Josef Mysliveček (pron. MIHS-lih-veh-chek) was born in Prague on 9 March, 1737 and died at Rome on 4 February, 1781. He must be counted among the most interesting musical personalities of eighteenth-century Europe. This Czech composer, the son of a well-to-do miller, is believed to have attended the Normalschule of the Dominicans at St. Giles and the Jesuit Gymnasium in Prague along with his identical twin brother before entering Charles University in the 1752-53 school year. Musical training was an integral part of elementary and secondary education throughout Bohemia in the eighteenth century, and it is likely that he became proficient in violin at an early age. Due to a lack of academic success, Mysliveček dropped out of the university in March of 1753 and was apprenticed with his brother in the millers’ trade in May of the same year. They achieved the status of Master Millers in October of 1761. Apparently, it was just after this time that Mysliveček made the decision to abandon manual labor and become a composer.
He first sought training from the Prague choirmaster František Václav Habermann, but dissatisfied with his slow pace of instruction, he turned instead to the organist Josef Seger. Reputedly he was able to compose symphonies within six months’ study with Seger. His earliest surviving symphony, dated 1762, is preserved in the collection of Count Vincenz von Waldstein who sponsored performances of Mysliveček’'s symphonies in his Prague palace.
Mysliveček’'s true ambition was to achieve fame as a composer of Italian opera, and so he left Prague in November of 1763 to study vocal composition in Venice with G. B. Peschetti. He was able to get his first opera performed within two and a half years after his arrival in Italy. By the time of his death, his operas had been performed in all of the principal theaters of Italy.
After moving to Italy, Mysliveček mainly spent his time traveling at will as a "rake" and adventurer. He shunned institutional employment, preferring instead to finance a self-indulgent lifestyle with his earnings as an independent musician and composer. The effects of a lifetime of financial irresponsibility and other discreditable behavior unfortunately proved inescapable. He became quite ill in the mid-1770's, and in 1777 during one of his few trips back to northern Europe, he underwent an operation in Munich that resulted in his nose being burnt off. After a long period of physical decline, he died destitute in Rome in 1781.
The importance of Myslivecček's close friendship with Wolfgang Mozart during the period 1770-78 remains little appreciated. As a matter of fact, Mozart frequently used Myslivecek’'s works as compositional models, and Mozart’'s account of his visit to Mysliveček'’s sickbed in Munich in 1777 is without precedent in the Mozart correspondence for the tenderness it shows for the welfare of another composer. Tragically, Mysliveček ruined his friendship with Mozart shortly after this time when he failed to make good on a boastful promise to arrange an operatic commission for him in return for help from Mozart’'s father in obtaining patronage from the archbishop of Salzburg. Few persons succeeded in bamboozling the shrewd Leopold Mozart, but Mysliveček was one.
As a composer, Mysliveček occupied himself chiefly with the composition of operas and symphonies, but like most major composers of the 1760's and 1770's, he also produced chamber works intended for amateur performance. What mainly filled publisher’s catalogs in those days were duets, trios, etc., for various combinations of string and wind instruments— nothing was expected of them except that they be pleasing to the ear, enjoyable to play, and well suited to the technical capabilities of the amateur musicians who formed the principal market for music publishing.
The largest category of chamber music by Mysliveček consists of trios in three movements for violins, flutes, and bass. He produced several sets of trios for two violins and bass (which could also be performed as "orchestra trios"), one set of trios for two flutes and bass, and one set of trios for flute, violin, and bass. Mysliveček'’s contributions exhibit unusually attractive melody lines and a good deal of compositional ingenuity.
The trios edited for this collection constitute the complete trios for flute, violin, and bass known to have been written by Josef Mysliveček. All are found in an Italian print of the late 1770's published by Ranieri del Vivo in Florence, the Sei Trii per flauto, violino, e violoncello. The only known copy is preserved in the Biblioteca Musicale Greggiati in Ostiglia. Four of the trios were also published in an undated eighteenth-century print brought out by J. Schmitt in Amsterdam (nos. 1, 2, 3, and 6) and two more (nos. 3 and 6) were published by John Bland in London ca. 1795 in a collection entitled Six Trios for a German Flute, Violin, Bassoon or Violoncello and Three for Two German Flute, Bassoon or Violoncello by Mysliveček, Venturini, and Leo.
Mysliveček’'s "Trios" can be performed successfully by almost any combination of instruments whose range is appropriate for the parts. Probably the best scoring for this set is the one specified in the Del Vivo print (flute, violin, and cello), but the flexibility available to performers is confirmed in the Bland print, which leaves open the possibility of performance with bassoon. The flute is clearly intended to be the featured instrument, whereas the violin has a dual function. Sometimes the violin is merely given rhythmic busywork to help support the melodies of the flute part— at other times, it is treated as a co-soloist.
Mysliveček clearly understood that one of the most important principles of chamber music composition in the eighteenth century was that there should be something enjoyable for all of the participants to play, even if some of the parts could be subordinated at times in the interest of musical variety and textural richness.