Karl Friedrich Abel

Karl Friedrich Abel

Born Dec 22, 1723 in Cöthen, Anhalt-Köthen
Died Jun 20, 1787 in London, England


Carl Friedrich Abel


Composer and player of the Viola da Gamba, born in Köthen, Thuringia. Son of Christian Ferdinand Abel, a Gamba player in Bach's orchestra in Köthen, 1717-1723). Karl Friedrich himself became a student under Johann Sebastian Bach during the latter's years in Leipzig. He was a sometime musician in Dresden, employed by the King of Poland, and he later moved to England where, in 1759, he became chamber-musician to Queen Charlotte. In 1764 Abel became a close friend of Johann Christian Bach a son of his old teacher in Leipzig, recently appointed Music Master to Queen Charlotte, and the two of them started a popular series of concerts (known as the Bach-Abel concerts) in London, which lasted until J.C. Bach's death in 1782. Abel and Bach even lived together for a long time. They were the first to perform Haydn's music in London. Abel was also a friend of the painter Thomas Gainsborough.

Abel was the composer of several original works and he also composed the ouverture to Arne and Bickerstaffe's opera Daphne and Amintor (1765). One of his symphonies was even copied by Mozart who substituted Clarinets for the Oboes used by Abel in the original (Mozart: K. 18, Abel: Symphony in E-Flat Major, Opus 7).1

  • 1. For further information about Abel see fx Rice, Albert R. (2003) The Clarinet in the Classical Period. OUP., p. 257, Boyd, Malmcolm; John Butt (1999). J. S. Bach. OUP. pp, 1, 34, 35, 46, 90, 186, 291, etc. and Walter Knape's 1973 biography Karl Friedrich Abel. Leben und Werk eines Frühklassischen Komponisten (in German)

Life with Boswell: 

Boswell dined with Abel at Lord Eglinton's on May 8, 1763. He also referred to him in some of his themes during his stay in Holland.