Chapter 19. German Composers of the Late Baroque

Chapter Outline



In the eighteenth century, for the first time in history, the leading composers in Europe came from German-speaking lands. Telemann, Handel, members of the Bach family, Haydn, and Mozart all rose to prominence not by inventing new genres, as the Italians had done in the two previous centuries, but by synthesizing elements from Italian, French, German, and other national traditions in new, rich ways. The German secret was a balance of tastes between native trends and foreign influences. The Italians and the French generally resisted foreign ideas, and no composer in either country matched the international reputation of Vivaldi or Rameau until the nineteenth century. England became a virtual colony for foreign musicians, and it remained so until the twentieth century. Only German and Austrian composers consistently sought wide appeal by combining the best traits of several nations. 

This chapter will focus on J. S. Bach and Handel, the best-known German-speaking composers of the early eighteenth century. Using them as case studies to explore conditions for music in Germany and England, we will examine how each found patronage from a variety of sources, made choices among competing tastes, values, and styles in music, and met with both success and failure. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Contexts for Music in Germany and England
    1. In the eighteenth century, German-speaking composers became prominent in Europe for the first time in history.
      1. Among the outstanding composers are Telemann, Handel, the Bach family, Haydn, and Mozart.
      2. These composers created an international style by mixing elements of Italian, French, and German traditions.
    2. German-speaking regions were divided into numerous political entities.
      1. Austria, Saxony, and Brandenburg-Prussia, were among the larger regions.
      2. There were also many smaller independent areas.
      3. Many of the most powerful rulers, such as Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia employed significant numbers of musicians.
    3. Many German aristocrats actively performed and composed music.
      1. Frederick the Great performed on flute (see HWM Figure 19.1).
      2. Anna Amalia, duchess of Saxe-Weimar, was a keyboard player, patron, and composer; her output includes two Singspiels.
    4. In Britain, public concerts helped sustain musicians as aristocratic patronage declined.
  2. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) (see HWM Figure 19.2)
    1. Like many German composers, he was exposed to a wide variety of international styles.
    2. Telemann was a prolific composer and wrote over three thousand works.
      1. Almost every contemporary style can be found in his works.
      2. Telemann synthesized German counterpoint with styles from other regions.
      3. His music had wide appeal; he was more highly regarded than J. S. Bach.
  3. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
    1. The historical view of Bach differs from the contemporary perception.
      1. In his day, Bach was known as an organist and a composer of learned works, but little of his music was published or circulated.
      2. Contemporary critics thought that his music was old-fashioned, but a revival of interest in his works began in the early nineteenth century (see HWM Source Reading, page 456).
      3. Today, Bach is seen as one of the greatest of all composers.
      4. Bach wrote in all the major styles, forms, and genres of his time except for opera.
    2. Biography (see HWM biography, page 442, and Figures 19.3 and 4)
      1. Bach came from a large family of musicians.
      2. He was born in Eisenach and apparently learned violin from his father.
      3. He later lived with and studied organ with his older brother, a student of Pachelbel.
      4. Bach went to school at Lüneburg.
        1. He encountered the organist Georg Böhm.
        2. He had contact with French repertoire and performance style.
      5. Bach married twice.
        1. He married Maria Barbara Bach in 1707, and they had seven children.
        2. Following her death, he married Anna Magdelana in 1721, and they had thirteen children.
      6. In his first positions as an organist, Bach primarily composed organ music.
        1. Arnstadt (1703-7), church organist
        2. Mühlhausen (1707-8), church organist
        3. Weimar (1709-14), court organist
      7. He became concertmaster at Weimar (1714-17) and wrote sacred cantatas.
      8. Bach became court music director at Cöthen (1717-23) and composed solo and ensemble music, as well as pedagogical works.
      9. Leipzig (1723-50)
        1. Bach was in charge of four churches and wrote a significant amount of religious music (see HWM Figure 19.5).
        2. With his appointment as director of the Leipzig collegium musicum, he wrote concertos and chamber works.
        3. He also composed keyboard music at Leipzig, including pedagogical works.
      10. As an employee, Bach faced many restrictions.
        1. The duke of Weimar imprisoned Bach for a month before letting him go to Leipzig.
        2. In Leipzig, he had to promise to lead an exemplary life and not leave town without permission.
        3. Bach had numerous clashes with the Leipzig town council.
      11. Duties at Leipzig
        1. He taught Latin and music four hours a day.
        2. He composed, copied, and rehearsed music for church services; in the early years he composed a new cantata every week.
