Paul Wranitzky most likely composed over sixty symphonies, of which approximately 45 are known today. He started writing his essays in the genre relatively late in his career- in the 1780s. By this time, when his first symphonies made their début, the genre had grown so common that it graced the programs of nearly all musical events. Symphonies were used as introductions, entr'actes, and afterpieces to stage works, and were even played, in part or in whole, at High Mass. During Lent, when the theaters were closed, so-called akademien , or "academies", which were musical societies that offered orchestral (and often sacred) works in lieu of operas and plays. The Tonkünstler-Sozietät was one of these academies which Wranitzky was associated with. It was in these concerts that symphonies had major roles, and in fact Wranitzky composed many of his works for these concerts.
Vienna was a city of great musical patronage. As one individual noted, music "is the only thing about which the nobility shows taste". The wealthy, music loving nobility spent lavish sums on music, either in buying the best seats in the opera houses (which were highly inflated) or in musical patronage. In Vienna such individuals as Prince Dmitri Golitsïn (Galitzin), the Russian ambassador to Vienna from 1762-1792, and Baron Gottfried van Sweiten sponsored lively musical events at their private residences. Subscription concerts were given by both men, whose love of music was the inspiration for many great works. Their orchestras were of reasonable skill level, with the better ones being comparable to present-day college and university ensembles. The city's orchestras in general were of particularly high quality compared to elsewhere. To quote a foreign visitor:
Many noble houses have their own bands of musicians, and all the public concerts bear witness that this aspect of art is in high repute here... I have heard 30 or 40 instruments playing together, and they all produce one tone so correct, clean and precise that one might think one is hearing a single, supernaturally powerful instrument. One stroke of the bow animated all the violins and one breath, all the wind instruments.
The orchestra that was referred to in this passage was most likely that of the Burgtheater, which Wranitzky directed from 1787 until his death in 1808. The Burgtheater's ensemble was considered one of the finest in the city. By the mid 1780s, the orchestra had approximately 35 players: twelve violins (six first and six second), 5 violas, three cellos, and four double basses. The remainder of the orchestra consisted of pairs of wind instruments- oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets. Timpanists and other musicians were drawn either from the orchestra, or were hired as necessary. It is presumed that many of Wranitzky's symphonies were played in concerts given by this orchestra.
While the Burgtheater orchestra was one of the largest consistent orchestras, the ensemble of the Tonkünstler-Sozietät, which gave bi-yearly concerts, had as many as 150 musicians. Wranitzky, who was an official in the society, had many of his symphonies, including numerous premières, played in these concerts often for the benefit of the widows and orphans of deceased musicians.
After the short, two year reign of Leopold II, Wranitzky gained much seniority in the inner musical circles upper crust Viennese society. With the assent of Franz II as emperor, and Marie Therese as empress, Wranitzky's musical career was elevated to new heights. Both sovereigns were extremely gifted musically, and spared no expense in their court's musical events, but Marie Therese took a clear dominance in the musical dealings of the court. Wranitzky was a favorite of the empress, who owned a large collection of his music, including numerous symphonies. She kept a private coterie of professional musicians and virtuosi, who would provide her with musical entertainment, playing symphonies, concertos, and much vocal music from the sacred and operatic repertoire.
The Empress' private orchestral forces remain unclear, but one can deduce their approximate size through an examination of the various orchestral parts and the quantities of them that were present in her archives. Most of her stringed instrument sources contained two to three parts for first and second violins, and one to two for viola and one to three for basso parts. Individual parts existed for each wind part, i.e. first and second horn, etc. If it is assumed that two string players played from each set of parts, then the average size of the strings would be sixteen to twenty-two- a very respectable number for private concerts. Winds would be added as necessary, although oboes, horns, flutes, clarinets, and bassoons, as well as trumpets and timpani were all called for frequently and were likely a part of the empress' regular orchestra. On occasion, however, more rare and exotic instruments were necessary, including percussion. Wranitzky was often capricious in his symphonic writing; this is especially evident in his programmatic and theatrical works. His symphony in d-minor La Tempesta uses frequent and poignant dissonances and a "grand tympano" (bass drum) to great effect in painting a musical portrait of a storm. In his satirical melodrama Macbeth, he calls for a meat-roasting spit to be used as a percussion instrument.
by Robert Bonkowski