Janitsch: Sonata da camera in C minor Op. 1 No. 1

Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was one of the lucky class of musicians who secured fairly early in his career a job that provided him with a stable income, a supportive employer, inspiring colleagues, and enough leisure time to pursue his own projects. The job was as a musician in the court orchestra of Frederick the Great, a position he acquired even before Frederick ascended to the throne: Janitsch joined the ensemble in 1736, a period of time during which the Crown Prince living in Rheinsberg Palace and was devoted almost entirely to the arts. He was also absorbed in writing a refutation to Machiavelli’s The Prince that argued against Machiavelli’s cavalier attitude towards immorality and in favour of the ideal of the royal statesman as protector of his subjects, which his friend and sometime lover Voltaire aided him in publishing anonymously to great acclaim.

Unsurprisingly, such Enlightened attitudes made for a pleasant work environment for musicians, and upon Frederick taking the throne, Janitsch and his colleagues in the orchestra followed him to Berlin. With the King’s permission, Janitsch began a tradition of “Friday Assemblies,” gatherings that mixed professional and amateur musicians and were open to the public, a tradition that inspired many later gatherings of that type in Berlin.

Janitsch’s Sonata da camera in C minor would have been composed for just such a gathering; an evening of chamber music mixing professionals and amateurs, the latter category in which Frederick the Great himself was first among equals. Frederick’s main instrument was the flute, and he found a lifelong friend, teacher and musical colleague in Johann Joachim Quantz; who like Janitsch, stayed with Frederick from before he ascended the throne until Quantz’s death.

Adolphe Menzel’s painting Flute concert in Sanssouci provides a description of the atmosphere for such a sonata da camera; the royal flutist stands, surrounded by musicians and noble ladies and cast in the soft glow of chandeliers and candles. The painting is warm and inviting, a scene that any musician would be happy to step into and take part in, and one that provided Janitsch with a lifetime of livelihood, inspiration and friendship.