After early musical study in Bohemia Vanhal went with Countess Schaffgotsch in about 1761 to Vienna, where he studied with Dittersdorf. From 1769 to 1771 he traveled in Italy. He never held any formal appointments but supported himself with composing and teaching; Pleyel was one of his students. He was a prolific composer, though problems of attribution prevent an accurate count of his compositions. He wrote two operas (now lost) and about sixty Masses. There are over seventy authentic symphonies, numerous concertos, orchestral pieces, many string quartets and trios, keyboard quartets and trios, duos, keyboard sonatas, programmatic works, variations, divertimentos, fantasias; songs.