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Köthen (1717–23)

Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen hired Bach to serve as his Kapellmeister (director of music) in 1717. Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach's talents, paid him well, and gave him considerable latitude in composing and performing. The prince was Calvinist and did not use elaborate music in his worship; accordingly, most of Bach's work from this period was secular,[33] including the orchestral suites, the six suites for solo cello, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and the Brandenburg concertos.[34] Bach also composed secular cantatas for the court such as the Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht, BWV 134a.

Despite being born in the same year and only about 80 miles apart, Bach and Handel never met. In 1719 Bach made the 20 mile journey from Köthen to Halle with the intention of meeting Handel, however Handel had recently departed the city.[35] In 1730, Bach's son Friedmann travelled to Halle to invite Handel to visit the Bach family in Leipzig, however the visit did not come to pass.[36]

On 7 July 1720, while Bach was abroad with Prince Leopold, Bach's first wife suddenly died. The following year, he met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a young, highly gifted soprano 17 years his junior, who performed at the court in Köthen; they married on 3 December 1721.[37] Together they had 13 more children, six of whom survived into adulthood: Gottfried Heinrich, Johann Christoph Friedrich, and Johann Christian, all of whom became significant musicians; Elisabeth Juliane Friederica (1726–81), who married Bach's pupil Johann Christoph Altnikol; Johanna Carolina (1737–81); and Regina Susanna (1742–1809).[38]

Leipzig (1723–50)

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig

In 1723, Bach was appointed Cantor of the Thomasschule at Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and Director of Music in the principal churches in the town, namely the Nikolaikirche and the Paulinerkirche, the church of the University of Leipzig.[39] This was a prestigious post in the mercantile city in the Electorate of Saxony, which he held for 27 years until his death. It brought him into contact with the political machinations of his employer, Leipzig's city council.

Nikolaikirche, ca. 1850

Bach was required to instruct the students of the Thomasschule in singing and to provide church music for the main churches in Leipzig. Bach was required to teach Latin, but he was allowed to employ a deputy to do this instead. A cantata was required for the church services on Sundays and additional church holidays during the liturgical year. He usually performed his own cantatas, most of which were composed during his first three years in Leipzig. The first of these was Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75, first performed in the Nikolaikirche on 30 May 1723, the first Sunday after Trinity. Bach collected his cantatas in annual cycles. Five are mentioned in obituaries, three are extant.[40] Most of these concerted works expound on the Gospel readings prescribed for every Sunday and feast day in the Lutheran year. Bach started a second annual cycle the first Sunday after Trinity of 1724, and composed only Chorale cantatas, each based on a single church hymn. These include O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62, and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1.

Bach drew the soprano and alto choristers from the School, and the tenors and basses from the School and elsewhere in Leipzig. Performing at weddings and funerals provided extra income for these groups; it was probably for this purpose, and for in-school training, that he wrote at least six motets, at least five of which are for double choir.[41] As part of his regular church work, he performed other composers' motets, which served as formal models for his own.[17]

Café Zimmermann Leipzig, where the Collegium Musicum performed

Bach broadened his composing and performing beyond the liturgy by taking over, in March 1729, the directorship of the Collegium Musicum, a secular performance ensemble started by the composer Georg Philipp Telemann. This was one of the dozens of private societies in the major German-speaking cities that was established by musically active university students; these societies had become increasingly important in public musical life and were typically led by the most prominent professionals in a city. In the words of Christoph Wolff, assuming the directorship was a shrewd move that "consolidated Bach's firm grip on Leipzig's principal musical institutions".[42] Year round, the Leipzig's Collegium Musicum performed regularly in venues such as the Café Zimmermann, a Coffeehouse on Catherine Street off the main market square. Many of Bach's works during the 1730s and 1740s were written for and performed by the Collegium Musicum; among these were parts of his Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) and many of his violin and harpsichord concertos.[17]

In 1733, Bach composed a Missa of Kyrie and Gloria which he later incorporated in his Mass in B minor. He presented the manuscript to the King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Elector of Saxony, August III in an eventually successful bid to persuade the monarch to appoint him as Royal Court Composer.[4] He later extended this work into a full Mass, by adding a Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the music for which was partly based on his own cantatas, partly new composed. Bach's appointment as court composer was part of his long-term struggle to achieve greater bargaining power with the Leipzig Council. Although the complete mass was probably never performed during the composer's lifetime,[43] it is considered to be among the greatest choral works of all time. Between 1737 and 1739, Bach's former pupil Carl Gotthelf Gerlach took over the directorship of the Collegium Musicum.

Places Bach lived

In 1747, Bach visited the court of King Frederick II of Prussia at Potsdam. The king played a theme for Bach and challenged him to improvise a fugue based on his theme. Bach improvised a three-part fugue on one of Frederick's fortepianoss, then a novelty, and later presented the king with a Musical Offering which consists of fugues, canons and a trio based on this theme. Its six-part fugue includes a slightly altered subject more suitable for extensive elaboration.

