Anton Reicha

(26 February 1770, Prague - 28 May 1836, Paris)


Antonín Rejcha was a Czech-born later naturalized French composer of music with roots in the German style. A contemporary and lifelong friend of Beethoven, he is now best remembered for his substantial early contributions to the wind quintet literature and his role as teacher of pupils including Franz Liszt, Charles Gounod, Hector Berlioz and César Franck.


Born in a family with no musical background, his father was the town piper of the city (died when Anton was just 10 months old), his mother was not interested in her son's education, which led Anton to run away from home (1780). After visiting his paternal uncle Josef Reicha, a virtuoso cellist, conductor and composer who was living in Wallerstein, Bavarioa, he was soon adopted by Josef and his wife. Being childless, they gave little Anton their full attention. Basically his education was provided, Josef taught him piano and violin, his wife insisted on being taught French and German, and he was also taught the flute.


After his new family moved to Bonn (1785), where Anton became a member of the Hofkapelle of Max Franz, he met the young Beethoven with whom he became a lifelong friend. Christian Gottlob Neefe, one of the most important figures in the musical life of the city at the time, may well have instructed both Reicha and his gifted piano pupil Beethoven in composition and introduced them to the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, such as the Well-Tempered Clavier.


Against his uncle's wishes, Anton secretly studied composition and conducted his first symphony in 1787 and entered the University of Bonn in 1789, where he studied and performed until 1794. After Bonn was attacked and taken over by the French, he managed to escape to Hamburg where he began to earn a living teaching harmony, composition and piano.


Following his dream of becoming a successful opera composer, in 1799 he moved to Paris. His hopes were dashed, despite support from friends and influential members of the aristocracy, and so he moved on to Vienna in 1801. This move marked the beginning of a more productive and successful period in his life, he started studying with Antonio Salieri, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Joseph Haydn.


In 1801 Reicha's opera L'ouragan, which failed in Paris, was performed at the palace of Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz, prominent patron of Beethoven. Empress Maria Theresa commissioned another opera after this performance, Argine, regina di Granata, which was only privately performed. His studies in Hamburg came to fruition here with the publication of several semi-didactic, encyclopedic works such as 36 Fugues for piano (published in 1803, dedicated to Haydn) and L'art de varier, a large-scale variation cycle (composed in 1803/1804 for Prince Louis Ferdinand), and the treatise Practische Beispiele (published in 1803), which contained 24 compositions.


Forced by war-nature events, Anton Reicha left Vienna and moved back to Paris. Although his career as an opera composer didn't seem likely, his fame as a theorist and teacher increased steadily, and by 1817 most of his pupils became professors at the Conservatoire de Paris. The following year, Reicha himself was appointed professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Conservatoire.


The second Paris period was more fruitful than the first, he published his 34 Études for piano (1817) and Cours de composition musicale (1818). It was also in Paris that Reicha started composing the 25 wind quintets which proved to be his most enduring works. Reicha stayed in Paris for the rest of his life. In 1835, he succeeded François-Adrien Boieldieu at the Académie française. He published two more large treatises, Traité de haute composition musicale (1824–1826) (Treatise on advanced musical composition) and Art du compositeur dramatique (1833) (Art of dramatic composition), on writing opera.


Reicha's legacy includes semi-didactic cycles of works such as 36 Fugues for piano, L'art de varier (a set of 57 variations on an original theme), exercises for the treatise Practische Beispiele as well as a number of treatises on composition. Works of this period include some 25 wind quintets, some of the earliest important music for wind ensembles. Ideas he advocated in his music and writings include polyrhythm, polytonality and microtonal music; none were accepted by the composers of the time. Due to Reicha's own attitude towards publishing his music, he fell into obscurity immediately after his death; his life and work remain poorly studied.


Here  you can find a list of Anton Reicha's works.