Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/127

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BACH.
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received applications from various quarters. In 1707 he went to Mühlhausen in the Thüringen, and in the following year to Weimar as court-organist. From this time we may consider his studies to have been completed; at Weimar his fame as the first organist of his time reached its climax, and there also his chief organ compositions were written,—productions unsurpassed and unsurpassable. In 1714, when twenty-nine years of age, Bach was appointed 'Hof-Concertmeister,' and his sphere of activity became considerably enlarged. An interesting event took place at this time. Bach used to make yearly tours for the purpose of giving performances on the organ and clavier. On his arrival at Dresden in the autumn of 1717 he found there a French player of great reputation named Marchand, whose performances completely carried away his hearers, though he had made many enemies by his arrogance and intolerance of competition. Bach was induced to send a written challenge to the Frenchman for a regular musical contest, offering to solve any problem which his opponent should set him, of course on condition of being allowed to reciprocate. Marchand agreed, in his pride picturing to himself a glowing victory; time and place were fixed upon, and a numerous and brilliant audience assembled. Bach made his appearance—but no Marchand: he had taken himself off that very morning; having probably found an opportunity of hearing his opponent, and no longer feeling the courage to measure his strength with him.

On his return from Dresden in 1717 Bach was appointed Kapellmeister at Cöthen by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. This young prince, a great lover of music, esteemed Bach so highly that he could not bear to be separated from him, and even made him accompany him on his journeys. [App. p.527 "As Kapellmeister at Cöthen, Bach received the comparatively high salary of 400 thalers (1200 marks, or £60) a year. It is now certain that he went with the Prince to Carlsbad, not only in 1720, but in 1718. The journey to Hamburg, where he saw Reinken for the last time, took place not in 1721 , but in 1720, soon after the death of his first wife. In 1719 he was at Halle, where he tried to make the acquaintance of Handel, who was at that time on a visit to his family. This, and a second attempt in 1729, fell through, so that the two composers never met."] Bach's duties consisted merely in directing the Prince's chamber-music, as he had nothing to do with the church music or organ-playing. Accordingly this period of his life proved extraordinarily fertile in the production of instrumental music. A journey to Hamburg in 1721 brought him again in contact with the aged Reinken; on this occasion he was a candidate for the post of organist at the 'Jacobi Kirche,' where he was attracted by the splendid organ. In spite of his great fame, and notwithstanding his having again excited the most unmixed admiration by his organ-playing in Hamburg, he failed to obtain the post; an unknown and insignificant young man being preferred to him,—possibly because he offered to pay 4000 marks for the office. At length, in 1723, Bach was appointed cantor at the Thomas-Schule in Leipsic, and organist and director of the music in the two chief churches. Cöthen was no field for a man of his genius, and the Duke's love of music had considerably cooled since his second [App. p.527 "first"] marriage. He therefore quitted the place for his new post, though retaining sufficient interest in it to write a funeral ode (Trauer-Ode) on the death of the Duchess in 1727. [App. p.527 "The 'Trauermusik,' written by Bach at Cöthen in 1729, was not on the death of the Duchess, but on that of the Duke himself, which took place Nov. 19, 1728. The Trauer-Ode here referred to as written in 1727, was occasioned by the death of Christiane Eberhardine, Electress of Saxony, and was performed on Oct. 17, 1727. Besides the Trauermusik, Bach wrote for the court of Cöthen a whole series of occasional cantatas, proving his intimate connection with the Ducal family: for Dec. 10 (the Duke's birthday), in 1717, 1718, and 1720; for New Year's Day, 1719 and 1720 (Gratulationscantaten); for Nov. 30 (the birthday of the Duke's second wife), 1726. Only three of these compositions are preserved; most of the poems to which they were set were written by C. F. Hunold. Bach took up his residence in Leipzig in May 1723. He was appointed Cantor of the Thomasschule, and director of the music in the churches, but not organist; he never occupied an organist's post after leaving Weimar in 1717. As Cantor he had to teach singing, and, at first, to give a certain amount of scientific instruction; as director of music he had to superintend the choral music in the churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. The choirs were composed of the scholars of the Thomasschule, with the addition of students and amateurs, the so-called 'Adjuvanten.' The size of the chorus, according to our present ideas, was very small; the average number for a four-part chorus was about 12 voices. These were supplemented by a body of instrumentalists averaging 18 in number, and composed of the town musicians with the assistance of students, scholars, and amateurs. Part of the duties of University Music-director were fulfilled by Bach, and from 1729 to 1736 he conducted a students' musical society, in which secular chamber music was practised, and which held for some time an important place in the musical life of the town. Several public concerts were also given by the society under Bach's direction.

