Classical Music

Carl Stamitz: Music, Failure and Alchemy

Today is the baptismal anniversary of composer Carl Stamitz, who would have been 268 years old and a day today if he had succeeded in the last act of his amazingly productive but wholly disappointing life. You see, in addition to being a brilliant creator of music, Stamitz studied alchemy as death approached.

First some background as Stamitz isn't one of the best-known names to the casual music listener. Born in Germany in 1745, he was the son of an equally badass musical genius, Johann Stamitz. He rose quickly through the world as a composer of symphonies, operas and a really spectacular series of clarinet concertos. That's the No. 3 up there in the video, and it's an objectively powerful piece of music that remains a standard repertoire work even today. Think of Stamitz as like a somewhat underground version of Haydn...minus the corpse desecration.

Flashback I wasn't kidding about Haydn's corpse desecration

So, Stamitz. He pulled all the right moves, traveled the world, played when Handel's Messiah was brought to Berlin by Johann Hiller, was the guest of courts from Europe to Russia, and along the way managed to acquire a wife and four children. If you want a picture of legitimate musical success in the 18th century, look to the right.

Unfortunately, as with many modern rockers, Stamitz's later years were rough. Unable to find steady employment in one place as a musician, he was forced to keep touring until even that dried up. Eventually he retired to the town of Jena in central Germany. There were no bands or orchestras, and eventually he ran through his savings until he was broke. He died in November 1801 at the age of 56. All his possessions were auctioned for debt.

Here's where it gets interesting... After his death, many tracts on alchemy were found in his library. The general thought is that Stamitz might have delved into the study of the art thinking he could alleviate his poverty by producing alchemical gold, though at least one source claims that his interest was actually a long-established passion. He might have also sought immortality with the legendary Philosopher's Stone.

By Stamitz's time, alchemy and chemistry had already divided so that the scientific discipline we know today was established as a worthy pursuit of knowledge while alchemy was considered the work of scammers hoping to sell phony paths to fortune.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner