Sunday, April 1, 2018

Johann Peter Salomon

Johann Peter Salomon was a German violinist, composer, arranger, conductor, teacher, and concert impresario, born (in Bonn) on or about February 20, 1745 – he was christened (baptized) on February 20 so it’s a sure thing he was born a few days before that.  Salomon spent more than half of his career in England.  To say that he was a well-rounded musician is quite an understatement; nevertheless, nowadays, he is remembered for two things: (1) he was born in the same house as Ludwig Van Beethoven and (2) he persuaded Joseph Haydn to visit London - twice.  It has been said that he had a unique style of playing, especially in chamber music with his string quartet.  He must have had more than one teacher but I only know of one: Franz Benda, a member of the Benda musical dynasty.  By age 13, he was playing violin in the court orchestra, presumably in Bonn since that was where his benefactor (Clement August, a lover of the arts) presided.  Salomon also made a brief concert tour as a soloist (begun in August, 1765) which took him to Frankfurt and Berlin.   By age 20, he was concertmaster of the orchestra in the court of Prince Heinrich of Prussia (Germany), a brother of Frederick the Great, presumably in Rheinsberg, a town which is about 40 miles north of Berlin.  (An interesting thing about Prince Heinrich is that he almost became King of the United States.)  While working for Prince Heinrich (a period which lasted about 15 years), Salomon composed many works, among which were a number of operas, all of them now forgotten.  Sometime in 1780, after his patron had suddenly disbanded his orchestra, Salomon visited Paris and from there decided to travel to London.  He was 35 years old.  There, he gave his first concert at Covent Garden, as conductor and violinist, on March 23, 1781.  From that day forward, Salomon was very active in English musical life, giving concerts as leader (concertmaster), violin soloist, conductor, composer, organizer, and quartet player.  How he became fluent in the English language is unknown to me although it has been reported that he was actually fluent in four languages.  He also found time to teach privately.  As far as the famous Haydn visits to England, I was able to ascertain, from various sources, everything that follows.  After Joseph Haydn had become internationally popular from the dissemination of much of his music, several persons in England tried to persuade him, since the early 1780s, to visit and to present concerts there.  These efforts were all unsuccessful because Haydn was still under contract to one of the Esterhazy Princes (for whom he ultimately worked thirty years) and was very loyal to him.  Regarding a visit or tour, Salomon had also corresponded with Haydn for a while and had even sent a personal emissary but that trip had not been totally successful.  So Haydn remained out of reach.  As luck and coincidence always play a part in everybody’s life, so it was with Salomon.  After a particular trip that he made to Italy (to secure the services of several opera singers for a London event) – being the well-known and energetic impresario that he was – Salomon stopped in Cologne on his way back to London.  While there, he read in the newspapers that the good Prince Nikolaus from Esterhazy (Haydn’s employer) had died (in Vienna, on September 28, 1790.)  Salomon immediately seized the opportunity to seek Haydn out and ask him (again) to come to London.  This time, Haydn agreed.  After signing an agreement and figuring out the logistics, they left Vienna on December 15, 1790.  It was a Wednesday.  On their way to England, they stopped by Bonn to pay their respects to Beethoven, which they did on December 26, 1790.  Salomon had known Beethoven much earlier (in their Bonn days) and by this time he had also programmed some of his works for his London concerts.  They were good friends.  Haydn had never met Beethoven.  In any case, Haydn and Salomon crossed the English Channel (from a point in Calais, France) on or about January 1, 1791 (a Saturday) and shortly thereafter arrived in London.  Salomon was 45 years old.  The rest is history.  Haydn went on to write 12 symphonies for Salomon’s concerts in London and other works as well.  Salomon would soon be at work arranging most of these symphonies for small chamber ensembles.  One such work is the symphony number 104 which Salomon arranged for string quartet, flute, and double bass.  It may be that these arrangements were not artistic endeavors but a purely commercial venture on Salomon’s part.  Salomon’s arrangements were available to the public before any orchestral parts were even printed.  (In his contract with Salomon, Haydn had given up all rights to those works he composed in London for Salomon’s concerts.  However, Haydn was paid very handsomely for his efforts.)  In March of 1813, Salomon and a few other English musicians and patrons of the arts founded what was called the Philharmonic Society, which still exists today.  It was a de facto sponsor and/or administrator of a professional symphony orchestra and choral society which established concerts which were regularly presented to and for the general public and not associated solely with the aristocracy.  The orchestra did not have a name but it could very well have had a name if they had thought of one.  Salomon conducted its first concert in March of 1813.  He was 68 years old.  As far as I know, Salomon was active as a violinist, composer, teacher, impresario, arranger, and conductor until the day he died.  As a composer, his most famous work is probably the opera titled Windsor Castle, written in 1795.  All of his other compositions (including his many arrangements) have been neglected and forgotten.  It has been said that Salomon played a Stradivarius violin which Corelli had played before him but I could not substantiate that from more than one source.  It has also been said that Salomon gave the Jupiter nickname to Mozart’s last symphony, number 41.  Perhaps it is true.  Salomon’s most famous pupils are Franz Anton Ries (Beethoven’s violin teacher and father of pianist Ferdinand Ries) and George Pinto, English violinist, pianist, and composer.  Salomon died on November 28, 1815, after a brief illness brought on by an accident.  He was 70 years old.  Here is a Vimeo file of Salomon’s Romance in D for violin, played by English violinist, Simon Standage.  The photo is courtesy of ArtUK and Oxford University.  


  1. Salomon was said to be a very generous and honest man. He named Ferdinand Ries Executor of his will.

  2. Simon Standage and three other members of the English Concert founded the Salomon String Quartet in 1982. I don't know whether it was named in honor of Johann Peter Salomon. I don't know if it is still active.