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Compare the lives and works of Bach and Handel Essay Sample

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Compare the lives and works of Bach and Handel Essay Sample

Many musical scholars believe that J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel are the two most important, influential composers of the Baroque period. Both of these men were born in Germany in 1685, and since they came into existence around the same time, they share some similarities. As an introductory statement, Bach and Handel were born into two very different families. Handel did not come from a musical family; his father wanted him to study law. By age nine, his talent was too obvious for his father to ignore and Handel began to study with a local organist and composer. On the contrary, Bach came from a long line of musicians. Bach also had four sons which became gifted composers, in their own right. Bach, like Handel, also started as an organist and composer. The primary difference between the two composers was that Bach was a church organist. Not long after Handel left for the University of Halle, he put his law career aside, and went to Hamburg. While in Hamburg, he was a violinist and a harpsichordist in the orchestra.

According to the text, so many members of the family were musicians that the name Bach was synonymous with town musician. J.S. Bach passed on the musical heritage by having twenty children, of which only nine survived and four became well-known composers. In Eisenach, Germany, Bach probably was given his first lesson by his father, but when he was at the tender age of nine both of his parents died. Bach went to live with his older brother. Who do you think his brother was? Why, of course, another organist in a nearby town. At the age of fifteen, he left his brother and tried to make it on his own. At eighteen, Bach became the church organist in Arnstadt, but he soon conflicted with church authorities. At age twenty-three, he went to Mühlhausen, and married his cousin, Barbara. After these two jobs, Bach became the court organist of Weimar.

While involved in the Lutheran church, Bach composed cantatas, multi-movement works for the choir and orchestra. He had to write one for each week. In his cantatas, Bach needed to include a chorale, which is the sermon’s general message. His most note-worthy post was as court conductor for the prince of Cöthen. His salary was much higher, and he was not required to compose church or organ music. The prince was a Calvinist, and therefore a simple psalm was sufficient for the service. Between 1717 and 1723, he led the prince’s orchestra, and the Bradenburg Concertos arose from this period. In 1723, he became a director of music at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, a job he held until his death.

Perhaps the most studied work of Bach was the Well-Tempered Clavier. Bach uses the fugue in this work, and the fugue is divided into a subject, countersubject and episode. “Even in his own time Bach was viewed first and foremost as a world famous organist, in fact as the greatest organist and clavier player that has ever been” (Wolff, 149). The piece was intended to be played by a keyboard instrument, and it consisted of twenty-four preludes and fugues. Some of the typical dance suites in this piece include the allemande, courante, sarabande, and gigue. The allemande was a German dance composed in a meter of four. The courante was a French dance and it was in triple meter. The sarabande was a Spanish dance and it was also in triple meter. The gigue was a dance typical to the Italians, English, and Irish, and it was in six-eight meter. His works possessed technical command and they were also artistically beautiful.

His works include the Brandenburg concertos, the keyboard suites and partitas, the Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion, The Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue and a large number of cantatas. J.S. Bach’s works are indexed with BWV numbers, an initialism for Bach Werke Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue). The catalogue was published in 1950, and it was compiled by Wolfgang Schmieder. The catalogue is organized thematically, rather than chronologically: BWV 1-224 are cantatas, BWV 225-48 the large-scale choral works, BWV 250-524 chorales and sacred songs, BWV 525-748 organ works, BWV 772-994 other keyboard works, BWV 995-1000 lute music, BWV 1001-40 chamber music, BWV 1041-71 orchestral music, and BWV 1072-1126 canons and fugues.

In addition, Bach was a virtuoso on the organ. He also served as an organ consultant, and composer of organ works, like toccatas, chorale preludes, and fugues. He had a reputation for having great creativity, and he was able to integrate many national styles into his works. Many of his works are said to have North German influences that were taught to Bach by Georg Bröhm. Bach also copied the works of many French and Italian composers in order to decipher their compositional languages. Later on, he arranged several violin concertos by Vivaldi for organ. Most experts of musical composition believe that the years, between 1708 and 1714, were his most productive. Within this period, he composed several preludes, fugues, and toccatas. During this span, Bach wrote the Little Organ Book, Orgelbüchlein. This book remains an unfinished collection of forty-nine short chorale preludes.

Later on in his life, Bach composed the Orchestral Suite No.3 in D Major. This work’s second movement was appropriately titled Air, because it was an aria for the orchestra. Bach wrote music for single instruments, duets, and small ensembles. Bach’s works for solo instruments include the six sonatas and partitas for violin (BWV1001-1006), the six cello suites (BWV 1007-1012) and the partita for solo flute (BWV1013). Bach’s best-known orchestral works are the Brandenburg concertos. These works got their name because Bach submitted them as a job audition for the Margrave of Bradenburg, in 1721.