        3. He directed the top choir and oversaw the other three church choirs.
        4. He trained students on instruments and directed the church orchestra.
        5. He was responsible for music at town ceremonies and composed music for weddings, funerals, and other special occasions.
      12. Bach’s compositional process
        1. He learned composition by copying and arranging works of other composers.
        2. He composed at the keyboard.
        3. With instrumental music, the shaping of the initial theme was critical.
        4. With vocal music, Bach began with the vocal melody, matching the accents and meaning of the words.
        5. The manuscripts show that he revised his music continuously.
        6. He often adapted earlier material into new works.
  4. Organ Music
    1. General
      1. Bach performed at church and wrote in a wide variety of genres and styles.
      2. He was known as an outstanding improviser and often tested new organs.
      3. Influences
        1. Bach was aware of a wide range of organ composers.
        2. He traveled 225 miles to L?eck to hear Buxtehude.
        3. Bach arranged a number of works by Vivaldi, which affected his style.
    2. Preludes and fugues
      1. Buxtehude had composed works that alternated sections of free fantasia and fugues (see NAWM 84).
      2. Bach’s Toccata in D Minor (BWV 565) has a central fugue; it begins and ends with toccata sections and has toccata-like interpolations in the fugue.
      3. Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543) (NAWM 88)
        1. This work was probably composed while Bach was at Weimar.
        2. Typical of Bach’s practice, this work has only two main sections, a prelude and a fugue.
        3. The virtuosic prelude begins in the tonic, modulates through various keys, and returns to the tonic.
        4. The prelude has pedal points, pedal solos, and some imitation.
        5. Vivaldi’s influence can be seen in the violinistic figuration in the prelude (see HWM Example 19.1a) and other general features.
        6. The form resembles the ritornello structure of a concerto, in which the fugue subject functions as the ritornello.
        7. The fugue subject is also violinistic (see HWM Example 19.1b).
        8. The episodes have the character of solo sections.
    3. Chorale settings
      1. These works were played before each chorale and were sometimes used to accompany the singing of the congregation (see HWM Source Reading, page 451)
      2. Bach composed over two hundred works, using all known types.
      3. Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book)
        1. This manuscript collection of chorale preludes was written at Weimar.
        2. The book had a pedagogical aim in addition to providing repertoire.
      4. In each prelude of the Orgelbüchlein, the chorale tune is heard once in one of the following ways:
        1. In canon
        2. Elaborately ornamented
        3. Unadorned with a variety of accompaniments
      5. Durch Adams Fall (Through Adam’s Fall) (BWV 637) (see NAWM 89b and HWM Example 19.2)
        1. The chorale tune, in the top line, is heard once with few embellishments.
        2. The chorale melody is in bar form (aab).
        3. Jagged descending leaps in the bass depict Adam’s fall from grace.
        4. The chromatic line in the alto suggests the writhing of the serpent.
        5. The downward-sliding tenor suggests the pull of temptation.
      6. Later organ chorales use grander proportions and focus more on musical development.
  5. Harpsichord Music
    1. Suites
      1. Bach composed three sets, each containing six suites.
        1. English Suites
        2. French Suites
        3. Partitas
      2. The French and English suites contain elements of French and English styles, but follow the standard four dance movements of Germany.
        1. Allemande
        2. Courante
        3. Sarabande
        4. Gigue
      3. Each of the English Suites opens with a prelude containing Italian elements.
    2. Well-Tempered Clavier (1722 and ca. 1740)
      1. There are two separate publications, each of which has twenty-four preludes and fugues.
      2. The pairs of movements in each collection are set in all of the major and minor keys, in order to demonstrate the possibilities for playing in all keys using an instrument tuned in near-equal temperament.
      3. The works had pedagogical functions as well.
      4. The preludes illustrate different types of keyboard performance conventions.
      5. The fugues are a compendium of fugal writing, ranging from two to five voices.
    3. Goldberg Variations (1741)
      1. The theme is set with a sarabande rhythm.
      2. The thirty variations preserve the bass and harmonic structure of the theme.
      3. Every third variation is a canon.
        1. The first is at the interval of a unison.
        2. The second canon is at the interval of a second.
        3. This pattern continues until the last canon, which is at a ninth.
      4. The noncanonic variations are in a variety of forms.
      5. The last variation is a quodlibet, which contains two popular-song melodies in counterpoint above the bass of the theme.
