Abel, Carl [Karl] Friedrich
* 22. Dez. 1723 in Cöthen
† 20. Juni 1787 in London
Komponist und Viola da gamba Spieler
Sohn des Christian Ferdinand Abel,
jüngerer Bruder des Leopold August Abel


Abel, Karl Friedrich, one of the most famous viol da gamba players, born at Cöthen in 1725. He was brought up at the Thomasschule at Leipzig under Sebastian Bach. In 1748 he obtained a post under Hasse in the court band at Dresden, where he remained ten years. In 1759 he visited London, and gave his first concert on April 5 at the 'great room in Dean Street, Soho,' when, besides playing the viol da gamba, he performed 'a concerto upon the harpsichord, and a piece composed on purpose for an instrument newly-invented in London, and called the pentachord,' the whole of the pieces in the programme being of his own composition. His facility was remarkable: he is reported to have performed more than once on the horn, as well as on 'new instruments never heard in public before.'

From the year 1765, however, he confined himself to the viol da gamba. He was appointed chamber-musician to Queen Charlotte, with a salary of £200 a year. On the arrival of John Christian Bach, in the autumn of 1762, Abel joined him; they lived together, and jointly conducted Mrs. Cornelys' subscription concerts. The first of tlieir series took place in Carlisle House, Soho Square, on Jan. 23, 1765, and they were maintained for many years. The Hanover Square Rooms were opened on Feb. 1, 1775, by one of these concerts. Haydn's Symphonies were first performed in England at them, and Wilhelm Cramer the violinist, father of J. B. Cramer, made his first appearance there. After Bach's death on Jan. 1, 1782, the concerts were continued by Abel, but with indifferent success. In 1783 he returned to Germany, taking Paris on the way back, where he appears to have begun that indulgence in drink which eventually caused his death. In 1785 we lind him again in London, engaged in the newly established 'Professional Concerts,' and in the 'Subscription Concerts ' of Mr. Salomon and Mme. Mara at the Pantheon. At this time his compositions were much performed, and he himself still played often in public. His last appearance was at Mrs. Billington's concert on May 21, 1787, shortly after which, on June 20, he died, after a lethargy or sleep of three days' duration. His death was much spoken of in the papers. Abel's symphonies, overtures, quartets, concertos, and sonatas were greatly esteemed, and many of them were publislied by Bremner of London and Hummel of Berlin. A complete catalogue is given in Eitner's Quellen-Lexikon. The most favourite were 'A fifth set of six overtures, op. 14' (Bremner), and 'Six sonatas, op. 18.' Abel's playing was most remarkable in slow movements. 'On the viol da gamba,' says the European Magazine, 1784, p. 366, 'he is truly excellent, and no modern has been heard to play an Adagio with greater taste and feeling.' Burney's testimony is to the same effect, and he adds that 'his musical science and taste were so complete that he became the umpire in all musical controversy, and was consulted like an oracle.' He was accustomed to call his instrument 'the king of instruments,' and to say of himself that there was 'one God and one Abel.' Among his pupils both in singing and composition were J. B. Cramer, Graeff, and Brigida Giorgi (Signora Banti). His friend Gainsborough painted a three-quarter-length portrait of Abel playing on the viol da gamba, distinguished by its careful execution, beauty of colouring, and deep expression. It was bequeathed by Miss Gainsborough to Mr. Briggs, and was sold in London in 1866. Gainsborough also exhibited a whole-length of Abel at the Royal Academy in 1777. A very powerful portrait of him by Robineau is to be found at Hampton Court, and another by a nameless artist is in the Music School at Oxford.