Remarkably, he did not get the job, and these are some of the finest examples of concerto grosso ever. Other surviving works in the concerto form include two violin concertos, a concerto for two violins, and concertos for one, two, three, and even four harpsichords. It is widely accepted that many of the harpsichord concertos were not original works, but arrangements of now lost concertos for other instruments. A number of violin, oboe, and flute concertos have been reconstructed from these. Aside from concertos, Bach also wrote four orchestral suites, as stated previously.

According to the text, Handel was a master of Italian opera and English oratorio, and he was born in Halle, Germany, one month before Bach. Handel was not born into a musical family, unlike Bach. Moreover, Bach never wrote any operas, but Handel wrote many. His father, a member of the middle class, wanted his son to study law so he could make a decent living. At the time, musicians lived the life of a struggling musician, because they were paid very little. He was enrolled in Halle University, however within a year he left for Hamburg. At twenty-one he went to Italy to compose Italian operas and he stayed there for approximately three years. After his return to Germany in 1710, he stayed for a month before he asked Elector Georg Ludwig of Hanover if he could leave for London where Rinaldo was being produced. He spent the next half-century in London. While in London, his fame grew rampant across the countryside, and the aristocracy loved him.

Ultimately, Handel’s triple career as impresario, composer, and performer brought him fame; however these careers also led to two nervous breakdowns. In 1737, after one breakdown, the future king of Prussia wrote, “Handel’s great days are over, his inspiration is exhausted, and his taste behind the fashion.” In 1741, the year he composed Messiah, Handel stopped writing operas entirely, and took up oratorios. All in all, he was a leading composer of concerti grossi, operas and oratorios. He lived most of his life in Great Britain. His most famous piece is Messiah, an oratorio set to texts from the King James Bible; other well-known works are Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. He influenced many of his musical successors such as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Handel’s Messiah was a three movement work. The first movement was called Christmas. The second movement was called Death and Resurrection, and the third movement, Redemption. Unlike Bach’s cantatas, oratorios had no chorale, and they had a libretto. This specific work is by far the most famous work ever composed by G. F. Handel. Many historians believe that this was Handel’s favorite work, also. In a speech, Handel suggested that Messiah was the result of an inspiration as he said, “I did think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself” (Jacobi, 7). During a downturn in his career in England, his friend Charles Jennens convinced Handel to compose an oratorio based on scriptures Jennens had arranged. Rather than seek refuge in his German homeland, Handel was convinced and began to work on the oratorio (Jacobi, 32). Handel composed his entire work in a twenty-four day stint from August 22, 1741 to September 14, 1741. Handel’s Messiah was performed for the first time in Dublin, Ireland.

The performance was on the thirteenth of April, 1742. It is not known whether Handel wrote the work for the Dublin performance or if he only chose Dublin for its first playing (Jacobi, 8). As with all oratorios, Messiah is divided into three parts. In Messiah, the three parts represent Jesus Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. Every part breaks down into a series of arias and choruses. The basis of many arias and choruses are biblical passages from the King James Bible. Before his initial performance, Handel toured the Irish countryside, as well as Great Britain and performed his newest masterpiece. During initial performances, Handel would change elements of the oratorio to better suit the regional location, or librettos. In order to clarify, a libretto is defined as the lyrics or spoken parts of an opera or oratorio.

When many people think of the High Baroque period, they realize that it was dominated by two composers that were born in 1685. These masterful virtuosos were Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. Both individuals achieved fame in their era by playing the keyboard. Between these two men, they contributed virtually every significant musical genre of the Baroque period. In one aspect, each composer represents a different type of typical Baroque musical practitioner: Bach, the German Kapellmeister working for the court or city, and Handel the theater-based composer. While working within the basso continuo tradition, Bach’s fascination with the possibilities of the fugue and imitation or orchestral pitting introduced an extra dimension to the music of the late Baroque period. After a successful career with Italian operas, in London, Handel decided to turn to English oratorio for the theater in London. As composers, Bach and Handel contributed the most to the late Baroque period. As Bach died in 1750, many historians cite this date as the end of the Baroque period.

In conclusion, musical scholars believe that J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel are the two most important, influential composers of the Baroque period. Both of these men were born in Germany in 1685, and since they came into existence around the same time, they share some similarities. Bach and Handel were born into two very different families. However, Handel found a way to become a musician even though his father wanted him to pursue law. Both of these composers began their careers as virtuosos on keyboard instruments. Both men were fine organist. Unlike Handel, Bach came from a long line of musicians. Bach also had four sons which became gifted composers, in their own right. The primary difference between the two composers was that Bach was a church organist. Not long after Handel left for the University of Halle, he put his law career aside, and went to Hamburg. While in Hamburg, he was a violinist and a harpsichordist in the orchestra. All in all, many musical advancements were made by these two gifted composers, and ultimately Bach’s death marked the end of an era, the Baroque era.

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