    4. A Musical Offering (1747)
      1. This collection has a three- and a six-part ricercare for keyboard and ten canons, based on a theme proposed by Frederick the Great (see HWM Example 19.3).
      2. Bach added a trio sonata for flute (Frederick’s instrument), violin, and continuo and dedicated the work to the king.
    5. Art of Fugue (1741)
      1. This collection systematically demonstrates all types of fugal writing.
      2. It has eighteen canons and fugues based on the same subject (see HWM Example 19.4).
      3. The collection is roughly arranged in order of increasing complexity.
      4. The last fugue, unfinished at Bach’s death, has four themes, including one that spells out his name, B-A-C-H (in German, those are the pitches B-flat, A, C, and B-natural).
  6. Chamber Music
    1. Bach composed fifteen sonatas for solo instruments and harpsichord.
      1. Six violin sonatas
      2. Six flute sonatas
      3. Three viola da gamba sonatas
    2. Bach composed thirteen works for unaccompanied solo instruments.
      1. Six sonatas and partitas for violin
      2. Six suites for cello
      3. A partita for flute
  7. Orchestra Music
    1. Brandenburg Concertos
      1. The six works are dedicated to the margrave of Brandenburg.
      2. Except for the first work, all of the concertos adopt the three-movement structure, ritornello forms, and style of Italian solo concertos.
      3. There are no featured soloists in the third and sixth concertos.
      4. Bach introduced ritornello material into episodes and featured dialogue between soloists and orchestra.
      5. The Fifth Concerto has an astonishing cadenza for the harpsichord.
    2. Bach may have composed his two violin concertos and his Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins for performances with the Leipzig collegium musicum (see HWM Figure 19.6).
    3. Bach also composed and arranged works as harpsichord concertos, including a work for four harpsichords.
    4. Bach composed four orchestral suites that reflect Italian and French influences.
  8. Cantatas
    1. In 1700, Erdmann Neumeister, a theologian and poet, created a new type of sacred work that he called by the Italian term cantata.
      1. Settings of biblical, liturgical, and chorale texts were common in Lutheran services throughout the seventeenth century.
      2. Neumeister added poetic texts that could be set as recitatives, arias, and ariosos.
      3. The texts would reinforce the meaning of the day’s Gospel reading.
      4. These new works combined features of the chorale, solo song, and operatic recitative and aria.
      5. Bach preferred this new style.
    2. The cantata played an important role in the Lutheran liturgy of Leipzig.
      1. The principal services included a motet, a Kyrie, chorales, and a cantata on alternate Sundays (see HWM Source Reading, page 451).
      2. Bach preferred twelve singers in each of the main choirs.
      3. The cantatas also required soloists and an orchestra that included strings, winds, and a continuo.
      4. The Leipzig churches required fifty-eight cantatas a year in addition to other music.
      5. Bach composed three, possibly four, sets of cantatas cycles for Leipzig between 1723 and 1729.
      6. Around two hundred church cantatas have been preserved.
      7. Bach also composed about twenty secular cantatas, some of which were rewritten as sacred works (see HWM Figure 19.7).
    3. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 62) (NAWM 90)
      1. Typical of the second cycle at Leipzig, this cantata incorporates a chorale tune of the same name (see NAWM 42b).
      2. The opening chorus is based on the chorale melody, and the final chorus is a simple four-part arrangement of the tune.
      3. In between the chorale movements, Bach inserts recitatives and arias in an operatic style.
      4. The opening chorus mixes a variety of styles and genres.
        1. The movement begins with a Vivaldi-like orchestral ritornello that features the chorale tune in the bass (see HWM Example 19.5).
        2. The ritornello recurs three times, as in a concerto.
        3. Between the ritornellos, Bach presents the four phrases of the chorale set in cantus-firmus style.
        4. The first and fourth phrases are preceded by the lower voices in points of imitation based on the chorale tune (see HWM Example 19.6).
