Johann Joseph Fux was born in the village of Hirtenfeld, about 20 km east of Graz, then part of the parish of St. Marein, which lies 7 km to the southeast. The baptismal registrations of this parish church begin in 1663 and contain no registration for Johann Joseph Fux; it can therefore be assumed that he was born before that year, although not much earlier. His father was the farmer and collier Andreas Fux (ca. 1615–1708), his mother probably Andreas’s wife Ursula (ca. 1640–1691).
Johann Joseph was first documented in the registers of the University of Graz in May 1680 as a pupil of the grammar class, i.e. the third, of the Jesuit Gymnasium. In February 1681 he was admitted to the boarding school Ferdinandeum and for the first time was called “Musicus” – the needy pupils had to participate in the music of the Jesuit Church. Also in this school year he was still in the third high school class – probably as a repetitionist – which does not speak for his year of birth being 1660, the date traditionally cited; otherwise, we would have to imagine a peasant offspring over 20 years old as a classmate of 13-year-olds. Even the assumption that he was born towards the end of 1662 does not make his admission to grammar school at age 17 much more plausible, although the sources suggest this conclusion.
At the end of 1683 we find “Joannes Josephus Fux Styrus Hyrtenfeldensis logica studiosus pauper” at the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt, i.e. in the last class of the lyceum, after having left the Ferdinandeum in Graz before the minimum stay of three years – and probably for this reason without having deregistered. Fux most likely did not want to follow the established path of entering the clergy (he may have wanted to study law, which was not offered at the University of Graz ), and so started studying at Ingolstadt instead. In August 1685 while still a philosophy student, he was employed as an organist in the parish church of St. Moritz; his legal studies continued until 1687. At that time he also composed some now lost works (motets and a German funeral song), listed in an inventory of the parish church from 1710.
The end of 1688 also saw the end of Fux’s employment as a parish organist in Ingolstadt. He is assumed to have stayed in Vienna, being documented there in 1696 with his marriage to Juliana Clara Schnitzenbaum (ca. 1671–1731). She was the daughter of a government official, and he was then an organist of the Benedictine monastery of the Scots. Starting at the beginning of 1698, Fux was “because of his compositions” additionally paid by Emperor Leopold I as a member of his court chapel, i.e. as a court composer. Among his tasks were the sacral music for the church and the secular music for the chamber, and he composed masses, vespers, motets, oratorios and church sonatas as well as serenades (chamber dramas) and the instrumental suites and sonatas that were gathered in Concentus musico-instrumentalis (Nuremberg 1701), his first printed work. Fux was also entrusted with stage works: a small festival for the imperial pages in 1700, and a three-act drama per musica for the name day of Amalie Wilhelmine, wife of the Roman King Joseph I, in 1702. That year Fux resigned his position as organist at the Scottish abbey, and from then until his appointment as chapel master of the Imperial court in 1715, he wrote only one-act operas – large operas being better served by the Italian composers Giovanni Bononcini and Marc’ Antonio Ziani, both renowned in this field.
With Fux’s appointment as chapel master of the Maria Pötsch icon at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1705, he began an accumulation of offices previously unknown in Viennese musical life. In 1711 he was awarded the position of vice chapel master at the court and director of the chapel of Emperor Joseph I’s widow. His vast amount of sacred works includes masses, requiems, and 13 oratorios; he also composed 18 secular dramatic works of mostly smaller dimensions – plus the more sizable Angelica Vincitrice di Alcina (1716), Elisa (1719) and the Prague Festival Opera Costanza e Fortezza (1723) – as well as a considerable number of instrumental compositions, for the church and for secular use. However, his best-known effort, in its extensive overall impact and repercussions, remains the composing treatise Gradus ad Parnassum (Vienna 1725). All these works represent a great part of the preserved output of Fux’s enormous creativity, having spent 42 years in the service of three Emperors, Leopold I, Joseph I and Charles VI. His pupils included Gottlieb Muffat, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Franz Ignaz Tuma and Georg Christoph Wagenseil.
With regard to Fux’s personal circumstances, it should be noted that he had no children of his own, but took in a niece and a nephew who became his heirs, and that from about 1720 he suffered from chronic gout. Fux died on February 13, 1741, wealthy and highly esteemed, and was buried two days later in the crypt under St. Stephen’s. In the Totenbeschauprotokoll and in the Viennese Diarium (February 18, 1741, p. 149) his age is given as 81 years, which would indicate his birth in 1659, although these estimated ages include a high factor of uncertainty (plus or minus 4 years). Fux’s remains were not retrieved when the catacombs of St. Stephen’s were cleared in the 1870s.
Rudolf Flotzinger (ed.), Johann Joseph Fux. Leben – musikalische Wirkung – Dokumente, Graz: Leykam 2015.
Rudolf Flotzinger, Johann Joseph Fux. Zu Leben und Werk des österreichischen Barockkomponisten. Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt 2015.
Thomas Hochradner, Art. Fux, Johann Joseph, in: MGG2, Personenteil vol. 7, Kassel etc. 2002, cols. 303–319.
Picture credits: [Alois Greil], lithograph, after 1872, © by courtesy of Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv und Grafiksammlung (POR), PORT_00005584_01.
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Recommended citation: Herbert Seifert, Johann Joseph Fux, [Link: //fux-online.at/cms_seite.php?content=2&menu=1], 08.07.2016.