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Fischer, Johann Christian

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Fischer, Johann Christian

(b Freiburg, 1733; d London, 29 April 1800). German oboist and composer. According to Burney he was ‘brought up at one of the common reading schools … where all the children learn music, with reading and writing, as a thing of course’ and learnt to play the violin. He first turned to the oboe ‘in sport’ but found that ‘he could express his feelings better with the reed than the bow’ and went to study with Alessandro Besozzi (ii). He performed Besozzi’s G major Oboe Concerto in Warsaw in 1757 and at around the same time he composed a flute concerto and two oboe concertos.

From 1760 Fischer was a member of the Kapelle of Augustus III, King of Poland, in Dresden; following the dissolution of the Kapelle in 1764 he travelled to Berlin and joined the court of Frederick the Great, whose flute playing he accompanied, presumably on a keyboard instrument, for four hours a day for a month. Later that year he travelled to Mannheim and performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris (with sensational reviews), and in 1765 he was in The Hague, where he was heard by the Mozart family. After visits to Germany and Italy he was for a short time a member of the Dresden opera orchestra (1766) and once more at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin (1767). After further travels through France and the Netherlands, he arrived in London. His first concert there, on 2 June 1768, is notable for including the first solo public performance, by J.C. Bach, on the newly invented piano. Fischer was soon engaged to perform a concerto every night at Vauxhall Gardens and, according to Burney, such was his playing that the Drury Lane oboist John Parke ‘used to quit his post, and forfeit half his night’s salary in order to run to Vauxhall to hear him’. In 1774 he joined Queen Charlotte’s chamber group, alongside his compatriots J.C. Bach and Abel, although his formal appointment did not take place until 1780. He performed at the Bach-Abel concerts where, according to Burney, only Fischer ‘was allowed to compose for himself, and in a style so new and fanciful, that in point of invention, as well as tone, taste, expression, and neatness of execution, his piece was always regarded as one of the highest treats of the night, and heard with proportionate rapture’.

Fischer remained in London for the rest of his life, with just a few trips abroad, including concert tours to Dublin in 1771 and 1776. In 1780 he married Thomas Gainsborough’s elder daughter Mary, to the painter’s chagrin and with only his grudging approval (seeillustration): the marriage was short-lived. His performance at the Handel Commemoration in 1784 was highly praised by George III, and in 1786 he left London for a tour of Europe, accompanied by the great Mannheim oboist Friedrich Ramm. Mozart heard him playing again in Vienna in 1787: his negative criticisms of Fischer’s performance are in stark contrast to the otherwise universal praise. Fischer remained active as a performer for the following 14 years. He died (according to Burney) after suffering an apoplectic fit while performing to the royal family. On his deathbed he bequeathed all his manuscripts to the king. These manuscripts preserve cadenzas and elaborations for several of the early concertos, as well as two unpublished concertos.

Although Fischer composed some chamber music, most of his works were concertos, mostly written for his own performance. His earlier works contain much sequential writing, with frequent changes of mode and a marked lack of periodic structure. In his first London concertos, however, the use of sequence is much more limited, and there is greater clarity of organization into regular sections with contrasting motifs. Some of the later concertos move away from the standard three-movement fast–slow–fast structure and also incorporate popular songs. The rondo finale of his first concerto became the subject of many keyboard variations, including some by Mozart (k179/189a). Fischer did not normally exploit the extreme ranges of the oboe. However, in the unpublished concerto in F major both the first and second movements contain low Bs in the solo oboe part. This is the earliest known occurrence of this note for the oboe: there is no other evidence that the instrument could reach this note before Floth’s addition of an appropriate key (c1803–7), more than 40 years after the concerto was written. Several of Fischer’s London concertos were published in keyboard arrangements transcribed by J.C. Bach, Hoeberechts and Schroeter.


