Carl Friedrich Abel

Carl Friedrich [Charles Frederick] Abel (1723-1787)

By an unknown artist from the 18th century German School.

Composer of instrumental music and noted viola da gamba player, Carl Friedrich Abel was born into a musical family in Cöthen in the year that J.S. Bach moved from there to Leipzig. He began composing during the ten years that he spent in the court orchestra in Dresden, but in 1759 he settled in England and began organising and performing public concerts of his own compositions.

With the arrival in London of Johann Christian Bach, these concerts evolved into the famous Bach-Abel subscription concerts, which flourished for over fifteen years until Bach's death in 1782. The concerts eventually resumed as the Grand Professional Concerts, in which Abel was a frequent performer on the bass viol.

A magnificent portrait of Abel by his friend Thomas Gainsborough was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777 and is now at the Huntington Library in California. Although highly regarded in London society, Abel's death was not unconnected with his somewhat indulgent lifestyle and enjoyment of alcohol. His obituary in the Morning Post of 22 June 1787 remarked that 'his favourite instrument [bass viol] was not in general use, and would probably die with him'.