Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fischer, Johann Christian

FISCHER, JOHANN CHRISTIAN (1733–1800), oboist and composer, lived many years in London, was chamber musician to the queen (Charlotte), and took a prominent part in the Bach-Abel and other concerts of modern classical music which were to bring about a great change in musical taste. Born at Freiburg (Breisgau) in 1733, Fischer was in 1760 a member of the Dresden court band, and later entered the service of Frederick the Great for a short time. In the course of his travels he came to London, took lodgings, according to an advertisement of the time, at Stidman's, peruke-maker, Frith Street, Soho, and announced his concert for 2 June 1768. As early as 1774 he joined the quartet parties at court, but his appointment as queen's musician dates from 1780, with a salary of 180l. 'The original stipend of the court musicians,' says Mrs. Papendiek in her journals, 'had been 100l.; but on giving up their house 30l. had been added, and 25l. for the Ancient Music concerts. They had four suits of clothes, fine instruments, and able masters to instruct them when required.' The same lady gives a lively account (p. 143) of the practical jokes played on the popular oboist by Kelly, Reminiscences, i. 9, and Parke, p. 48, for anecdotes). Fischer established his reputation in England by his brilliant playing at the Professional, Nobility, and New Musical Fund concerts, and especially at the Handel commemoration performances at Westminster Abbey. In 1780 he married Mary, the beautiful younger daughter of Gainsborough; it is said that a separation soon followed. Perhaps it was because he was refused the post of master of the king's band and composer of minuets that Fischer left England in 1786, but in spite of disappointments of various kinds he returned in 1790 to London. On the night of 29 April 1800, while performing a solo part in his concerto at the Queen's House, and 'after having executed his first movement in a style equal to his best performance during any part of his life,' he was seized with an apoplectic fit. Prince William of Gloucester supported him out of the room, and the king, who was much affected, had the best medical assistance called; but Fischer died within an hour at his lodgings in Soho, desiring in his last moments that all his manuscript music might be presented to his majesty.

George III has recorded his appreciation of his faithful musician's performance in a critical note appended in his own handwriting to the proof-sheets of Dr. Burney's 'Account of the Handel Commemoration.' The testimony of the younger Parke, himself an oboist of repute, is of even greater value. After remarking that Fischer arrived in this country in very favourable circumstances, the two principal oboe players, Vincent and Simpson, using an instrument which in shape and tone bore some resemblance to a post-horn, he continues: 'The tone of Fischer was soft and sweet, his style expressive, and his execution at once neat and brilliant.' A. B. C. Dario compared the tone of his oboe to that of a clarionet, Giardini commented on its power, and Burney and Mrs. Papendiek agree in praising him. Mozart, on the other hand, writing from Vienna 4 April 1787, observes that whereas Fischer's performance had pleased him upwards of twenty years ago in Holland, it now appeared to him undeserving of its reputation. Mozart was even more severe upon Fischer's compositions, yet he paid a substantial compliment to the celebrated minuet (composed by Fischer for a court ball on the occasion of the king of Denmark's visit to England) by writing and often playing a set of variations upon it (Köchel, No. 179); and Burney bears witness to the merit of his style.

There were published at Berlin: Oboe concerto; pianoforte concerto; popular rondo; concerto for violin, flute, or oboe; six duos for two flutes, Op. 2; ten solos for flute and oboe. In London appeared: Three concertos for principal oboe, Nos. 8, 9, 10; the same for pianoforte; seven divertimentos for two flutes; ten sonatas for flute; three quartets and two trios for German flutes, violin, viola, and cello, from eminent masters, revised by J. C. Fischer (Gerber). Pohl mentions 'God save great George our King,' for four solo voices, chorus and harp accompaniment, newly harmonised; and 'The Invocation of Neptune,' solo quartet and chorus.

Gainsborough's portrait of Fischer, now at Hampton Court, is full of expression; another by the same artist is mentioned by Thicknesse, 'painted at full length … in scarlet and gold, like a Colonel of the Foot Guards.' It is said to have been exposed for sale at a picture dealer's in Catherine Street.

[Burney's History of Music, iv. 673; Mendel, iii. 540; Grove's Dict. i. 528; Pohl's Mozart und Haydn in London, ii. 53; The Gazetteer, No.12, p. 246; Mrs. Papendiek's Journals, i. 65, ii. 125; Parke's Musical Memoirs, pp. 48, 334; Fulcher's Life of Gainsborough, pp. 74, 118, 200; Thicknesse's Gainsborough, 1788, p. 24; Times, 1 May 1800; Gent. Mag. vol. lxx. pt. i. p. 488; D'Arblay's Memoir of Burney, 1832, ii. 385; Jahn's Mozart, 1882, ii. 343; Gerber's Tonkiinstler-Lexikon, 1812, i. 137.]

L. M. M.