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Phillip Frick

Philipp Joseph Frick1 (1742–1798) was an organist, composer and noted performer on the glass armonica, who captivated audiences all over Europe in the eighteenth century, from Russia to London. As he described himself, "the Writer was (formerly) obliged to travel through the greatest part of Europe, and thus became known with his musical instrument Harmonica, almost to every Monarch and Individual."2 He also composed and published works for piano/harpsichord and other instruments, and several books on music theory3 A review mentions that he played one of his own compositions, so apparently he composed for it, alas none have apparently survived.4 He also tried to add a keyboard to the armonica.5 In 1797—a year before his death—he published his mystical religious magnum opus called The True Knowledge of God and Man; of the Great Sabbath on Earth; and of the Restoration of All Things; With some Essential Remarks on the Duty we owe to our Creator, generally now referred to (when referred to at all) as simply The True Knowledge.

Frick was born in Willanzheim, a village near Würzburg in southern Germany, on 14 April 1742. He was the son of a Catholic schoolteacher in Willanzheim, Matthäus Frick, and his wife Margaretha Zapff, who were married in the town of Willanzheim in 1736. Where the young Joseph Frick, as he was to call himself in later life, received his musical education is not known,6 but he was apparently talented enough to rise to the position of court organist to August Georg, the Catholic Margrave of Baden-Baden, from 1762 until 1771, the year in which August Georg died.

In 1769 Frick traveled and performed throughout Germany:

Also, Frick is here, former organist at Baden, a traveling armonica player. He plays very badly, particularly miserable are his own compositions; but the rarity of the instrument means that it requires mention.7

He performed in Frankfurt on September 16, 1769 and received a much happier review:

Herr Frick ... gave a concert on the armonica which he built himself. This instrument consists of pure glass bells, evoking such a fine and singing tone as has never been heard before in music.8

While in the employ of August Georg, the Margrave requested Frick to build an armonica, and the completed instrument seems to have pleased the prince. But he never was paid for it, as Frick himself recounts:

From the year 1762 to 1771, the Writer was Organist to the Prince or Margrave of Baaden, for whom he was desired to make the said Harmonica, and for which purpose the then Court-Marshal Baron Schönau advanced the money. When ready, the Prince was indeed pleased with the Instrument: but the said Baron took back his money from the Writer's whole salary, which obliged him to leave that Court, and to travel—as mentioned above. 9

Frick may have had the armonica built in Karlsruhe, where there was a glass armonica factory. Schmittbauer (whom we shall meet shortly) was Frick's superior at this post, and also apparently had his instruments made at this same factory.10

In 1771 the Margrave died. The catholic Margrave was succeeded by his cousin the Protestant Karl Friedrich von Baden-Durlach who joined the houses Baden-Baden and Baden-Durlach. In the merger, Frick found himself out of a job.11 So he apparently toured Germany again: we know he gave a concert in Hamburg on February 8, 1773.12 He then traveled to Russia, he lived in Moscow and fended for a living by advertising his talents in the local newspaper. In the Gazette de Moscou of April 1, 1774 he announced armonica performances on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On July 15, 1774, he again advertised in Gazette de Moscou to lovers of music that glass armonicas could be ordered from him. While in Moscow he lodged with an architect named Rosberg.13

Frick claims to have performed occasionally in the presence of Catherine the Great. In 1775 he was appointed piano teacher to Grand-Duchess Nathalie Alexeievna, first wife of Catherine the Great's son and successor Paul Petrovich.14, and moved to St. Petersburg. When his highborn pupil died in childbirth in 1775, Frick was again left penniless and out of a job. Frick describes what happened:

In Russia, he was (afterwards) music-master to the Grand Duchess. When She died, almost his whole salary, &c. was due to him, as likewise some presents for having several times played upon his Harmonica before the Empress: and to the honour of that Imperial Court be it said, both sums were ordered to be paid, but again, the Minister, (Nicolay Iwanowitz Soltikoft) withheld the money.… On account of this second loss he [the writer] was obliged to travel still farther on, instead of returning to his original home; and though he never thought of coming to England, yet, two days before he intended to set off from Holland to the Southern parts, he was wonderfully directed to go to London (1778) at least for a few months.15

He left Russia for Germany in 1776 or 1777.

