As the author of the theoretical work Gradus ad Parnassum (Vienna 1725), Johann Joseph Fux (ca. 1660–1741) was an influential figure in music history. Generations of composers, including Leopold Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, learned the basics of contrapuntal movement according to Fux’s method. By the 20th century Fux was regarded more as a theoretician than as a composer, known for only a few religious scores composed in the 16th century-like “stile antico”.
This greatly reduced image came after Fux’s death. But when he was chapel master of the Imperial chapel, Fux stood out from his contemporaries as the highest ranked musician in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and his music made an important contribution to the Habsburg regime. Fux had a distinctive sense of style and a great adaptive capacity, and his over 600 surviving works, in all main secular and sacred genres of his time, make him the most important composer of the Austrian baroque. His church music (particularly masses, requiems, oratorios), along with his operas and instrumental works, all bear witness to his skill at fulfilling the demands of three emperors – and at adapting to the particulars of different performance conditions.
Originating from rather simple family backgrounds, Fux had systematically worked his way up from an organist to various positions as chapel master at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and at the court, eventually becoming chapel master of the Imperial court. In this position as composer and “manager” of court music, he shaped local, Austrian and Central European music history for more than a quarter of a century. His pupils include the Viennese composers Gottlieb Muffat and Georg Christoph Wagenseil as well as Jan Dismas Zelenka, who worked at the Dresden court and studied with Fux for three years.