Bach's official duties were not very pressing, and he had time enough for composition. The musical materials with which he had to deal were however far from satisfying his requirements, especially as compared with the state of music at the court. Besides this, his governing authorities, the town council of Leipzig, showed themselves entirely incapable of understanding the exceptional greatness of this musician. They did everything to impede his freedom of action, and pestered him with petty accusations. In the summer of 1730 Bach's irritation was so great that he nearly resolved to leave Leipzig altogether. His intercourse with the rector and colleagues of the Thomasschule was at first not unpleasant, and during the rectorate (1730–1734) of the celebrated philologist, Johann Mathias Gesner, it was very agreeable. Bach could not get on with the next rector, however, Johann August Ernesti, a man still very young and without any tact. Certain, differences as to the appointment of one of the choir-prefects, who had to direct the choir in the absence of the cantor, led to a breach which in the course of the year became quite irreconcileable. Bach, with all his great and noble qualities, was easily irritated, and possessed unyielding obstinacy. The protracted conflict had very bad results on the discipline and working of the school, and even ten years after Bach's death the rector and cantor were accustomed to regard each other as natural enemies.

Bach's position in Leipzig was a highly respected one, and he soon became a celebrity in the town. Few musicians went there without paying him a visit, and even the 'stars' of the Italian Opera in Dresden did not fail to pay him respect. He kept up a friendly intercourse with the musicians of the Saxon capital. Pupils came to him from far and near; his house was a centre of refined and earnest musical culture; with his wife, an excellent singer and an accomplished musician, his talented sons and daughters, and his numerous pupils, he could organise, in his spacious house, performances of vocal and instrumental works, even of those which required a large number of executants. That he mixed in the literary and University society of the town is proved by his relations with the poetess Mariane von Ziegler and Professor Gottsched. In later life he seems to have withdrawn more and more from society. In the new impulse which was given to music about the middle of the century by the influence of the rich mercantile element, and which resulted in the foundation of the 'Gewandh.ius Concerts,' Bach, so far as we can learn, took no part.

Bach made frequent journeys from Leipzig. As he was still Kapellmeister at Cöthen ('von Haus aus' as the phrase was), he had to appear there occasionally and to place his services at the disposal of the reigning family. At the same time he kept up his connection with the court of Weissenfels, to which he had been appointed Kapellmeister in 1723 (not 1736). He often went to Dresden, where, since his passage of arms with Marchand in 1717, he had been in high favour. In 1727 he was—as far as we know, for the last time—in Hamburg, and his native Thuringia had been visited occasionally. His most noteworthy journey was that of 1747 to the court of Frederick the Great at Potsdam and Berlin. The reception here accorded to him was extraordinarily complimentary.

Concerning Bach's last illness, it is to be noticed that as early as 1749 it made him at times so incapable of work that the town council thought seriously of appointing his successor. The statement that he engraved his own works on copper, and so injured his sight, is absolutely without proof. He had been accustomed from earliest youth to strain his naturally weak sight, and this brought on his blindness. The oculist to whom he ultimately had recourse was the English Taylor, who travelled through Germany in 1750 and 1751. An operation was performed, but was unsuccessful. By a curious coincidence the same oculist operated, a few years later, upon Handel, and also without success.

Bach's musical development proceeded from the sphere of organ music, and it is to this branch of art that the greatest and most important part of his compositions, up to the year 1717, belongs. It was in the time of his residence at Weimar that he reached his full greatness as an organ-player. At Cöthen he did not write much for the organ; the Orgelbuchlein, compiled there, consists for the most part of compositions of the Weimar, or even of an earlier, period. In all probability the celebrated G minor Fugue with the Prelude (Bachgesellschaft edition, vol. xv. p. 177) was composed in 1720 at the time of his journey to Hamburg. Of the great Preludes and Fugues only four can with certainty be ascribed to the Leipzig period:—C major, B minor, E minor, and E♭ major (Bachgesellschaft, xv. pp. 228, 199, 236; vol. iii. pp. 173 and 254): and of the chorale arrangements, probably not more are to be referred to this time than those twenty-one which constitute the chief part of the 'Clavierübung,' and the canonic variations on the Christmas hymn 'Vom Himmel hoch.' The six organ sonatas received their final corrections at Leipzig, but most of them date from Cöthen or earlier, and were not originally written for the organ, but for a pedal harpischord with two manuals.