      5. The initial aria for tenor is in da capo form.
        1. The text muses on the mystery of the incarnation.
        2. Bach sets the aria in a minuet style, as if to show Jesus’s humanity.
      6. The recitative for bass includes word-painting.
      7. The bass aria follows the conventions for a heroic or martial aria and is accompanied by a unison string melody.
      8. The soprano and alto sing a sweet accompanied recitative that describes the nativity scene.
      9. The final chorale praises Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  9. Other Sacred Music
    1. Passions
      1. Two Passions by Bach survive: the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion.
      2. Both use recitatives, arias, choruses, chorales, and orchestral accompaniment.
      3. In both, a tenor narrates the biblical story in recitative.
      4. Soloists sing the roles of Jesus and other figures.
      5. The chorus sings as part of the drama, such as the crowd, and comments like the chorus in a Greek drama.
      6. Recent research suggests that Bach performed these works with a small number of singers.
    2. Mass in B Minor
      1. The Mass in B Minor, Bach’s only complete setting of the Catholic Mass Ordinary, was assembled between 1747 and 1749.
      2. Bach adapted much of the music from earlier compositions.
      3. The work juxtaposes diverse sacred styles.
      4. Too long to function in a service, the work can be seen as an anthology of sacred music types.
  10. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
    1. Handel traveled more than Vivaldi, Rameau, and Bach.
      1. Born in Halle, he learned organ, harpsichord, and counterpoint in Germany.
      2. During four years in Italy (1706-10), he met a number of major Italian composers and assimilated the Italian style.
      3. Handel matured as a composer in England (1712-59).
        1. England’s strong choral tradition made Handel’s oratorios possible.
        2. Handel was enormously popular.
      4. Handel created an eclectic style using elements of German, Italian, French, and English music.
    2. Patrons (see HWM biography, page 458, and Figure 19.8)
      1. Marquis Francesco Ruspoli was Handel’s principal patron in Italy.
        1. Handel worked as a keyboard player and composer in Rome and at the Ruspoli country estate.
        2. Handel composed Latin motets and numerous chamber cantatas.
      2. In 1710, Handel became music director for the elector of Hanover, the heir to the British throne.
      3. London trips
        1. Handel used the elector of Hanover’s position to establish himself in London.
        2. During a trip to London in 1710 and 1711, Handel composed the opera Rinaldo.
        3. During a second trip in 1712, he received support from the earl of Burlington.
        4. James Brydges, who became duke of Chandos, also became a patron.
      4. Handel’s most important patrons were the British monarchs.
        1. Handel received several ceremonial commissions from Queen Anne.
        2. The elector of Hanover became King George I in 1714 and doubled Handel’s pension.
        3. Handel received support from later monarchs as well.
      5. Despite this support, most of Handel’s major compositions were for public performances.
  11. Operas
    1. Handel’s first opera, Almira (1705), written in Hamburg at the age of nineteen, shows his assimilation of international influences.
      1. The overture and dance music are based on French models.
      2. The arias are in the Italian style and language.
      3. The recitatives are sung in German.
      4. Handel incorporates German counterpoint and orchestration.
    2. Handel assimilated the Italian style more fully during his stay in Italy.
      1. He was influenced by the operas and cantatas of Scarlatti.
      2. The Italian style is evident in Agrippina (Venice, 1709).
    3. The early years in London
      1. Rinaldo (1711), Handel’s first Italian opera to be performed in London, was a major success with its brilliant music and elaborate stage effects.
      2. Handel composed four more operas in the 1710s.
    4. The Royal Academy of Music, devoted to producing Italian opera, was established in 1718-19.
      1. Handel was engaged as the music director.
      2. Performances were at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (see HWM Figure 19.9).
      3. Handel gathered outstanding musicians, including the celebrated castrato Senesino.
      4. Handel composed some of his finest operas for this company.
        1. Radamisto (1720)
        2. Ottone (1723)
        3. Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar, 1724)
        4. Rodelinda (1725)
        5. Admeto (1727)
    5. Characteristics of Handel’s operas
      1. The plots were based on the lives of Roman heroes or on adventures from the Crusades.
      2. Recitatives
        1. Long passages of dialogue and monologue were set in a speechlike fashion accompanied by the basso continuo, which would be called simple recitative and recitativo secco (dry recitative).
        2. Tense situations used recitative accompanied by the orchestra, called recitative obbligato and accompanied recitative.
      3. Arias
        1. Arias were typically in da capo form.
        2. Each aria represented a single mood or affection.
        3. The number of arias for a singer depended on his or her position in the hierarchy of singers.
        4. The principal female was called the prima donna (first lady) and had the most and best arias.
      4. Handel wrote in a wide variety of aria styles.
        1. Some contained brilliant displays of ornamentation known as coloratura.
        2. Some were expressive songs.
        3. Arias ranged from regal grandeur with counterpoint and concertato accompaniments to simple and folklike melodies.
        4. Pastoral scenes exemplify eighteenth-century nature painting.
        5. Solo instruments often contribute to the mood of the arias.
      5. Handel used orchestral interludes and ballets more frequently than Scarlatti, and he used winds in the manner of French operas.