In the same year Bach joined the Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften (de) of Lorenz Christoph Mizler after a long formal preparation which was necessary by the Society. Mizler called his former teacher one of his “guten Freunde und Gönner” (good friends and sponsors).[44] This is particularly noteworthy because Mizler was a passionate representative of the German and Polish Enlightenment.[45] Bach's membership had several effects. On the occasion of his entry to this Society Bach composed Einige canonische Veraenderungen, / über das / Weynacht-Lied: / Vom Himmel hoch da / komm ich her (BWV 769).[46] In 1746, during the preparation of Bach's entry, the famous Bach-portrait was painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann. A portrait had to be submitted by each member of the Society.[47] The canon triplex á 6 voc. (BWV 1076) on this portrait was dedicated to the Society.[48] The Society insisted on a necrology of each member. Therefore, Mizler initiated the history of the Bach biographies in the Musikalische Bibliothek (de).[49] It was often argued, that other late works might have a connection with the music theory based Society.[50] One of those works was The Art of Fugue, which was composed shortly before his death, but Bach never completed the final fugue. It consists of 18 complex fugues and canons based on a simple theme.[51] It was only published posthumously in 1751.[52]

The final work Bach completed was a chorale prelude for organ, entitled Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before thy throne I now appear, BWV 668a) which he dictated to his son-in-law, Johann Altnikol, from his deathbed. When the notes on the three staves of the final cadence are counted and mapped onto the Roman alphabet, the initials "JSB" are found.[53]

Death (1750)

Bach's grave, St. Thomas' Church, Leipzig

Bach's health declined in 1749; on 2 June, Heinrich von Brühl wrote to one of the Leipzig burgomasters to request that his music director, Gottlob Harrer, fill the Thomascantor and Director musices posts "upon the eventual ... decease of Mr. Bach."[30] Bach became increasingly blind, so the British eye surgeon John Taylor operated on Bach while visiting Leipzig in March or April 1750.[54]

On 28 July 1750 Bach died at the age of 65. A contemporary newspaper reported "the unhappy consequences of the very unsuccessful eye operation" as the cause of death.[55] Modern historians speculate that the cause of death was a stroke complicated by pneumonia.[6][7][8] His son Emanuel and his pupil Johann Friedrich Agricola wrote an obituary of Bach.[56]

Bach's estate included five Clavecins, two lute-harpsichords, three violins, three violas, two cellos, a viola da gamba, a lute and a spinet, and 52 "sacred books", including books by Martin Luther and Josephus.[57] He was originally buried at Old St. John's Cemetery in Leipzig. His grave went unmarked for nearly 150 years. In 1894 his coffin was finally found and moved to a vault in St. John's Church. This building was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II, so in 1950 Bach's remains were taken to their present grave at Leipzig's Church of St. Thomas.[17]


Statue of Bach by Donndorf, Eisenach

A detailed obituary of Bach was published (without attribution) four years later in 1754 by Lorenz Christoph Mizler (a former student) in Musikalische Bibliothek (de), a music periodical. The obituary remains probably "the richest and most trustworthy"[58] early source document about Bach. After his death, Bach's reputation as a composer at first declined; his work was regarded as old-fashioned compared to the emerging classical style.[59] Initially he was remembered more as a player and teacher.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Bach was widely recognised for his keyboard work. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Robert Schumann, and Felix Mendelssohn were among his most prominent admirers; they began writing in a more contrapuntal style after being exposed to Bach's music.[60] Beethoven described him as the "Urvater der Harmonie", the "original father of harmony".[61]

Statue of Bach, Leipzig

Bach's reputation among the wider public was enhanced in part by Johann Nikolaus Forkel's 1802 biography of the composer.[62] Felix Mendelssohn significantly contributed to the revival of Bach's reputation with his 1829 Berlin performance of the St Matthew Passion.[63] In 1850, the Bach Gesellschaft (Bach Society) was founded to promote the works; in 1899 the Society published a comprehensive edition of the composer's works with little editorial intervention.

