."
In the 1760s and 1770s, Cannabich wrote some 20 ballets and 50 symphonies, and much of his music was published in Paris, as well as in Britain and the Low Countries. In 1774, the by-then famous musician gained a lifetime appointment as director of instrumental music at Mannheim. The Mannheim court moved to Munich in 1778, whereupon Cannabich took charge of the 95-member merged Munich and Mannheim orchestras, and worked assiduously to train young musicians. Because of his heavy work schedule, which included overseeing subscription concerts and opera productions, Cannabich produced relatively little music of his own for the remainder of his life, averaging one significant work per year.
As a composer, Cannabich was best known in his time for his court ballets, but today he is rememberd mainly for his 80 symphonies and a handful of concertos. The early four-movement symphonies were modeled on the Italian concert overture form he learned from Jomelli. Later works, strongly influenced by Johann Stamitz, are more substantial in duration, give prominent display to the woodwinds, and are marked by what contemporaries described as "raging and fiery crescendos." His final sonata-form symphonies, little circulated when new, show a familiarity with the works of his friend Mozart.
Cannabich's ballets, mostly dating from 1764 to 1778, also make able use of woodwinds, and show a good feeling for the stylized dance forms of the period. ~ James Reel, Rovi