Joseph Labitzky

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Lithograph by Gustav Friedrich Schlick

Joseph Labitzky (Czech: Josef Labický), (* 4 July 1802 at Schönfeld in western Bohemia, ; † 18 August 1881 at Karlovy Vary, Austro-Hungarian Monarchy), was a German-Bohemian bandmaster and composer.

Joseph Labitzky was a son of the master draper Christian Labitzky from Kampern in Prussian Silesia, who came to Schönfeld near Karlsbad in 1800 and married Maria Anna Gerstner, daughter of David Gerstner, carpenter from Petschau and Maria Anna Preißdorfer from Marburg in Styria in 1802. Already in his early youth he received music lessons in Petschau.

In the twelfth year of his life he lost both parents. At the age of fourteen he joined an orchestral group of travelling Pechov musicians, then found employment with the Mariánské Lázn? spa orchestra, the following year with the Karlovy Vary seasonal orchestra, and at the age of fifteen began to compose. Since he only had regular opportunities to perform and earn money during the spa season, he sought to earn money elsewhere in the winter, which he also used to further his musical education. Thus, in the winter of 1821/22 he played at the French Opera in Bern and in the winter of 1822/23 he worked as a musician for the Imperial Russian envoy Count Woronzoff Daschkoff in Munich, where he received further training from Peter von Winter.

In September 1824 he married Antonie Herget, a daughter of the master rope maker Herget in Petschau. Her father insisted that he had learned a respectable trade by the time of his marriage. After an apprenticeship as a clothier, Joseph Labitzky passed a master’s examination of this craft in 1824.

In the winters of 1825/26 and 1826/27 he travelled with a self-formed band to Vienna, where he stayed at the Gasthof Zur Kettenbrücke and met Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss personally; further journeys with his band took him to Regensburg, Augsburg, Ulm, Stuttgart, Würzburg and Nuremberg.

In 1835 Labitzky was entrusted with the direction of the Karlovy Vary spa orchestra, which he enlarged and led to more sophisticated performances in the years to come. This position gave him the opportunity to perform for prominent spa guests, so his reputation quickly spread throughout Europe. Emperor Ferdinand of Austria sent for him when he was looking for a musician to entertain his guests at a meeting with the Tsar of Russia and the King of Prussia in Teplice. As a result, he was invited to the Tsar’s court in Petersburg in 1838. Joseph Labitzky founded the Karlovy Vary Music Society in 1842, became music director, and from this position promoted regional musical life and popularized Slavic folk songs, especially in the Karlovy Vary Post Office.

Joseph Labitzky directed the Karlovy Vary orchestra until 1868 and agreed by contract with the city of Karlovy Vary that his son August Labitzky would succeed him as director of the orchestra.

Labitzky was able to acquire a Europe-wide reputation through the performances with his spa band in front of sophisticated audiences in Karlovy Vary, through his travels throughout Europe and his admired dance compositions, which placed him next to Johann Strauss and Joseph Lanner, so that he was called the “Waltz King of Bohemia”. In addition to dances, he composed string quartets and variations for violin, flute, clarinet and horn, and some church music. In 1845 he composed a large mass, a requiem and a German Miserere for the Karlsbad church choir

Of his ten children it is handed down:

  • Eduard Labitzky (1828-1905) became an architect and state building councillor in Troppau, where he built, among other things, the town theatre and the public water supply system, and in Karlovy Vary, the spa house.
  • Wilhelm Labitzky (1829-1871) was first violinist in the spa orchestra in Karlsbad, went to Canada and became cathedral conductor in Toronto.
  • August Labitzky (1832-1903) emerged as a musician and composer.
  • Toni (Elisabeth Antonie) Labitzky (1833-1894), opera singer, married in Frankfurt in 1871 the entrepreneur and banker Sigismund Kohn-Speyer, later president of the German Stage Association and artistic director of the Frankfurt Opera.

Compositions (selection)

  • Chamber music based on parts of Bellini’s opera Capuletti e Montecchi
  • Czech, Polish and Russian folk song potpourris (1838 ff.)
  • His compositions, written around 1850, have the titles: Carlsbad Sprudel-Galopp; Hirschensprung-Walzer; Posthofklänge; Erinnerung an Car lsbad und Carlsbad Curtänze.[1]


  • Constantin von Wurzbach: Labitzky, Joseph. In: Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich. 13.Part. Kaiserlich-königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, Vienna 1865, p. 449 f.(digital copy).
  • Robert Eitner: Labitzky, Joseph. In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Vol. 17, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1883, p. 467.
  • Kaufmann, M.; Musik und Musiker; Karlsbader Heimatbücher 4th volume, Karlsbad 1927.
  • Schönfelder Heimatbrief of 1 October 1952.
  • Maria Tarantová:Labitzky František Josef. In: Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950 (ÖBL). Vol. 4, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 1969, p. 390 f. (Direct links to S. 390, S. 391). The first name Frantisek (Franz) is not verifiable in the birth entry.
  • Uwe Harten:Labitzky, Josef. In: New German Biography (NDB). Vol. 13, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1982, ISBN 3-428-00194-X, p. 365 f. (Digitalisat).
  • Heribert Sturm: Biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte der böhmischen Länder. Published on behalf of the Collegium Carolinum (Institute), Volume II, p. 363, R. Oldenbourg Verlag Munich 1984, ISBN 3 486 52551 4.
  • Josef Weinmann: Egerländer Biografisches Lexikon mit ausgewählten Personen aus dem ehemaligen Reg.-Bezirk Eger, Band 1, 1985 p. 298, overall production: Druckhaus Bayreuth, Verlagsgesellschaft m. b. H. Bayreuth, ISBN 3 922808 12 3 with photos of Joseph Labitzky (1802-1881); August Labitzky (* 1832); Toni Labitzky (* 1833) with further source references.

Web links

Commons: Joseph Labitzky– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. Roswitha Schieb: Bohemian Spa Triangle – Literary Travel Guide, German Cultural Forum Eastern Europe, Potsdam, 2016, p. 38