During the 20th century, the process of recognising the musical as well as the pedagogic value of some of the works continued, perhaps most notably in the promotion of the Cello Suites by Pablo Casals, the first major performer to record these suites.[64] Another development has been the growth of the "authentic" or "period performance" movement, which attempts to present music as the composer intended it. Examples include the playing of keyboard works on harpsichord rather than modern grand piano and the use of small choirs or single voices instead of the larger forces favoured by 19th- and early 20th-century performers.[65]

Bach's music is frequently bracketed with the literature of William Shakespeare and the science of Isaac Newton.[66] In Germany, during the twentieth century, many streets were named and statues were erected in honour of Bach. His music features three times – more than any other composer – on the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record containing a broad sample of the images, common sounds, languages, and music of Earth, sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.[67]

A large crater in the Bach quadrangle on Mercury is named in Bach's honor[68] as are the main-belt asteroids 1814 Bach and 1482 Sebastiana.[69]

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel (German: Georg Friedrich Händel; pronounced [ˈhɛndəl]; (1685-02-23)23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759(1759-04-14)) was a German-born British Baroque composer famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and organ concertos. Born in a family indifferent to music, Handel received critical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London (1712) as a naturalized British subject in 1727.[1] By then he was strongly influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.

Within fifteen years, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. In 1737 he had a physical breakdown, changed direction creatively and addressed the middle class. As Alexander's Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never performed an Italian opera again. Handel was only partly successful with his performances of English oratorio on mythical and biblical themes, but when he arranged a performance of Messiah to benefit the Foundling Hospital (1750) the criticism ended. It has been said that the passion of Handel's oratorios is an ethical one, and that they are hallowed not by liturgical dignity but by moral ideals of humanity.[2] Almost blind, and having lived in England for almost fifty years, he died in 1759, a respected and rich man. His funeral was given full state honours, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks and Messiah remaining popular. Handel composed more than forty operas in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and original instrumentation, interest in Handel's operas has grown.

Handel's baptismal registration (Marienbibliothek in Halle)

Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg, to Georg Händel and Dorothea Taust.[3] His father, 63 when George Frideric was born, was an eminent barber-surgeon who served the court of Saxe-Weissenfels and the Margraviate of Brandenburg.[4] According to Handel's first biographer, John Mainwaring, he "had discovered such a strong propensity to Music, that his father who always intended him for the study of the Civil Law, had reason to be alarmed. He strictly forbade him to meddle with any musical instrument but Handel found means to get a little clavichord privately convey'd to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep".[5] At an early age Handel became a skilful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ.[6]

Händel-Haus (2009) – birthplace of George Frideric Handel

Entrance of Teatro del Cocomero in Florence

Handel and his father travelled to Weissenfels to visit either Handel's half-brother, Carl, or nephew, Georg Christian,[7] who was serving as valet to Duke Johann Adolf I.[8] On this trip, young Handel was lifted onto an organ's stool, where he surprised everyone with his playing.[9] This performance helped Handel and the duke to convince his father to allow him to take lessons in musical composition and keyboard technique from Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the organist of Halle's Marienkirche.[9] Zachow composed music for the Lutheran services at the church, and from him Handel learned about harmony and counterpoint, copying and analysing scores, and gained instruction on the oboe, violin, harpsichord and organ.[9] In 1698 Handel played for Frederick I of Prussia and met Giovanni Bononcini in Berlin.

From Halle to Italy[edit]

The Hamburg Opera am Gänsemarkt in 1726

In 1702, following his father's wishes, Handel started studying law under Christian Thomasius at the University of Halle;[10] and also earned an appointment for one year as the organist in the former cathedral, by then an evangelical reformed church. Handel seems to have been unsatisfied, and in 1703 he accepted a position as violinist and harpsichordist in the orchestra of the Hamburg Oper am Gänsemarkt.[11] There he met the composers Johann Mattheson, Christoph Graupner and Reinhard Keiser. His first two operas, Almira and Nero, were produced in 1705.[12] He produced two other operas, Daphne and Florindo, in 1708. It is unclear whether Handel directed these performances.

According to Mainwaring, in 1706 Handel travelled to Italy at the invitation of Ferdinando de' Medici, but Mainwaring must have been confused. It was Gian Gastone de' Medici, whom Handel had met in 1703–1704 in Hamburg.[13] Ferdinando tried to make Florence Italy's musical capital, attracting the leading talents of his day. He had a keen interest in opera. In Italy Handel met librettist Antonio Salvi, with whom he later collaborated. Handel left for Rome and, since opera was (temporarily) banned in the Papal States, composed sacred music for the Roman clergy. His famous Dixit Dominus (1707) is from this era. He also composed cantatas in pastoral style for musical gatherings in the palaces of cardinals Pietro Ottoboni, Benedetto Pamphili and Carlo Colonna. Two oratorios, La Resurrezione and Il Trionfo del Tempo, were produced in a private setting for Ruspoli and Ottoboni in 1709 and 1710, respectively. Rodrigo, his first all-Italian opera, was produced in the Cocomero theatre in Florence in 1707.[14] Agrippina was first produced in 1709 at Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, owned by the Grimanis. The opera, with a libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani, and according to Mainwaring[who?] it ran for 27 nights successively. The audience, thunderstruck with the grandeur and sublimity of his style,[15] applauded for Il caro Sassone ("the dear Saxon"—referring to Handel's German origins).

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