Jan Křtitel Vaňhal was born into a Czech peasant family in Bohemia in 1739. He received his first musical training from his family and local musicians, and showed a talent for the violin and organ from an early age. He was able to earn a living as a village organist and choirmaster working for the Countess Schaffgotsch. He was taken to Vienna with the Countess in 1760, where he established himself as a teacher of singing, violin, and piano, and was invited to conduct his symphonies for the local nobility. He became acquainted with the composer Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, and appears to have taken lessons from him.

Vaňhal seems to have spent some time in Italy, travelling to Venice and Rome and meeting the fellow Bohemian composers Gluck and Florian Gassman there. It is here that he wrote his first and only operas. Vaňhal eventually returned to Vienna, where he turned to writing smaller scale chamber music and music for church, which earnt him modest income allowing him to work independently from any patron. He was well-acquainted with the composers of the day, and played in a quartet with Mozart, Haydn, and Dittersdorf. He died at the age of 74, living a comfortable life and respected by the Viennese public.

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