Thomas Gschlatt, the Mozarts’ trombonist

Trombone fresco

Detail from a fresco by Johann Michael Rottmayer in Vienna’s Karlskirche (St. Charles Church), 1725-1730.

Trombonists know the name Thomas Gschlatt because he worked in Salzburg at the same time the Mozart’s did. Besides playing the trombone solos in works by now-forgotten composers, he participated in works by both Mozarts, including Wolfgang’s youthful Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (KV 35, 1767).

If that title isn’t familiar, the story of its composition is: Prince–Archbishop Sigmund Schrattenbach was not persuaded that an 11-year-old boy could write such excellent music as he in fact did. He suspected that the boy must have at least gotten considerable help from his father.

So Wolfgang wrote that cantata locked up in a room with little but desk, chair, ink and paper. It included the first of at least five trombone solos he composed during the archbishop’s lifetime. Gschlatt played them all. 

Not an ordinary Salzburg trombonist

Most trombonists in Salzburg at the time were tower musicians. That is, like their more familiar counterparts in Bach’s Leipzig, they were city employees. They played wind music for various civic occasions also supplied wind musicians for the major churches in town—including, of course, the cathedral.

By this time, Bach’s Stadtpfeiffer continued to dominate performance on wind instruments, but were also quite capable string players. Although other town bands have not been studied as thoroughly, the Leipzigers appear to be fairly typical of bands not only in Protestant Germany, but the Holy Roman Empire as well.

It seems safe to assume, therefore, that Gschlatt received his musical education by apprenticing to someone in the band in his home town of Stockerau. In 1757 the important writer Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg wrote

[Trombonist] Mr. Thomas Gschlatt of Stockerau in Lower Austria is a great master on his instrument, which very few will do as well. He also plays a good violin and violoncello and blows the horn no less well.

From that description, it might appear that he was simply better on the trombone than other bandsmen. But he was not a part of Salzburg’s town band. He was directly employed by the Prince-Archbishop’s household.

He played the trombone solo in every piece that included one. Where there was no trombone solo, Salzburg’s musical director kept him busy on one of his other instruments.

Gschlatt appears to be unique in Salzburg’s musical history as a trombone soloist, but not unique in the empire. The imperial court in Vienna probably also enjoyed the services of the local town band, but it directly employed at least trombone soloists over the course of most of the eighteenth century.

Olomouc

Trombone fresco

Detail from a fresco above the organ loft in Vienna’s Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church), ca. 1715

Salzburg was hardly the only Prince-Archbishopric with a musical establishment that attempted to rival the imperial court. In fact, without the eventual worldwide fame of Wolfgang Mozart, it probably wouldn’t even be the best known.

Salzburg and Olmütz (modern day Olomouc, a Moravian city in what is now the Czech Republic) were both ruled by Prince-Archbishops, whom the Holy Roman Emperor appointed. They are approximately the same distance from Vienna, but in roughly opposite directions.

Olomouc had the larger musical establishment of the two. Gschlatt decided to leave Salzburg for Olomouc in 1769. Never again did the court of Salzburg have a trombonist capable of playing all the solos that its composers had written for Gschlatt.

An inventory of music in Olomouc made some time before 1760 includes three trombone concertos. It doesn’t identify the composer(s), and they are no longer extant. But by that time, no trombone concerto had been written even in Vienna.

It appears that Gschlatt preferred playing trombone to his other instruments. To him, Olomouc may have had more distinguished composers. He could not have anticipated the internationally famous genius Wolfgang Mozart would become.

In any case, there was already a heritage of trombone solo playing that Salzburg could not possibly attain. It may have even had a team of soloists, like Vienna.

Because subsequent generations of musicians have not taken interest either in trombonists or the musical establishment at Olomouc, Gschlatt left the pages of history when he left Salzburg. But the tradition of trombone solo music lasted longer in Olomouc than in Vienna.

Whenever anyone chooses to investigate, the archives of Olomouc and other places important to its court contain plenty of interesting trombone music, additional documentation about Gschlatt, and probably other trombonists worth knowing about.

Photo credit: Will Kimball.  Kimball has no pictures from either Salzburg or Olomouc.


Comments

Thomas Gschlatt, the Mozarts’ trombonist — 3 Comments

  1. Dear David Guion,

    This is a very interesting article, thank you for posting it. I am currently preparing a presentation exploring Thomas Gschlatt’s influence upon trombone repertoire and would be extremely grateful if you could provide a bibliography for this article please?

    Many Thanks.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this post and that you intend to do your own research on Gschlatt. As for bibliography, I suggest you get a hold of my latest book (A History of the Trombone). Sources I used are in notes 41-47 on pages 161-62.

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