The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, 1739-1742, by Johann Sebastian Bach (British Library)
Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel form the twin creative peaks of the18th century. Though they were born in the same country in 1685 and knew each other’s music, they never met. Both were skilled and inspired beyond their contemporaries in the arts of instrumental and vocal music, and in the craftsmanship of Baroque contrapuntal composition. Yet, their music, personal qualities and circumstances of life are so strikingly different that each man’s accomplishments stand in brilliant opposition to the other’s.
In six sessions, Saul Lilienstein compares and contrasts the contributions of these two geniuses, analyzing some of their greatest works, their most treasured musical moments, and the gifts that each bestowed.
Jan. 29 From Apprenticeship to Professional Recognition
An overview of their early years: Handel’s journey from Hamburg to the centers of music in Italy; Bach’s movements between the churches of Arnstadt and Muhlhausen before arriving in Weimar. Bach’s musical idiom is established early in famed works like the Toccata in D minor and the cantata Christ lag in todesbanden. Handel is introduced to the Italian vocal style. Hear excerpts from his earliest operas and secular cantatas.
Feb. 5 Handel in London, Bach in Weimar
Handel achieves tremendous and lasting success with his opera Rinaldo, and additional recognition for his mastery of the organ. His only rival at the instrument was known to be Bach, whose main responsibilities at Weimar began as a performing composer for that instrument.
Feb. 12 In the Service of Aristocracy
Handel’s former German patron, the Elector of Hanover, is crowned George I, King of England. The famed Water Music suite and the operas Julius Caesar in Egypt and Tamerlano add to his fame. Bach’s tenure at Weimar continued with the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor and a series of great chorale preludes and cantatas. In 1717, he takes a new position at the secular court in Cothen and composes the famous orchestral suites, concertos, and The Well-tempered Clavier
Feb. 19 The Impresario of London
As London’s interest in Italian opera ebbs and flows, Handel writes new music to English texts; a series of odes, anthems and oratorios confirming his position as England’s greatest composer. Excerpts from Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, Coronation Anthems, and the oratorios Saul and Israel in Egypt.
Feb. 26 The Cantor of Leipzig
Bach began his tenure as cantor at the Saint Thomas church in Leipzig in 1723 by composing a yearly cycle of cantatas to cover all Sunday services plus holidays. Then he did it again—and again—with approximately 180 cantatas written during his first 3 years there. Excerpts from the Magnificat, Wachet auf, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and the Christmas Oratorio.
Mar. 5 The Final Years
In the 1740s, Bach composes the Goldberg Variations and A Musical Offering for Frederick the Great, and produces his Mass in B Minor. His final work, The Art of the Fugue, was completed in 1749, the year before his death. Handel composes Music for a Royal Fireworks and series of concertos (Opus 6, No. 1–12) that stand with Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as the finest examples of the art. In 1742, his most famous oratorio, Messiah, was introduced in Dublin, followed with Belshazzar and Judas Maccabaeus. Handel dies in 1759.
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