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Georg Friedrich Händel & Bach
Part 1

Credibility

Anna Vriend (July 12, 2004):
On the site www.gfhandel.org, a site dedicated to Händel, I found the following, undocumented quote (under anecdotes):

Johann Sebastian Bach is attributed with the following remark:
"[Händel] is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach."

Upon hearing the above statement, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is said to have exclaimed:
"Truly, I would say the same myself if I were permitted to put in a word"

Does anyone know whether this could be traced back somewhere?
I'd be curious to know.

David Glenn Lebut Jr. (July 13, 2004):
[To Anna Vriend] I don't know of Mozart's comment, but as far as Bach's it is most certainly true. In fact, he made two efforts (the first whilst in Weimar or Köthen, the second through Wilhelm Friedemann in the 1730s [whilst Friedemann was employed in Halle]).

 

Bach vs. Händel

Doug Cowling wrote (December 11, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I'm with Christopher Hogwood on this one. He once said that there was no reason for every version of the Messiah to try to approximate Händel's, but he thought it was nice that at least one of them did and let consumers make their own judgement. Nobody has yet put OVPP and boys together yet that I know (although Parrott's own Mass in B (BWV 232) is obviously done with small forces and does have boys: I can't tell if it's OVPP). Someday maybe. >
The real problem is that Bach and Händel had completely different performing forces. Only in the Roman Vespers Psalms and Chandos Anthems did Händel expect OVPP. The oratorios were performed by choirs of up to 40 voices -- although I love the performances by The Sixteen. And interestingly, the soloists sang with the choir in the choruses so that the soprano line had the interesting blend of treble boys and opera diva! The tradition of large choruses for the oratorios began very early -- Händel admitted that he liked a big "bow-wow" chorus. By the 1785 centennial celebrations, there were already huge choirs. It was inevitable that when the Bach revival began that his music was seen through the prism of the Victorian choral society.

Peter Smaill wrote (December 11, 2004):
One point of contact in the musical language of Bach and Händel which intrigues, is the use of the same theme in the Chandos Anthem O praise the Lord with one consent and Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb major BWV 552., nicknamed the St Anne.

The obvious source is the hymn tune St Anne by Dr Croft (O God our Help in Ages past) but in the view of Malcolm Boyd there is nothing to suggest that Bach knew the hymn and there are other contemporary themes with a similar outline.Does anyone know of a musical visitor to Leipzig who could have been the go-between - or must we conclude with Boyd that it is just coincidence?

A possible indirect link is through John Wesley's chorale gathering activities but as far as I know no interlocutor has been identified.

Norman Carrell in 1967 identified a number of other possible links betwen Bach and Händel, suggesting that the soprano aria (5) in BWV 70 (Watchet, Betet) is from a bass aria in Almira; soprano aria (3) from BWV 105 (Herr,gehe nicht) derives from the Passion music by Händel copied out by Bach and Anna Magdalena.

If any recent scholarship can cast light on the transmission mechanism (or absence thereof)for music between London, Halle and Leipzig a reference or precis of the same would be gratefully received.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 11, 2004):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< One point of contact in the musical language of Bach and Händel which intrigues, is the use of the same theme in the Chandos Anthem O praise the Lord with one consent and Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb major BWV 552., nicknamed the St Anne. <
Another is the fugal subject which Händel used for "And With His Stripes" in "Messiah" and which Bach used for the A Minor Fugue in Book 2 (is this right?) of the Well-Tempered.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 12, 2004):
Peter Smaill wrote:
>>Does anyone know of a musical visitor to Leipzig who could have been the go-between...?
If any recent scholarship can cast light on the transmission mechanism (or absence thereof)for music between London,
Halle and Leipzig a reference or precis of the same would be gratefully received.<<
It might possibly help to consult Christoph Wolff's Bach biography: "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician" [Norton, 2000]and look up all the references to Händel in the index. Of particularly interest might be 'Bach's failed visits to' see & hear Händel in Halle where Händel was visiting. In some instances, Bach, being unable to come (he really did want to meet with Händel!) sent his sons instead. Can you imagine that that there must have been some sort of correspondence between these two great masters and that either by mail or by personal visits from Bach's sons, Händel and Bach may have exhanged copies of music with each other?

Another angle is hinted at in the title for Bach's 'English Suites' regarding which Forkel stated that Bach had composed them for 'a distinguished Englishman.' The NBA KB V/7 pp. 86-87 did find some evidence to corroborate Forkel's observation, but no specific names are mentioned. From this it might appear that Bach had made the acquaintance of such an individual, who also may have presented Bach with some English music, while Bach, in return, was very careful to use the treble clef sign which had been in use in England since the time of Purcell (Bach normally used the 'discant' clef instead (as for instance for his 'French Suites.')

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 12, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Sorry. I don't think I made myself quite clear. I was not suggesting that Händel should be performed OVPP (whether any of his works should be done in this manner is a matter for far wiser heads). I used Hogwood's point because it puts clearly one good justification for attempting to perform a work as close as possible to that envisioned by the composer - some consumers might get fun, enjoyment or spiritual uplift (take your pick) from hearing the result. Relying on this observation I then suggested that at least yours truly would plunk down $18 to hear an OVPP performance of a Bach cantata highlighting boys simply because this MIGHT well be the way they were performed in the early 18th Century. And it would not matter to me whether or not the music was as technically accomplished as that coming from Suzuki or Ton Koopman. I don't know whether consumers of music (which we are, let's face it) have any "rights" or not. But the leader of an ensemble might figure .... "I'm not sure my young gents can keep up with Ruth Holton and the Monteverdi Choir, but let's let them take a crack at it. Maybe someone out there would like to hear the result." Obviously this doesn't imply in the slightest any desire to see any "party line" develop on musical performance. If we can listen to "Sheep may safely graze" done in a duet by saxophone and accordion (that's a thought, isn't it?), I say let a hundred flowers bloom. I just hope that a few more boys choirs bloom along with them.

