Violinist, composer, writer and music director, Wenzel Pichl (1741-1805) was born Bechyne, near Tábor, and first studied music there with the Kantor Jan Pokorny. From 1752 to 1758 he attended the Jesuit college at Breznice, where he served as a singer, and later moved to Prague where he studied philosophy, theology and law at the university. In 1762 Pichl was appointed first violinist of the church at Tyn and studied counterpoint with the organist J.N. Seeger. The most important of Pichl’s early appointments took place in 1765 when he was engaged by Carl Ditters as a violinist and assistant director for the private orchestra of the Bishop Adam Patachich at Nagyvárad, Grosswardein. Ditters and Pichl, whose broad intellectual interests were very similar, became good friends and there is little doubt that Ditters exercised considerable influence over Pichl’s development as a composer. After the dissolution of the orchestra in 1769 Pichl became music director for Count Ludwig Hartig in Prague. The following year, he was appointed first violinist of the Vienna court theatre as Dittersdorf relates in his autobiography:
By good luck there was a vacancy for the post of first violin at the German Theatre, and Pichl got it. The pay was not more than four hundred and fifty florins a year, but he accepted it eagerly. His services were only required of an evening, so he had the whole day to himself, and could devote it to his pupils. I was happy knowing that my best friend was comfortably provided with a steady income of one thousand and fifty gulden a year.
Pichl was successful enough in the post for the Empress Maria Theresia to recommend his appointment as music director and Kammerdiener for the Austrian governor of Lombardy, Archduke Ferdinand d’Este, instead of the suggested Mozart. Pichl went to Italy in 1777 and remained there until 1796 when the French invasion of Lombardy caused him to return to Vienna. He continued in the Archduke’s service and dropped dead while performing a violin concerto in the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna on 23 January 1805.
While in Italy Pichl visited all the important musical centres and according to Adelbert Gyrowetz’s autobiography he was esteemed as one of the foremost European composers of the time. He was in contact with Padre Martini, and Cherubini, among others, and was a member of the Filarmonici at Mantua (from 1779) and Bologna (from 1782), and for a time served as music director of the theatre at Monza. Pichl is reported to have been Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s musical trustee in Milan and certainly Pichl’s own music was performed at Eszterháza by Haydn.
Unlike most professional musicians of the time Pichl was a man of erudition and wide interests. At Grosswardein he wrote latin operatic texts which were set both by Ditters and himself and in later years he compiled a history of Czech musicians in Italy and translated the libretto of Mozart’s Singspiel Die Zauberflöte into Czech. A detailed list of works that Pichl prepared for Dlabac’s Künstler-Lexikon (1802) runs to around 900 items, most of which are still extant. The symphonies date from around 1769 - the year of his arrival in Vienna - to shortly before his death and are stylistically similar to those of Ditters.
One interesting trait the two composers share is a fondness for writing works with extra-musical allusions. Pichl even went as far as to write a work styled Sinfonia da Pichl als Ditters which was advertised by Breitkopf in 1773. Dittersdorf’s most famous symphonies are the twelve based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and it is possible that the idea for these works arose in the course of conversations with Pichl. Pichl wrote a number of symphonies with classical titles including a series devoted to the Muses. Whereas Dittersdorf’s Ovid symphonies are brilliant essays in pictorial writing Pichl’s classical symphonies are far more abstract in conception as one would expect from the nature of their extra-musical associations. The ‘classical’ symphonies date from early in the composer’s career. Terpsichore (lost) Euterpe and Uranie were composed by 1764 and appeared in the Breitkopf in 1769; Clio, Melpomene, Calliope, Thalia and Polyhymnia were composed ca 1768-1769 and several of these works found their way into the Breitkopf Catalogue and the problematic Quartbuch of ca 1775. Erato was either never composed - unlikely in view of the Muse’s association with the lyre - or has not been preserved. Pichl also wrote symphonies devoted to Diana, Apollo, Pallas, Flora, Saturnus and Mars during the same period.