Vanhal was born on 12 May 1739 in Nechanice, Bohemia, into serfdom in a peasant family. It's almost sure that the correct spelling of his name is rather Wanhal. Many parts of his life are still badly documented and a mystery.
(1752-1761) Vanhal started studying music with the schoolmaster and organist of Marsov. Then he continues his studies with the organist Ebran (1752). He becomes organist in Opocno (1757) and choirmaster in Hnevceves (1759).
(1760-1769) A distinguished musician and composer, the Countess Schaffgotsch becomes the patron of Vanhal and takes him to Vienna with her. Here he studies composition with C. Ditters von Dittersdorf (1761-1763). Other aristocratic patrons support him as the Erdődy family and Baron Isaac von Riesch of Dresden.
(1769-1771) Thanks to an agreement with Baron von Riesch, Vanhal receives enough financial support for a long Grand Tour across Italy. Here he contacts Gluck and Gassmann and probably writes 2 operas (now lost). With his earnings he has already purchased his freedom and that of his family.
(1771-1780) Vanhal is with Gassmann and with him is back in Vienna. It seems that he is the protégé of Gassmann. He should leave Vienna for Dresden and become Kapellmeister of Baron von Riesch, but he refuses, due to a 'state of depression'. He works for Count Erdődy in Varaždin from time to time.
(1780-1813) Vanhal refuses patrons and starts a successful career as freelance musician and composer, an example also for Mozart. Among his pupils Pleyel who then will be sent to J.Haydn to complete his studies in composition. His Sturm und Drang and minor key symphonies are a model for many composers.
(1784-1787) Vanhal, von Dittersdorf, J.Haydn and W.A.Mozart are all in Vienna and all attend the same soirées. They also play string quartets together. After 1787 he will not attend the social events any more. He is modestly rich and lives, writing and publishing successful music for keyboard, chamber ensembles and Sacred Music.
(1813) Vanhal dies on 20 August 1813 in Vienna, leaving an enormous amount of music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, keyboards and Sacred Music, still to be explored. A few hundreds of his works exist only as manuscripts.