Edition:Johann Christian Fischer: Complete Works (forthcoming)

published in London unless otherwise stated


Ob concs.: F, C, c1760, D-Rtt; no.1, C (before 1771), arr. hpd (n.d.); no.2, E (before 1772), arr. hpd/pf by J.C. Bach (n.d.); no.3, C (before 1781), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.4, G (n.d.), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.5, B (n.d.), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.6, C (before 1779–80), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.7 (Gramachree Molly), F (?1780), ed. J.T. Evans (DMA diss., CUNY, 1996), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.8 (Lango Lee), C (n.d.), arr. hpd/pf (n.d.); no.9, F (n.d.), arr. kbd by L. Hoeberechts (n.d.); no.10, E (n.d.), lost, arr. hpd/pf by J.S. Schroeter (n.d.)

Fl concs.: D, D-KA

Vn concs.: C, A-M; G–C (Marlbrook), GB-Lbl; A–D (Tweedside), Lbl

Doubtful: Hn conc., c1781, S-L, ed. N. Delius (Lottstetten, ?1987), also attrib. Quantz

Lost: Ob concs., C, d, listed in Breitkopf catalogue (1769); Ob conc., E, listed in Breitkopf catalogue (1771); Bn conc., C, listed in Breitkopf catalogue (1781)


Sonatas: 10 for fl, vc/hpd (n.d.); 1 for fl, b, S-Skma; 1 for fl, hpd, Skma

Duets: 7 Divertimentos, 2 fl (n.d.), as 6 duetti (Paris, n.d.) and 6 duettes, op.2 (Berlin, n.d.); 6 for 2 fl, D-BAUm

Edns: 3 qts, 2 trios (n.d.) [composers unidentified]

Doubtful: 24 Polonaises, 2 vn, b, S-Skma

Lost: 3 Solos, ob, bn, listed in Breitkopf catalogue (1781)


An Old Favorite Air, kbd, arr. J.B. Cramer (n.d.); Hornpipe, Ah ça ira, pf (New York, n.d.); The Princess Royal, rondo, 2 tr insts, hpd (n.d.); Minuet, rondeau (n.p., n.d.) and later arrs.; Rondeaux … variés, vn (Amsterdam, c1772); Favourite Rondeau Call’d the New Bath Minuet, pf (Dublin, n.d.); Second Celebrated Rondeau, pf (Dublin, n.d.); How wellcome my shepherd, song (n.p., n.d.)


The Compleat Tutor for the Hautboy (London, c1770, rev. 2/c1780 as New and Complete Instructions for the Hautboy, and later edns, details in Warner)

The Oboe Preceptor (London, c1800)






DNB (L.M. Middleton)



NDB (H. Heussner)

Rees’s Cyclopaedia (London, 1819–20)

M. Kelly: Reminiscences (London, 1826, 2/1826/R1968 with introduction by A.H. King); ed. R. Fiske (London, 1975)

W.T. Parke: Musical Memoirs (London, 1830/R)

C.F. Pohl: Mozart und Haydn in London (Vienna, 1867/R)

F.O. Souper: ‘Johann Friedrich Fischer’, The Dominant, ii/2 (1929), 38–9

T.E. Warner: An Annotated Bibliography of Woodwind Instruction Books, 1600–1830 (Detroit, 1967)

R.G. Humiston: A Study of the Oboe Concertos of Alessandro Besozzi and Johann Christian Fischer with a Thematic Index of 201 Eighteenth-Century Oboe Concertos Available in Manuscript or Eighteenth-Century Editions (diss., U. of Iowa, 1968), 51–106, 180–90

K.S. Grant: Dr Burney as Critic and Historian of Music (Ann Arbor, 1983), 78, 92, 210

J.K. Page: ‘The Hautboy in London’s Musical Life: 1730–1770’, EMc, xvi (1988), 358–71

M. Cormack: The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough (Cambridge, 1991)

A. Ribeiro, ed.: The Letters of Dr Charles Burney (Oxford, 1991), i, 102, 213, 308–9, 351

T. DuBois: ‘C.F.D. Schubart’s Comments about Double Reed Instruments and Performers’, Journal of the International Double Reed Society, xxiv (1996), 31–40


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