Jean Gaspard Weiss

Painting of Jean Gaspard Weiss.
The painting was from a panel in the house
of Mathieu Mieg - the panel is now housed
in the Musée Historique, Mulhouse.
Flute virtuoso, teacher and composer, known as Gaspard Weiss to his friends.

Born: 15 March 1739, Mulhouse
Died: 25 May 1815, Mulhouse

Father: Hans Jacob Weiss, 1703-1784
Mother: Martha Schlumberger, 1705-1767

Spouse 1: Marie Baumgarten, 1755-1798
Married on 22 August 1775, St Martin in the Fields, Westminster, London, England. Married under the names of Gaspar Weiss (of the parish of St Ann, Westminster) and Mary Baumgarten (of St Martins in the Fields, Westminster). Permission was given by Marie's father for her to marry, as she was a minor. Witnesses: Sam. Baumgarten (Marie's father) and S. Ealand.

Marie and Gaspard met through Marie's father - Gaspard and Samuel Baumgarten played in concerts together.


Spouse 2: Judith Risler, 1741-1823
Married 25 November 1800, Mulhouse. Gaspard's occupation was listed as a retailer. Groom's witnesses: Jean Schön, retailer, aged 52, and Paul Blech, retailer, aged 35, both Gaspard's brothers-in-law. Bride's witnesses: Jacques Risler, doctor of medicine, aged 55, Judith's brother, and Peter Heilmann, municipal administrator, aged 49, Judith's brother-in-law.

Biographical information
Generally known as Gaspard, but also Gaspar, Caspar, Johann Karl, Karl, Carl and by his full name, Jean Gaspard or Hans Caspar. I am not really sure why he was known as K/Carl - it is not a normal anglicising of the name Gaspard. The name of K/Carl was generally used for/by him in England, rather than in continental Europe, where he generally was known by the French version of his name.

I am not going to rewrite Gaspard Weiss’ life story here, mainly because his autobiography is published, and he has been written about in many places. I decided instead to assess some of the information about him that is in the public domain, and correct misinformation about him, much of which has been perpetuated over the years.

Highfill et al (1993, p337) wrote the following about Weiss:
Weiss, Carl. fl. 1768?-1790?1, flutist, composer.
A musician named Weiss appeared in the Assembly Room, Princess Street, Bristol, on 5 November 1768, along with (William?) Herschel, (John Abraham?) Fisher [sic], and one of the Broderips2. Weiss, who on that occasion shared the benefit with Fisher, was probably the flutist and composer Carl Weiss. According to the testimony of his son the composer Charles N. Weiss in a letter to the biographer Sainsbury in 1823, Carl Weiss had been “1st flute of the private concerts of their late Majesties King George the 3rd and the queen” and had made a “fortune” in England before returning to Mulhausen, in “German Switzerland,” where the younger Weiss was born3.
How Weiss obtained the “fortune” is not known4. He played in a trio at the Concert Rooms, Hanover Square, on some date in 1790, but he is not known to have performed again in public in London5.
The Catalogue of Printed Music in the British Museum lists several works by Carl Weiss, all with conjectural dating: Trios for a German Flute, a Violin and Violoncello, etc. (1775?); Six Trios for a German Flute, Violin and a Bass… Opera II (1780?); Six Solos for the German Flute and Bass… Opera III (1780?); and Six Quartettos for a Flute, Violin or Two Flutes, Tenor and Bass… Op. IV (1782?) Carl Weiss’s relationship, if any, to the G. Weiss who is listed in the Catalogue as publishing music for the flute in London around 1790 is not known. It is possible that they were the same person.” 
      1. This suggests that Weiss was active as a flautist and composer from about 1768-1790. This is partially true - these were roughly the dates he was active or publishing in London. According to his autobiography, he arrived in London in August 1767, returned briefly to continental Europe in 1774, and then returned from London to Mulhouse permanently in 1783, retiring from musical life at the same time. The significance of the year 1790 will be explained in Point 5.

      2. William Herschel was a German astronomer, living in Bath, who was also a talented musician, and the Broderips were a family of church musicians and composers who lived in Wells, Somerset and Bristol, Gloucestercshire. Johann Christian Fischer was a German born oboist who arrived in London around the same time as Gaspard Weiss. They often performed together, so I have little doubt that the "Weiss" who played in the Bristol concert was Gaspard Weiss.

      3. The author contacted the Royal Archives who were unable to confirm this information. Although it could be a son boasting about his father and embellishing the truth, Weiss did perform for the Royal Family. The following quote illustrates this: "I had a message from the Queen to attend her... when I came into the Japan-wainscot room, I found it to my surprise filled with all the capital musicians - Bach, Abel, Cramer, the celebrated violin, five or six opera violins, Gordon and another violoncello, 2 opera double bases, hautboys, horns, tenors, Beir the clarionet, Richter the bassoon, Weiss the german flute, Fisher the hautboy, Millico and Grassi, and the chorus singers." Burrows et al (2002, p765). Perhaps Weiss joined the royal chamber group when a flute part was required but was never officially appointed.

      4. From the Public Advertiser, 23 September 1784: "There are few musicians who have played their cards better than Weiss, the flute performer: Though never in the extremest popularity as a performer in public, he had the best business among private scholars. The profits of this, which were very considerable, he was so frugal of, that some time ago he retired, and since his retirement, chance has again favoured him, and made him very successful in an adventure in the linen trade in Switzerland, where he is settled." Although this gives explanation to where Weiss' fortune came from, history does show that his venture in the linen trade in "Switzerland" (Mulhouse) was not quite as successful as is described here.