Probably the most interesting among Abel's compositions are those written for the viol da gamba. None of them seem ever to have been published, but specimens exist in the British Museum and other public libraries, and in private collections. They include studies and other pieces marked 'Viola da Gamba senza Basso,' sonatas, 'A Viola da Gamba Solo e Basso,' and 'Duettos ' marked ' Per la Viola da Gamba e Violoncello.' They evince a high degree of taste, little musical imagination, and unlimited command over the peculiar resources of the instrument. Some adagios from his quartets were published in score, with pianoforte adaptations, 'as a tribute of respect to his memory by his surviving and grateful pupil, J. B. Cramer' (1820). A good idea of Abel's personal appearance is afforded by a caricature representing 'A Solo on the Viola di Gamba, Mr. Abel,' drawn by J. N., 1787, etched by W. V. Gardiner.

Following English traditions, Abel played on a six-stringed viol da gamba, instead of the seven-stringed one commonly in use on the Continent. The instrument shown in his portraits is evidently by an old German maker, and has a brass 'rose ' inserted in the belly under the finger-board.


Verlagsort der gedruckten Werke ist London, wenn nicht anders angegeben. Nummerierung nach Knape (1971)


  • 1-6 Sechs Sinfonien in vier Sätzen für 2 Violinen, Viola und basso continuo op. 1 (Amsterdam ~1759)
  • 7-12 Sechs Ouvertüren op. 4 (1762)
  • 45a Ouvertüre D-dur zu 'Love in a Village' (I. Bickerstaffe), komische Oper von Arne (8. Dez. 1762 London, Covent Garden) (1763)
  • 45b Ouvertüre B-dur zu 'The Summer's Tale' (R. Cumberland), komische Oper von Arnold (6. Dez. 1765) (1763)
  • 44 'The Periodical Overture' Nr. 16 (1766)
  • 13-18 Sechs Sinfonien op. 7 (1767)
  • 19-24 Sechs Sinfonien op. 10 (1773)
  • 53-58 Sechs Konzerte für Cembalo/Klavier und Instrumente op. 11 (1774)
  • 25-30 Sechs Ouvertüren op. 14 (1778)
  • 42 'Simphonie concertante à plusieurs instrument obligés' für Violine, Oboe und Violincello (Berlin 1781)
  • 31-36 Sechs Ouvertüren op. 17 (1783)
  • 51 Flötenkonzert C-dur, vor 1759
  • 52 Violoncellokonzert B-dur, vor 1759
  • 43 Sinfonia concertante D-dur für Violine, Oboe und Violoncello, 1783
  • 37-41 Fünf Sinfonien C-dur, B-dur, Es-dur, B-dur, D-dur, nach 1783
  • 59 Flötenkonzert G-dur, nach 1783
  • 60 Violoncellokonzert C-dur, nach 1783


  • 111-116 Sechs Sonaten für Cembalo, Violine/Flöte und Violoncello op. 2 (1760)
  • 80-85 Sechs Sonaten für Violine/Flöte, Violine und Cembalo op. 3 (1761)
  • 117-122 Sechs Sonaten für Cembalo, Violine/Flöte und Violoncello op. 5 (1764)
  • 123-128 Sechs Sonaten für Flöte und basso continuo op. 6 (1765)
  • 61-66 Sechs Quartette für 2 Violinen, Viola und obligates Violoncello op. 8 (1769)
  • 86-91 Sechs Sonaten für Violine, Violoncello und basso continuo op. 9 (1772)
  • 67-72 Sechs Quartette (zweite Lieferung) op. 12 (1775)
  • 225-226 2 Quartette in Sechs Quartetten... von den Herren Bach, Abel und Giardini für Flöte, Violine, Viola und basso continuo / 2 Violinen, Viola und basso continuo (1776)
  • 129-134 Sechs Sonaten für Cembalo/Klavier und Violine op. 13 (1777)
  • 102-103 Zwei Trios in Sechs Sonaten, von den Herren Bach, Abel und Kammell für 2 Violinen und Violoncello (1777)
  • 73-78 Sechs Quartette für 2 Violinen, Viola und obligates Violoncello op. 15 (1780)
  • 92-97 Sechs Trios für Violine, Viola und Violoncello op. 16 (1783)
  • 98-101 Vier Trios (zwei für 2 Flöten und basso continuo und zwei für Flöte, Violine und basso continuo) op. 16 (Berlin 1783)
  • 135-140 Sechs Sonaten für Cembalo/Klavier und Violine op. 18 (1784)
  • 228 Duett für 2 Violoncelli (nach 1787)
  • 104-110 Sieben Sonaten G-dur, D-dur, G-dur, F-dur, c-moll, G-dur, G-dur für 2 Flöten und basso continuo, Nr. 106 auch für Flöte, Violine und basso continuo (~1765)
  • 213-216 Vier Menuette aus 'Entradas and Minuetts for the Ball at Court' C-dur, D-dur, G-dur, G-dur für Tasteninstrument transkribiert, 1765-1769
  • 217-223 Sieben Regimentsmärsche F-dur, F-dur, F-dur, F-dur, F-dur, B-dur, F-dur für Tasteninstrument transkribiert, 1765-1769?
  • 110a-f Sechs Triosonaten D-dur, G-dur, C-dur, B-dur, C-dur, C-dur für Flöte, Violine und basso continuo, ?vor 1780 (Urheberschaft zweifelhaft)
  • 147 Sonate G-dur für Violoncello und basso continuo, nach 1783
  • 148 Sonate A-dur vür Violoncello und basso continuo, nach 1783

