Antonin Kraft was born in Rokycany, Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia. His exact birth year is unclear, with conflicting sources citing his birth date as December 30, 1749, 1750, or 1751. There is agreement on his death in Vienna in 1820. Kraft studied cello at the Prague Conservatory of Music with Josef Werner, and philosophy at the Prague Charles University. Later he went to Vienna where his debut cello recital received great acclaim from both audiences and critics. Josef Haydn, who attended his recital, was so impressed that soon thereafter he invited Kraft to join Prince Esterhazy’s orchestra – of which Haydn was the director – as first cellist. In 1783, Haydn wrote the wonderful Cello Concerto in D major for Kraft, which clearly reflects the astonishing virtuosity of his solo cellists.
In 1789, Kraft, together with his 11-year-old son and cellist Nicholas, undertook a concert tour in which the two played cello duos and alternated as soloists. The tour took them to Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Dresden, and several other cities. In Dresden, Kraft met Mozart and took part with him in a performance of the latter’s glorious E-flat Divertimento, K 563. From Beethoven’s letters, we learn about this composer’s great admiration for Kraft’s beautiful tone, his musicality, and incredible technique. The extremely difficult cello part in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was specifically addressed to Kraft’s virtuosity.
Kraft himself was a composer who wrote six cello sonatas, three duos for violin and cello, five duos for two cellos, and a cello concerto in C major.