Karl Michael von Esser (1736−1795?)

Karl (Carl) Michael (Ritter) von Esser was probably born in 1736 in Aachen, Germany and died around 1795 in an unknown place. He was a violin virtuoso who had enormous success all around Europe and lived in Sweden during 1758−61. In addition, he was a composer, largely focused on his main instrument – the violin, but also has symphonies on his list of works. A small number of works are preserved in Sweden.

Life

Background

Karl Michael von Esser was likely born in Aachen, Germany in 1736 – according to sources, he was christened in Aachen on 3 April 1737. His father is said to have been a violinist and sent his son to Dresden to study violin performance with the orchestra conductor Francesco Cattaneo. He also learned to play the viola d’amore, but it is unknown where and from whom he learned.

He began his career as a musician with the Royal Court Orchestra in Kassel in 1756. After two years left he left the orchestra and went to Stockholm.

Time in Stockholm

According to some sources von Esser was employed in Stockholm as a member of the hovkapellet (the Swedish Royal Court Orchestra) but there is nothing in existing documents that support this. However, he may possibly have had some form of employment in the orchestra that Duke Adolf Fredrik had with him when he came to Sweden in 1743 – an orchestra that was still active at the Swedish royal court.

Karl Michael von Esser frequently took part in Stockholm’s concert life. According to still extant newspaper announcements, he played his own violin solo pieces several times during 1758 and 1759 as well as his own violin concerto. In 1760 he arranged several concerts himself, some of which he conducted, and he also played solo pieces and violin concertos – at one concert he even performed as a singer. As far as we can tell from concert announcements, it seems he stayed in Stockholm until the spring of 1761 when he returned to Kassel and employment as conductor of the Royal Court Orchestra there.

The traveling virtuoso

However, von Esser was a restless soul and he left Kassel without permission, to support himself as a traveling violin virtuoso. There seems to be agreement that he wandered throughout Europe from Amsterdam in 1764 to Rome in 1772, where the Pope dubbed him a knight of the Equites aurati Sancti Romani Imperii. He then traveled to Paris where he was praised for his virtuosic playing. In London during 1775−76, he earned a fortune through his concertizing. After a brief interlude in Vienna he went to Bern in 1777 and then to Basel in 1779. In letters written in 1780 Leopold Mozart describes how in a house concert von Esser accompanied his daughter ‘passably’ – however, he gave him a little more praise in describing his viola d’amore playing at a concert in Salzburg that same year as ‘charming’. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who met von Esser that same year in Munich, called him ‘a fool’. Both father and son Mozart had heard von Esser play in Mainz as early as 1763 and Wolfgang thought he played well but did ‘too much ornamentation’ and should have kept to the notes.

After some years in Germany and Austria von Esser moved to Spain around 1786 and retired from concert life in 1791. He is said to have died in 1795, however the place of his death is unknown.

As a curiosity one can mention that, according to lexicographer Johan Fredrik Hallardt, von Esser may have met Sweden’s Prince Karl during his trip to Italy in 1781 and asked him if he could be allowed to return to Stockholm. King Gustav III opposed this as von Esser, despite financial help from King Adolf Fredrik, departed Stockholm in 1761 leaving many debts behind him.

Works

Karl Michael von Esser wrote mainly works for violin, namely sonatas, duets, and at least one violin concerto. He also composed trios, quartets, six symphonies, some church music and one opera. No works in autograph are extant, but what there is consists mainly of transcripts and some works in print. In Swedish libraries there is one printed piece, six minuets as well as some collections with handwritten sonatas and duets. It is unknown whether or not these works were written during his time in Sweden. It is because of his polonaises that von Esser’s name is known in the Swedish music tradition; at least eight different polonaises ‘after Esser’ are preserved within Swedish folk music tradition.

Veslemøy Heintz © 2016
Trans. Jill Ann Johnson

Bibliography

Eitner, Robert: Biografisch-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon der Musik und Musikgelehrten christlicher Zeitrechnung bis Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Graz: Akademische Druck- und Vlg-Anstalt, 1959−60.
‘von Esser, Karl Michael’, in: Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart : allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik. Personenteil 6, E-Fra, Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2001.*
Hallardt, Johan Fredrik: ‘Biografiskt musik-lexikon. Del 1−4’, Musik- och teaterbibioteket, handskrift 36 a-d.
Karle, Gunhild: Kungl. Hovkapellet i Stockholm och dess utövare 1697−1771, Uppsala: G. Karle, 2002.
Klein, H.: ‘Die Mozarts, der Ritter Essen und zwei junge Salzburger Theologen’, in: Mozart Jahrbuch, 1959, pp. 219−222.
Macklin, Kerstin: ‘Om Essers polonäs och Lif Anders polska’, Tidig musik, no. 3 2005.
Norlind, Tobias, Trobäck, Emil: Kungl. Hovkapellets historia 1526−1926. Minnesskrift, Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1926.
Riemann, Hugo: Musiklexikon, Mainz: Schott, 1959−1975.
Stellan Mörner, C G:Rariteter ur en okatalogiserad notsamling i Kungl. Biblioteket’, Svensk tidskrift för musikforskning, vol. 43, 1961, pp. 273−281.
Vretblad, Patrik: Konsertlivet i Stockholm under 1700-talet, Stockholm: Norstedt, 1918.