    Viola da Gamba

  • 141-146 Sechs leichte Sonaten für Cembalo oder Viola da Gamba/Violine/Flöte und basso continuo (Amsterdam 1771)
  • 152-85 (Vierunddreißig) Sonaten für Viola da Gamba (einige mit basso continuo), ?~1760
  • 186-212 Siebenundzwanzig Stücke für Viola da Gamba, ~1770
  • 227 Quartett G-dur für Flöte, Violine, Viola da Gamba und Violoncello Nr. 4, nach 1783
  • 149 Sonate G-dur für Viola da Gamba und basso continuo, nach 1783
  • 150 Sonate e-moll für Viola da Gamba und basso continuo, nach 1783


  • - 'Frena le belle lagrima', Arie für Sopran und obligater Viola da Gamba im pasticcio 'Sifari' (5. März 1767 London, King's Theatre), weitere Musik von J. Chr. Bach und B. Galuppi, veröffentlicht in 'The Favourite Songs in the Opera Sifari' (1767)
  • - 'Where can we run', Air für Tenor, für Tasteninstrument transkribiert aus der komischen Oper 'Tom Jones' (J. Reed, nach H. Fielding, 14. Jan. 1769 London, Covent Garden) (1769)
  • 231 'Dolly's eyer are so bright' für drei Stimmen, ~1765-1770


  • C. L. Junker: Zwanzig Componisten: eine Skizze (Bern, 1776) in: Gentleman's Magazine (London 1787)
  • J. B. Cramer (Herausgeber): The Late C. F. Abel's Adagios in Score (London 1820)
  • C. F. Pohl: Mozart und Haydn in London (Wien 1867)
  • C. S. Terry: John Christian Bach (London 1929)
  • W. Knape: Die Sinfonien von Karl Friedrich Abel (Dissertation Universität Leipzig 1934)
  • S. M. Helm: Carl F. Abel, Symphonist: a Biographical, Stylistic and Bibliographical Study (Dissertation Universität Michigan 1953)
  • W. Knape: Karl Friedrich Abel - ein zu Unrecht vergessener Zeitgenosse Mozarts: zur geplanten Neuausgabe einiger seiner Sinfonien', Musik und Gesellschaft (1957)
  • G. Beechey: 'Carl Friedrich Abel's Six Symphonies Op. 14', Music and Letters (1970)
  • W. Knape: Bibliographisch-thematisches Verzeichnis der Kompositionen von Karl Friedrich Abel (Cuxhaven 1971)
  • W. Knape: Karl Friedrich Abel: Leben und Werk eines frühklassichen Komponisten (Bremen 1973)
  • M. Charters: 'Abel in London', The Musical Times (1973)
  • M. Charters: The Bach-Abel Concerts (Dissertation Universität of London 1978)

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