Even though Johann Christoph Schmidt (1664–1728) was director of the Dresden Hofkapelle during the decisive period (1698–1728) when it became one of the leading European orchestras, his biography and compositions so far are barely known. Schmidt was educated and pursued his career as a musician almost exclusively at the Dresden court. Within twenty years he advanced from choir boy to the position of court kapellmeister. Only rather late, in 1694, the elector granted him a journey to Italy to become familiar with the Italian manner of composing. One of the few sources documenting this new influence is his only surviving opera seria, “Latona in Delo”, written in 1709. His other secular compositions favour French stylistic models, particularly the four overture suites transmitted in Dresden.
How exactly Schmidt adopted the French style is not easy to reconstruct. His overture suites most probably were written before 1715, perhaps even significantly earlier. For the time after 1700 the influence of French music at the Dresden court is amply documented, for example by giving musicians trained in the French style – such as Volumier – privileged positions in the court orchestra. The early phase of the overture suite for example (from about 1680 to 1710) is represented at the Dresden court only by the compositions of J. C. Pez and Schmidt.
The overture suites of Johann Christoph Schmidt still follow the older tradition of the genre in Germany. We recognize, however, a chronological development from the French emphasis on the outer parts towards the Italian standard instrumentation. In his suite in B-flat major Schmidt juxtaposes in the outer movements (intrada and chaconne) two multiply scored four-part instrumental choruses – a string and a woodwind ensemble. The four overture suites show his attempt to develop an individual concept which apart from following the predominant French style also takes up central German and Italian influences. This is illustrated particularly clearly in the Suite in B-flat major edited here, which represents an early example of the much-cited "mixed taste" at the Dresden court.
From its beginnings the overture suite in Germany within well-defined formal and stylistic boundaries has offered ample opportunity for experimenting with different influences and ideas. The suite by Johann Christoph Schmidt presented here is a case in point.
(translation by Stephanie Wollny)