      6. Choruses and ensembles larger than duets were rare.
    6. Giulio Cesare Act II, scenes 1-2 (NAWM 91) form a scene complex, in which recitatives, ariosos, arias, and orchestral passages are freely mixed.
      1. The scene opens with simple recitative.
      2. Cleopatra’s da capo aria is interwoven with other musical elements.
      3. The aria presents a mixture of national styles (see HWM Example 19.7).
        1. The rhythm is based on a French sarabande.
        2. The da capo form is Italian.
        3. The doubling of the voice by instruments is German.
        4. The orchestra is divided like an Italian concerto grosso.
    7. Primarily for financial reasons, the Royal Academy dissolved in 1729, and Handel formed a new company.
      1. He had several major successes with Senesino in major roles.
      2. Senesino left in 1733 and joined another company.
      3. The two companies competed, and both nearly went bankrupt.
      4. Handel’s later operas could not match the success of his earlier ones.
  12. Oratorios
    1. In the 1730s, Handel created a new genre, the English oratorio.
      1. Oratorios were sacred entertainments based on well-known biblical stories.
      2. The English oratorio continued the Italian tradition of setting dialogue in recitative and lyrical verses as arias, which resemble his operatic settings.
      3. Handel also incorporated elements from non-Italian sources.
        1. French classical drama
        2. Ancient Greek tragedy
        3. The German passion
        4. The English masque and full anthem
    2. The most important innovation was the prominent use of the chorus.
      1. Handel was familiar with Lutheran choral music and had learned the English choral traditions.
      2. Roles of the chorus
        1. Participate in the action
        2. Narrate the story
        3. Comment on events, like the chorus in Greek drama
      3. His choral style is less contrapuntal than that of Bach.
      4. He alternated sections of fugal texture with block harmonies.
    3. Esther (1718), Handel’s first oratorio, premiered in London in 1732.
    4. Saul, the closing scene of Act II (1739) (NAWM 92)
      1. The passage opens with an accompanied recitative in a martial style (see HWM Example 19.8).
      2. Dialogue between Saul and Jonathan is in simple recitative.
      3. A chorus reflects on the morality of the situation.
        1. Each of the three fugues ends with a homophonic passage (see HWM Example 19.9).
        2. The falling tritone expresses sorrow in the opening fugue.
        3. The rapid repeated notes express rage.
    5. Messiah premiered in 1741.
      1. The libretto, taken from the Bible, does not tell a story, but presents a series of contemplations on Christian ideas.
      2. The texts extend from the prophecies of a messiah to the resurrection.
      3. The music again reflects a mixture of styles.
        1. French overture
        2. Italian recitatives and da capo arias
        3. Germanic choral fugues
        4. English choral anthem style
    6. Performances
      1. Handel’s oratorios were performed in London during Lent.
      2. Handel also played organ works at the performances.
      3. The chorus and orchestra each numbered about twenty (see HWM Figure 19.10).
      4. Oratorios needed no staging or costumes.
      5. English singers performed the lead roles rather than the more highly paid Italian opera stars.
      6. The oratorios appealed to the middle-class public.
  13. Instrumental Music
    1. Handel composed a significant amount of instrumental music, much of it published in London by John Walsh.
    2. Among his instrumental chamber works are two collections of harpsichord suites, twenty solo sonatas, and many trio sonatas.
    3. Handel’s two suites for orchestra are his most popular instrumental works.
      1. Water Music (1717), three suites for winds and strings, was performed during a royal procession on the River Thames.
      2. Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749), originally for winds, accompanied a fireworks display in London celebrating the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.
    4. Handel’s concertos represent a mixture of traditions.
      1. The six concerto grossi of Op. 3 feature both woodwind and string soloists.
      2. He composed the first organ concertos.
      3. His most significant concertos are the Twelve Grand Concertos, Op. 6, which reflect the traditions of Corelli.
  14. Handel’s reputation
    1. Handel was regarded in England as a national institution.
    2. He was buried with honors in Westminster Abbey (see HWM Figure 19.11).
    3. The lasting appeal of the oratorios makes them some of the earliest pieces by any composer to have an unbroken tradition of performance up to the present time.

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