The Cöthen period was principally devoted to instrumental chamber music. Here the great 'Brandenburg' concertos were completed in 1721; the first part of the 'Wohltemperirte Clavier' written in 1722 (the second part was finished about 1742); and in 1723 the Inventions and Symphonies for clavier were produced. Besides these, to this period are to be assigned the six 'French' and perhaps also the six 'English' suites, to which Bach added the six 'Partitas' (written in Leipzig between 1726 and 1731): very probably the sonatas and suites for violin and violoncello, as well as the sonatas for violin and clavier, are also to be ascribed to this time.

Lastly, in the Leipzig period, the composer laid most stress upon church music for voices with instrumental accompaniment. He wrote some 300 so-called church cantatas, of which more than 200 are extant. Only a small number of these, about 30, belong to the earlier periods; the earliest is probably the Easter cantata, 'Denn du wirst meine Seele' (Bachgesellschaft, ii. No. 15); it seems to have been written at Arnstadt in 1704. A good number of cantatas can be assigned to the Weimar period, but to the Cöthen period belong only one or two. But to the Leipzig period are to be referred not only the great majority of cantatas, but also almost all the great church compositions. Of the five Passion settings only that according to St. Luke belongs to an early time; the 'John' Passion was performed for the first time in 1724, the 'Matthew' in 1729, while two are lost. The Christmas Oratorio was written in 1734, the Magnificat, apparently for Christmas, 1723, and the Mass in B minor between 1732 and 1738. The German sacred poems set by Bach are the work of Erdmann Neumeister, Salomo Franck, Chr. Fr. Henrici (Picander), Mariane von Zeigler, and others. Many of them were compiled by Bach himself."]

[ P. S. ]

His position at Leipsic he retained till the end of his life; there he wrote for the services of the church his great Passions and Cantatas, and his High mass in B minor (1733), which exhibit the power of his unique genius in its full glory. In 1736 he received the honorary appointments of Hof-Componist to the Elector of Saxony, and Kapellmeister to the Duke of Weissenfels. In 1747, when already somewhat advanced in age, he received an invitation to Berlin to the court of Frederic the Great, where his son Emanuel held the post of cembalist, a fact which made the king desirous of hearing and seeing the great master himself. Bach accepted the invitation, was received with the utmost respect and kindness by the king (April 7, 1747)[1], had to try all the Silbermann pianofortes and organs at Potsdam, and excited the greatest wonder by his improvisation on given and selfchosen themes. On his return to Leipsic he worked out the theme which the king had given him, and dedicated it to him under the title of 'Musikalisches Opfer.' He now began to suffer from his eyes, and subsequently became quite blind. This was possibly caused by excessive straining of his sight, not only with the enormous number of his own compositions, but also with copying quantities of separate parts, and works by other composers, as materials for his own studies: besides this he himself engraved more than one of his own pieces on copper. On July 28, 1750, his life was brought to an end by a fit of apoplexy.

Bach was twice married (Oct. 17, 1707, and Dec. 3, 1721); by his first wife, Maria Barbara, the daughter of Michael Bach of Gehren, he had seven children. She died at Cöthen in 1720, during her husband's absence at Karlsbad with the Prince. Three only of her children survived their father—an unmarried daughter and two sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Philip Emanuel. His second wife, Anna Magdalena Wülkens, youngest daughter of the Weissenfels Hof-Trompeter, had a musical nature and a fine voice, and showed a true appreciation for her husband. She helped to encourage a strong artistic and musical feeling in his house, and besides attracting foreign artists, exerted a beneficial influence on the sons, who were one and all musically gifted. This marriage produced thirteen more children, nine sons, of whom only two survived the father, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian.

In Johann Sebastian centres the progressive development of the race of Bach, which had been advancing for years; in all the circumstances of life he proved himself to be at once the greatest and the most typical representative of the family. He stood, too, on the top step of the ladder: with him the vital forces of the race exhausted themselves; and further power of development stopped short.

All the family traits and qualities of the Bachs to which we drew attention in the introduction to this article, and which were handed on by natural disposition as well as education and tradition, stand out in Johann Sebastian with

  1. I owe this date to Mr. Carlyle, though he has omitted all mention of the occurrence in his Life of Frederick. [G.]