Agostino Poli (1739–1819) was a court musician and from 1782 to 1792 kapellmeister at the court of Württemberg. The young violoncellist arrived in Stuttgart in 1761 and initially played under the direction of Niccolò Jommelli. When, soon after, a position opened in the court orchestra, he was taken into courtly services. The funding of the court chapel was not very sound, however. Duke Carl Eugen (reigned 1737–1793) was forced by the Landschaft – the representatives of the clergy and the bourgeoisie – to reduce his horrendous expenses for the opera and the theatre. This resulted in a fundamental restructuring of the court orchestra: To appease the Landschaft it was decided to replace the often well-paid foreign musicians by natives of Württemberg whose training had been patronized by the duchy. Poli was one of the very few virtuosos that survived the cutbacks, and he even managed to forge a career first as concert master and later as kapellmeister. […]
At least once Poli travelled to Paris, where he published a number of quartets and quintets. When in 1775 (or earlier) he became involved in teaching at the expanding Karlsschule, he had to reconcile his pedagogical duties with those of his position as concertmaster. He composed a number of short operas that were performed always on 10 January to honor the birthday of Franziska von Hohenheim, the second wife of Duke Carl Eugen. He probably also wrote numerous pieces for his pupils – of which only a few have survived, however. In part this may be owed to a quarrel between the duke and Niccolò Jommelli, who upon his dismissal in 1769 wanted to take his operas back to Italy. As a consequence it was decided that members of the chapel were permitted to publish their compositions only upon permission of the duke and that Poli was to compose primarily in the context of his employment. Only after Poli had died impoverished in Venice did his wife and son attempt to sell his musical manuscripts; it is not known whether their efforts met with success, however.
We do not know exactly when the “Gran Concerto” presented here was composed; a number of clues suggest a date of origin after 1774 and before 1782, however – particularly since after rising to the position of kapellmeister in 1782 Poli was considerably less productive. The scoring points to a number of pupils that most probably were instructed by Poli at the Karlsschule (after 1781 the institution’s name was changed to Hohe Karlsschule). Poli’s cello class comprised Johann Rudolph Zumsteeg (1760–1802), Johann Kauf(f)mann (1759–1834, the later son-in-law of Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart) and Ernst Häussler (1761–1837). Quite possibly Johann Philipp Mohl (1757–1817) also participated in the performance as a bassoonist. As the only surviving manuscript has been preserved in Zumsteeg’s estate, we may assume that he took over the first solo cello part, while the other parts were given to his fellow pupils. The historical and biographical context of the composition is not known, but the piece was probably written for a specific occasion such as the visit of Emperor Joseph II to Stuttgart in 1777 or the transformation of the Karlsschule into a university in 1782.
Abstract from the preface by Johannes Sturm (translation: Stephanie Wollny)