8 duets, for 2 tubas (ca 1800)
(Transcription by Angelo Piazzini) DV 20511 12 Pages Romantic
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(b Zehušice, nr Čáslav, 28 Sept 1746; d Prague, 16 Feb 1803). Bohemian horn player, violinist and composer. His master Count Thun sent him to study the horn, first under Josef Matiegka at Prague, then with Jan Schindelarž at Dobříš; he completed his studies (c1763/4) in Dresden under A.J. Hampel, whose hand-stopping technique he later improved and extended. After his return home (1764) he served the count for four years and then ran away with four colleagues, crossing the border into the Holy Roman Empire, where he assumed his Italian pseudonym. He began travelling through Europe in 1768, breaking new ground as a touring horn virtuoso. He visited England in early 1772, performing at least ten times in London, most often as a concerto soloist (LS). Punto’s use of hand-stopping was criticized by some in London (New Instructions; LS), probably because it was still novel, but others were more favourable, such as Burney, who wrote from Koblenz in July or August 1772: ‘The elector has a good band, in which M. Ponta [?Panta], the celebrated French horn from Bohemia, whose taste and astonishing execution were lately so much applauded in London, is a performer’. For a while he was employed by the prince of Hechingen, and in 1769–74 he was at the Mainz court. Between 1776 and 1788 Punto appeared 49 times at the Concert Spirituel in Paris (Pierre). In 1778 he met Mozart there, who was much impressed by his playing and composed for him and J.B. Wendling (flute), Friedrich Ramm (oboe) and G.W. Ritter (bassoon) the Sinfonia concertante kAnh.9/297B (now lost). In 1781 Punto was a member of the Prince-Archbishop of Würzburg’s band, but in 1782 he returned to Paris in the service of the Count of Artois (later Charles X). In 1787 he visited a number of Rhineland towns and in the following year was engaged by Mme Mara to appear in her concerts at the Pantheon, London. From 1789 to 1799 he was again in Paris and under the Reign of Terror held the post of violinist-conductor at the Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes. In 1799 he went to Munich and in 1800 to Vienna, where he met Beethoven, who composed the Horn Sonata op.17 for him; Punto and Beethoven gave its first performance on 18 April. On 18 May 1801 Punto gave a grand concert at the National Theatre in Prague; his performance was highly praised by the Prager neue Zeitung (1801, no.39, p.473). In 1802 he toured with J.L. Dussek, with whom he gave a concert at Čáslav (16 September). He made another short visit to Paris, then returned to Prague where he died after an illness of five months. He was given a grandiose funeral, with Mozart’s Requiem played at the graveside.
Punto was a cor basse player, as were many of the leading soloists of the day; he used a silver cor solo made for him in 1778 by Lucien-Joseph Raoux of Paris, and was acclaimed by music critics as a virtuoso of the highest order, perhaps the greatest horn player of all time. Works written by and for him show that Punto was a master of quick arpeggios and stepwise passage work. Mozart’s high opinion (‘Punto bläst magnifique’), expressed in a letter of 1778, was shared by Beethoven, and virtually all contemporary writers referred to the vocal quality of his playing. Fröhlich’s comments are typical:
What distinguished Punto, in a way that one has never heard in any other artist heretofore, was his most magnificent performance, the gentlest portrayals, the thunder of tones and their sweetest indescribable blending of nuances with the most varied tone production, an agile tongue, dexterous in all forms of articulation, single and double tones, and even chords, but most important, a silver-bright and charming cantabile tone.
Among his students were Jean Lebrun, Heinrich Domnich and Pierre Joseph Pieltain. Punto arranged other composers’ works for himself (sometimes publishing them in his own name), including pieces by Carl Stamitz, Sterkel, Rosetti, Joseph Michel and Dimmler (GerberNL). Though many of his works were published in the 1780s and 90s, Punto was evidently composing and arranging before then, for his pieces are listed in Breitkopf’s catalogue of 1778. He also revised Hampel’s horn tutor and produced a curious book of daily exercises for the horn. A portrait by C.N. Cochin was engraved by Miger (Paris, 1782).