      5. An extensive search has revealed no advertising for this alleged concert at Hanover Square in 1790. Weiss had returned to Mulhouse in 1783, and there is no evidence that he visited London again. However, there was a work called A Favourite Trio for a German flute, Oboe and Violoncello, performed by Messrs. Weiss, Fischer and Crosdill at the Concert Rooms Hanover Square, which was published by Longman and Broderip, London, in 1790. I believe this publication date has been misconstrued as the performance date, when in reality the performance could have been years before. As this is the last well-known date associated with Weiss in London, this is perhaps why it has been assumed that Weiss died in 1790 in London. In actual fact, in 1791 Longman and Broderip also published a work by Franz Christoph Neubauer that Weiss had adapted. It appears to be an assumption that Weiss must have been present in London for something to be published in his name, whereas he could well have sent works to London to be published because he knew there would be a market.
De Lorenzo (1992, p286) wrote of Weiss:
WEISS, CARL (1735?-17956) German flutist, composer and principal in the private band of George the Third of England. He was born in Mulhausen, Alsace, and died in London7.
and also on page 94:
In 1784, Dulon met Tromlitz at Leipzig and they played duets together8. A year later he became associated with Forkel, the director of music at the University of Gottingen, and with Weiss, a well-known flute-player of Mulhausen9, the father of C.N. Weiss, who was long popular in London. Dulon speaks highly of the beauty and purity of tone, as well as the rapid execution of Weiss. 
      6. The date of death for Weiss of 1795 is found in a few places (probably copying from each other), but the origins of this date have not been ascertained. Wherever it came from, it is incorrect.

      7. Perpetuating the error discussed in point 5.

      8. Friedrich Ludwig Dülon was a German flautist who toured extensively in Europe during the 1780s and 90s. Johann George Tromlitz was a flautist, teacher and flute maker from Leipzig.

      9. It is interesting that this is after Weiss moved home to Mulhouse, and apparently officially retires from his musical career. Clearly he didn't give up his flute-playing altogether.

Weiss, whilst not retaining the fame that contemporaries such as JC Bach enjoyed, appears to have been regarded as a talented musician, who performed with some of the best musicians in London. He certainly wasn't as prolific a composer as some, but was apparently well respected as a performer and teacher. It was perhaps the bond of German heritage and common language that first gave him entry into such an elite circle of London musicians, as many were German born, though one must assume it was his talent that kept him there.

Comparison of maps of the day and today's streets
suggest that one of these buildings may be the back
of Gaspard Weiss' house, which fronted onto
rue des Trois Rois, Mulhouse. This view is from
rue du Mittelbach.
After a protracted battle over inheritance money from Marie's uncle Samuel Joynes, in 1783 Marie finally inherited £3000. It would seem that the family then immediately made plans to move Mulhouse.

Not as much is known about Weiss' life after he returned to Mulhouse in 1783, where he was lured in order to invest his considerable fortune. Research reveals that he entered into a partnership with the Mulhouse fabric-printing business Dollfus Père et Fils in 1797, which became Dollfus Père, Fils, Weiss et Cie. By 1800 though, Gaspard Weiss was no longer involved in the business, and his surname was removed from the company name. This was many years after it was reported in the Public Advertiser (see Point 4) that he was enjoying success in the linen trade in Switzerland (Mulhouse) - it is not known what this particular venture was.

Gaspard Weiss' first wife Marie died giving birth to their fifteenth child, Rosine. In Marie's death record it gives Gaspard's occupation as manufacturer of Indiennes (the printed fabric that Mulhouse was famous for) It is likely that some of the older Weiss children, helped raise the younger ones, including the infant Rosine. Weiss married again, to Judith Risler, in 1800, and at that time his occupation was listed as retailer - what was he selling? Was he still in the fabric printing business?

Gaspard Weiss died in Mulhouse on 26 May 1815 at just after 7:30pm. He was 76 years old. In a letter to his son Willoughby in 1814 (Annex 4 in his autobiography), he mentioned a painful oppression (an illness?) and that he felt he did not have much time left. On his death record Gaspard's occupation was given as "owner", though it gives no details as to what he was the owner of - presumably a business?

It would seem Gaspard's life in Mulhouse was completely different to his former life in London. He apparently spent much more time in business ventures than on music. One imagines though, that with music being such a large part of his former life, he couldn't possibly have given it totally away.

Composed or adapted works held in national libraries
British Library
Bibliothèque nationale de France
Det Kongelige Bibliotek (Denmark)
Bonz, T. and Michelon, E. (Eds.) 2012. Jean Gaspard Weiss Autobiographie: Lebens- und Reisebericht eines Musikers aus dem 18. Jahrhundert. Orts Musikverlag, Beeskow.

Burrows, D., Dunhill, R. and Harris, J. (2002). Music and Theatre in Handel's World: The Family Papers of James Harris, 1732-1780. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Highfill, P.H., Burnim, K.A. and Langhans, E.A. (1993). A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800: Tibbett to M. West. SIU Press.
Sainsbury, J.S. (1824). A Dictionary of Musicians, Volume II. Sainsbury and Co, London.

Review of Jean Gaspard Weiss' autobiography in Revue d'Alsace
Review of Töne von meiner Flöten, a recent recording of some of Jean Gaspard Weiss' music
A painting of Jean Gaspard Weiss (location of painting unknown)