Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/544
528 BACH CHOIR.
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. ]
BACH CHOIR, THE. In 1875 a body of amateurs was got together by Mr. A. D. Coleridge for the purpose of studying Bach's Mass in B minor, a work concerning which musicians in England were then in almost total ignorance. The music was studied under the direction of Mr. Otto Goldschmidt [see vol. i. p. 608], who had devoted much preparatory care to the Mass; and the work was performed at St. James's Hall on April 26, 1876, and again in May of the same year. Its success was such as to encourage the promoters of the scheme to convert the temporary choir into a permanent association for the production of classical vocal music. The new society was called 'The Bach Choir' (in commemoration of the inaugural performance), and its object was defined by the rules to be the practice and production of choral works of excellence of various schools. Lord Coleridge became president, Mr. Goldschmidt musical director and conductor, and Mr. Coleridge honorary secretary, while the details of the administration were handed over to a salaried secretary and librarian. In March 1879 Her Majesty graciously consented to become patron of the choir. In June of that year Mr. Prendergast was appointed secretary and librarian, with the whole of the administrative work, Mr. Coleridge retaining the office of honorary secretary.
While practising and producing other choral works, the Mass was not neglected, and it was performed, for the eighth time in London, in the Albert Hall on March 25, 1885, in celebration of the bicentenary of Bach's birth. For this performance the choir was largely augmented by voices selected from other leading societies, and many retired members resumed for the occasion their places in the chorus. Interest was also lent to this performance by the use for the first