Summary list of works

Musical comedy (Die drei Pächter, lost), orchestral music (6 symphonies, violin concerto), vocal works with orchestra (2 offertories for tenor, basso continuo, orchestra and organ), chamber music (12 string quartets, 12 trios for violin, flute and basso continuo, 10 trios for two violins and basso continuo and 12 sonatas for violin and basso continuo, six minuets for violin, viola, basso continuo, oboe and horn, 26 duets for two violins, two polonaises for violin and basso continuo). Of these, the following are preserved in Sweden: 6 minuets, 18 duets for two violins, 12 violin sonatas, and more.

Collected works

Works extant in Sweden

Prints
Six menuets, for violin, viola, basso continuo, oboe, horn.

Handwritten
18 duets for 2 violins.
Allegro for 2 violins.
Polonaise in D, for violin and basso continuo.
Polonaise in G, for violin and basso continuo.
12 sonatas for violin and basso continuo.

Works list based on the RISM-database and its descriptions
1. Trios (instr.) - vl, b, fl RISM A/I E 837.
2. 6 Duets - E-flat major; vl (2); Manuscript; S-HÄ ohne Signatur.
3. 6 Trios - vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
4. Quartets (instr.) - RISM A/I E 833.
5. 6 Duets - E-flat major; vl (2); Manuscript; S-Sm ohne Signatur.
6. Sonatas - G major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma (Musik Rar).
7. Quartets (instr.) - RISM A/I E 834.
8. Trios - C major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
9. 2 Duets - vl (2); Manuscript; US-Wc M287.A2 E78.
10. 6 Sonatas - F major; vl, b; Manuscript; S-L Saml.Kraus 182.
11. Symphonies - 2 vl, t-vla, b, 2 ob, 2 cor RISM A/I E 830.
12. Quartets (instr.) - D; G; C; c; F; B|b; 2 vl, vla, b RISM A/I E 832; EE 832.
13. Trios (instr.) - D; A; E|b; B|b; F; C; 2 vl, b RISM A/I E 836.
14. Duets (instr.) - G; D; A; F; B|b; E|b; 2 vl RISM A/I E 838.
15. Duets (instr.) - 2 vl RISM A/I E 839.
16. Sonatas - G major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma C 1-R.
17. Trios - D major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
18. Trios - G major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
19. Trios - F major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
20. Trios - B-flat major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
21. Trios - E-flat major; vl (2), vlc; Manuscript; D-ZL ohne Signatur.
22. 2 Offertories - V (2), orch, org; Manuscript; PL-OPsm ohne Signatur.
23. Sonatas - C major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma (Musik Rar).
24. Sonatas - G major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma (Musik Rar).
25. Sonatas - D major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma Alströmer saml. 151:14.
26. Polonaise di Sicelia - D major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma C 1-R.
27. Polonaises - G major; vl, b; DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; S-Skma C 1-R.
28. 2 Polonaises - D major; vl, b; Manuscript; S-SK 704.
29. 6 Duets - E-flat major; vl (2); Manuscript; S-Uu Instr. mus. i hs. 14:18.
30. Allegro moderato - C major; vl (2); Manuscript; S-Uu Instr. mus. i hs. 79:25.
31. 6 Duets - E-flat major; vl (2); Manuscript; S-L Saml.Kraus 413.
32. Duets - B-flat major; vl (2); DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; US-Wc M287.A2 E78.
33. Concertos - B-flat major; vl, orch; Manuscript; D-RH Ms 192.
34. Symphonies - D; G; C; F; B|b; E|b; 2 vl, taille, b, 2 ob, 2 cor RISM A/I E 829; EE 829.
35. Minuets - D; G; C; F; B|b; E|b; 2 vla, b, 2 ob, 2 cor, clav RISM A/I E 831.
36. Trios (instr.) - C; G; D; A; F; B|b; 2 vl, b RISM A/I E 835.
37. Duets - D major; vl (2); DTB 16 deest; Manuscript; US-Wc M287.A2 E78.
38. Deus misereatur nostri - A major; B, orch, org; Manuscript; PL-OPsm ohne Signatur.
39. Deus misereatur nostri - E major; V (2), orch, org; Manuscript; PL-OPsm ohne Signatur.


Works by Karl Michael von Esser

There are no works by the composer registered