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Bach and Handel

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Todd Stalter

on 2 July 2012

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Transcript of Bach and Handel

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
and Georg Frederic Handel (1685-1759)

Beginning our contrast of the lives of Bach and Handel...

Bach, a member of a long line of family musicians, had, by any contemporary account, a rather uneventful career that was similar to those of many other successful musical "functionaries" in Lutheran Germany. He did not travel outside of the immediate region in which he was born.
Where was he, and what did he do?...

Organist at Arnstadt (1703-07) and Mulhausen (1707-08)
Court Organist and Concertmaster for the Duke of Weimar (1708-17)
Music Director for the Prince of Cothen (1717-1723)
Cantor of St. Thomas' School and Music Director for the Town of Leipzig (1723-50)
Bach was hired in Leipzig (a fairly prestigious post) after Telemann and Graupner turned down the gig; the city council was hoping to hire a more "modern" musician, but had to settle for Bach.
Bach's reputation in Protestant Germany as an organ virtuoso and writer of
"learned" contrapuntal music was well established, but there were at least a half dozen of his contemporaries more well known in Europe.
"He regarded himself as a conscientious craftsman doing a job to the best of his ability for the satisfaction of his superiors, for the pleasure and edification of his fellow men, and to the glory of God. Doubtless he would have been astonished if he had been told that 200 years after his death his music would be performed and studied everywhere and his name more deeply venerated by musicians than that of any other composer."
His early studies were like any other composer; learning through copying scores of earlier composers, or arranged them for other instruments. By doing this, he familiarized himself with all of the styles of the best composers from France, Italy, Germany, and Austria.
Bach composed in all musical forms practiced at that time, EXCEPT for Opera. He wrote primarily for the requirements of the particular job situation he had at the time.
An idea of what Bach's job requirements were in Leipzig...

Responsible for music at two churches every Sunday (58 cantatas required every year, along with Passion music for Good Friday, Magnificats at Vespers for three festivals, an annual cantata for the installation of the city council, and occasional music such as funeral motets and wedding cantatas).
Each church ran three short services and one principal service on Sunday (7:00 a.m. - Noon). Daily services required music as well.
Four hours of teaching each day, Music and Latin, in addition to rehearsals for church services.
He could not leave town without permission from the Mayor. He and his family lived in an apartment in one wing of the school, separated by a thin wall from the homeroom of the second year schoolboys.
Bach drew orchestra musicians from the school, the Collegium Musicum of the university, and town musicians. His orchestra was fairly dependable by varied in quality (2 flute, 2 oboes, 1-2 bassoons, 3 trumpets, kettledrums, and strings/continuo, totaling 18-24 players.)
Historical irony...
The history of Bach's music could best be described as "burial and resurrection."
Very little printed and published in his lifetime (Clavier-Ubung, Musical Offering, Art of Fugue). He was not big on self-promotion, but demanded respect for his talent and work ethic.
Bach's music was quickly forgotten after his death, due to the radical change in musical tastes during the very times that he was composing his most important and greatest music. Bach's style was "old fashioned" compared to the new sounds coming from the Italian opera houses, and the Roccoco style popularized by the music of his own sons Johann Christian, Carl Phillip Emanual, Johann Christoph, and Wilhelm Friedemann.
Universally recognized as a keyboard genius, but to contemporary critics his music was "overly elaborated and confused." (Scheibe)
No complete works published from 1752-1800, but some of his music from the Well Tempered Clavier appeared in print, and the whole collection circulates "underground" in manuscripts.
Haydn owned a manuscript copy of the B Minor Mass. Mozart knew the "Art of Fugue" and studied it on his trip to Leipzig in 1789...a contemporary account states that upon hearing a Bach motet during this trip, Mozart shot up out of his seat and exclaimed "Now, here is something one can learn from!" and proceeded to sit down with all the parts spread out on his lap, on chairs, and on the floor, and did not pay attention to anything else until he memorized the work.
Beethoven called Bach "Urvater der Harmonie" and wrote on his personal copy of the Well Tempered Clavier "nicht Bach, sondern Meer" ("Not a brook, but a sea," a pun on Bach's last name.
Chopin would lock himself in a room and play Bach's music before performing a public concert of his own music.
It is commonly recognized that after great composers of later generations studied Bach's music in detail, their resulting work shows much more of Bach's characteristic contrapuntal approach.
The rediscovery of Bach's music began with Mendelssohn's performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 in Berlin, and the foundation of the Bach Gesellschaft in 1850, which set out to find, catalogue, and edit Bach's entire output.
Summary: "We can begin to understand the central position Bach has in the history of music when we realize that he absorbed into his music the multiplicity of genres, styles, and forms current in the early 18th century and developed hitherto unsuspected potentialities in EVERY one; and, further, that in his music the often conflicting demands of harmony and counterpoint, melody and polyphony, are maintained in a tense but satisfying equilibrium. The continuing vitality of his music cannot be easily accounted for in a few words, but among the qualities that stand out are the concentrated and individual themes, the copious musical invention, the balance between harmonic and contrapuntal forces, the strength of rhythm, the clarity of form, the grandeur of proportion, the imaginitive use of pictorial and symbolic figures, the intensity of expression always controlled by a ruling architectural idea, and the technical perfection of every detail." (Grout)
Georg Frederic Handel...in stark contrast to Bach...
Was well traveled (born in Germany, studied in Italy, settled in England).
Did not come from a family full of distinguished musicians...his father was a barber-surgeon, and wanted him to become a lawyer.
Was most famous for his operas during his lifetime.
Able to secure financial backing and patronage easily because of his engaging personality.
Worked to publish as much of his music as possible to help promote his career.
Never married, no family, very few romantic attachments.
Adept at recycling his own or other's music for use in his operas.
Adapted to writing Oratorios (a musical work that has all the elements of opera except for staging) when opera fell out of favor in London (ex. Messiah).
Was in favor with royalty practically his entire career, and was adored by the English public (he is buried in Westminster Abbey, given full state honors at his funeral, witnessed by more than 3,000 people).
Upon his death, English music essentially disappears from international concern until the mid 20th century.
Example: Part III from "Water Music"
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