In 1764, established in his career as a court musician (as he thought) in the employ of the Margrave at Baden-Baden, Frick married Josepha Domini Fistler on 9 October 1764. The marriage was witnessed by Joseph Schmittbauer (whom we shall meet shortly). It's not known if Frick took his wife with him to Russia, but he must have left her behind in Rastatt, in rather poor circumstances, when he continued his travels after his return from Russia. The registers of the city of Rastatt in Baden list the wife of 'court organist' Frick, who received alms, wood and corn from the local alms fund from 1778 until 1782. The reason for the separation may be found in Frick's own commentary on Matthew 5:32: "It says, Man and Wife are not allowed to separate, except for adultery; forcible means, such as a soldier being sent abroad, or an absolute necessity to seek for bread, excuse the man likewise.'16

So, in 1778 Frick traveled to Holland. Originally planning to head south, Frick says (writing of himself in the third person):

... though he never thought of coming to England, yet, two days before he intended to set off from Holland to the Southern parts, he was wonderfully directed to go to London (1778) at least for a few months.17

No surprisingly, things didn't initially go well for Frick in London either:

But having been robbed there, in the first fortnight, of a valuable gold watch, and his whole property being lost soon after (which however he received again after ten months) he was certainly obliged to enter into business, (teaching the Harpsichord) in order to get again, if possible, the expence he had incurred during that time, and what he was robbed of. This restitution came, however, so slowly, that at last he grew too old for pursuing his travels; and lately he employed much time upon this present knowledge, whereby he neglected all opportunities for increasing his business; therefore he acquired till now (1796) no more than what enabled him (during these 19 years past) to pay—as he did—every day for what he wanted, without having been at any time indebted or troublesome to any person whatever.

So he pursued his musical career with some success, teaching the harpsichord and apparently giving performances on his glass armonica to London audiences to general applause. Reichardt, a fellow armonica virtuoso/composer, probably met Frick when he traveled to London in 1785, and reported that Frick was active as a piano teacher and had written several music compositions.18 He must have had some reputation as a musician, as Haydn, on his first trip to London, lists Frick as a notable musician of his day.19 He also dedicated one of his books to the Queen (perhaps in hopes of a reward) and may have been introduced to her—possibly after a performance.20

In 1779, a year after arriving in London, he joined the Masonic Pilgrim Lodge (now no. 238)—founded in that year specifically for the German-speaking community in London. Frick was not a founding member, but as its seventh member he was a very early one. Interestingly he listed his occupation as 'businessman', and not 'musician', for reasons that are not entirely clear. When he was admitted, he had the qualification 'Affil.' added to the date of admission, meaning he was already a mason, although it is unclear where in his travels he first joined. He was made the lodge's Director of Ceremonies from 1779 to 1781. He probably met Haydn and Reichardt—two visiting German musicians who were also masons. And Johann Christian Bach, Queen Charlotte's music master, was also a inducted into the Pilgrim Lodge in 1781.21

It's unknown how long Frick remained in the lodge. His interests were increasingly taking a millenarian turn. Much like our own recent "Y-2-K"—short for "Year 2-Kilo" (or thousand)—they were experiencing their own "Y-1.8-K" fever, many 'millenarian' groups expecting Jesus Christ to establish His 1000-year reign at the turn of the century. There was a tense social and political climate in both England and the Continent—everyone was on edge after the Reign of Terror in France, and prophecies abounded. "Pamphlets prophesying the end of time and the establishment of the New Jerusalem on earth, as envisioned by John in Revelations XXI.2, were printed in abundance in London."22

In 1795, a dramatic spiritual conversion appears to have urged Frick to observe a more retiring way of life, and in 1797 he published his True Knowledge, which promises to describe the great 'Sabbath on Earth', and is also intended to prepare mankind for the imminent coming of Christ. It was published by William Bryan, himself involved in millenarian circles at least since 1789, and Frick published his tract anonymously—perhaps a wise precaution considering that Richard Brothers, a prominent millenarian, had proved a sufficient threat to the authorities that they committed him to an insane asylum. (Brothers continued to publish from the asylum anyway.)23

Frick claims to be divinely inspired—like so many others inclined towards mystical theosophy. In True Knowledge he declares that he was favored by God to present to the world the true account of man's divine origin, so men might know and prepare for the coming of Christ:

Christ has even revealed to the Writer the reasons why his Kingdom will be established upon Earth. This was, indeed, never before communicated to any person in the world; we may take it as proof that it was only to be known at the latter end: otherwise something of it would certainly have been mentioned before, either by a Prophet or by an Apostle: this seems to be additional proof that the long expected time (Daniel XII.89) must be at hand.24

Some of the many divine revelations Frick received were not to be made public yet:

Several other real reasons of the Lord's judgements have likewise been given to the Writer, but as they are not absolutely necessary for our instruction and preparation, they are not permitted publicly to be mentioned at present. 25

True Knowledge, as Frick informs us in a footnote to page 112, was published only after divine approval: "The merciful permission for publishing this book was received on the 14th day of March 1797, at noon, 12 o'clock; for which Mercy the Lord be praised for ever." Frick is very meticulous about the times he received his revelations, most of which appear to have been communicated to him in August 1795.26

Frick died in London on June 15, 1798, without being able to see the turn of the century that had so obsessed him. Perhaps it is just as well, as his prophecies didn't come to pass. He didn't leave a will. Although he lived separated from his wife at least from 1778 onwards, communication lines between the couple seem to have remained open: Josepha Frick is described as a widow in the Rastatt registers as early as June 26, 1798, eleven days after Frick had died in England. She died four years after her husband in Rastatt in 1802, in difficult circumstances.27

According to the oft-quoted Gerber[E.L. Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler, part 2, 1792 (DBA 112, 366) ???] Frick gave up the instrument in 1786 because of its ruinous effects on his nerves. But we have just seen Frick say:

This restitution [of financial losses] came, however, so slowly, that at last he grew too old for pursuing his travels; and lately he employed much time upon this present [religious] knowledge, whereby he neglected all opportunities for increasing his [music] business...

In other words, it would appear that his religion was crowding out his music career. And earlier in the same passage he writes:

These [musical] journeys [throughout Europe] were to be performed (as he but lately understood) merely [Frick's emphasis] for the purpose of proving now to all, who saw and knew him, that unlearned Men, like the Apostles, may again receive Light; and likewise that, as he found Mercy, every person might trust in the Lord for Pardon...

In other words, his music career was merely a prelude to his religious one. Furthermore, his long autobiographical passage (published in 1797, well after the supposed 'nerve damage') makes a point of enumerating the long list of misfortunes that befell him and led him to God. If "nerve damage that forced him to quit the armonica" had occurred, that would have been a particularly convincing calamity to share with the reader.


1sometimes `Fricke'

2 Frick (1797), §9

3The Art of Musical Modulation (1780; after Ausweichungs-Tabellen, Vienna, 1772), A Treatise on the Thorough Bass (c.1786) and A Guide in Harmony (1793)

4 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 14

5 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 16

6After training at a choir school he was probably apprenticed to a master, as musical training in Germany was regulated by musicians' guild. See Bukofzer, 404–407

7Auch ist hier Fricke, ehemaliger Hoforganist in Baden, ein reisender Spieler auf der Harmonika, einzuschalten. Er spielt zwar schlechnt, besonders ist seine eigene Composition Hoechst elend; aber die Seltenheit des Instruments macht, dass er Erwähnung verdient. van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 14

8quoted from van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 15

9 Frick (1797), §9, the autobiographical passage is quoted in full in van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 74–75

10 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 70

11 van Heertum (1999) 22-2 van Heertum (1999), 70

12 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 18

13 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 71

14Mooser, 2:127

15 Frick (1797), §9, quoted in van Heertum (1999)

16 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 71

17 Frick (1797), §8

18 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, note 25

19??? H.C. Robbins Landon, Haydn, Chronicle and Works, 5 vols, London 1976–1980. Vol 3, Haydn in England 1791–1795, p. 182 ???

20 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 73

21 22-3), 129–131

22 van Heertum (1999) 22-3, 132

23 van Heertum (1999) 22-3, 132

24p.111, quoted in van Heertum (1999) 22-3, 133

25p.111, quoted in van Heertum (1999) 22-3, 133

26 van Heertum (1999) 22-3, 133

27 van Heertum (1999) 22-2, 73