BTW: I do collect Messiahs. I don't think Händel was in Bach's league overall, but on a good day he was breathing the same air. And the Messiah was composed on a very good day. I love my old Beecham done with a choir of 12,000 or so, complete with bells, whistles, birdcalls and bells-a-ringing - or so it seems. Malcom Sargent's effort from the late 50's is another favorite. Suzuki's is a knockout. But my favorites are Cleobury/Goodman's recent DVD (yikes: those old trumpets are nearly the sizof tubas - must have been an instrument for the stout of bicep) and Hogwood's: both are HIP and both employ boys among their vocal forces.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 12, 2004):
<< One point of contact in the musical language of Bach and Händel which intrigues, is the use of the same theme in the Chandos Anthem O praise the Lord with one consent and Bach's Prelude and Fugue in Eb major BWV 552., nicknamed the St Anne. >>
The "St Anne" nickname has nothing to do with Bach, but was slapped onto this piece later by English speakers. The "St Anne" hymn tune was published in English books in 1708 and 1720, but there's no evidence (known to me anyway) that Bach knew anything about it. The coincidence is only the first seven or eight notes anyway, not the whole tune. The "St Anne" music is by William Croft, and is called that because he was organist at St Anne's church, Soho, London. The tune was first associated with Psalm 42.

As for BWV 552 (from Clavierübung III, 1739) and a possible borrowing by Bach from somewhere, Peter Williams (2003 ed of The Organ Music of Bach) cites a D major fugue by Hurlebusch, in a volume that Bach himself was selling in Leipzig in 1735. "This work has been claimed to be so similar in subject and treatment to the first section of the Eb Fugue that one can speak of it as 'Bach's source' and a commonplace modulation in it as 'borrowed verbatim' by Bach. But Hurlebusch's three-voice working is thin, entirely conventional, and more like other fugues of the 1730s, seen at their best in Händel's Six Fugues, published in 1735. Resemblances may be natural when composers wrote fugues true to type. Yet there has to remain the possibility that Bach was responding to Hurlebusch and intending to blind players by science."

< Another is the fugal subject which Händel used for "And With His Stripes" in "Messiah" and which Bach used for the A Minor Fugue in Book 2 (is this right?) of the Well-Tempered. >
Yes: sometime between 1739 and 1742 for Bach, and in 1742 for Händel.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 12, 2004):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Relying on this observation I then suggested that at least yours truly would plunk down $18 to hear an OVPP performance of a Bach cantata highlighting boys simply because this MIGHT well be the way they were performed in the early 18th Century. And it would not matter to me whether or not the music was as technically accomplished as that coming from Suzuki or Ton Koopman. >
I think we under-estimate the musical competence of boys who are studying in a residential cathedral or college choir school with daily services. They are capable of quite extraordinary professionalism. The English collegiate choir school is in fact the closest contemporary institution we have to St. Thomas Leipzig in its schedule and manner of instruction. And if we remember that boys' voices changed as late as 18 yrs, we can be assured that Bach had performers who had a full decade of singing and were more than capable of performing his music.

Now I don't want to start a discussion of the singing styles of contemporary Engish, German and Italian boys choirs ... But everyone should listen to both the upcoming BBC broadcast of the King's College Christmas Eve carol service and telecast of the Sistine Chapel's Midnight Mass from the Vatican.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 12, 2004):
< Can you imagine that that there must have been some sort of correspondence between these two great masters and that either by mail or by personal visits from Bach's sons, Händel and Bach may have exhanged copies of music with each other?
Another angle is hinted at in the title for Bach's 'English Suites' regarding which Forkel stated that Bach had composed them for 'a distinguished Englishman.' The NBA KB V/7 pp. 86-87 did find some evidence to corroborate Forkel's observation, but no specific names are mentioned. From this it might appear that Bach had made the acquaintance of such an individual, who also may have presented Bach with some English music, while Bach, in return, was very careful to use the treble clef sign which had been in use in England since the time of Purcell (Bach normally used the 'discant' clef instead (as for instance for his 'French Suites.') >
Bach had written his so-called "English" suites (which are really French in style) by 1725 at the latest, according to Dürr, and the first one (BWV 806) considerably earlier than that. Most likely Köthen (ending 1723) or even Weimar (ending 1717) for most of that music.

Against that, Händel's first eight suites were published in England in 1720. There's nothing particularly English about them, either, but rather they're Germanic and Italianate in style.

Lots of things "can be imagined" and "hinted at". A bunch of loosely connected imaginative conjectures (along with this unknown "distinguished Englishman", a music fan who allegedly carried Händel scores around? according to what?) do not constitute proof, or even very good circumstantial evidence, that Händel and Bach had ever exchanged music before either of them wrote those particular sets of suites. It's just a bunch of tempting speculation, about their lives before the age of 40 or 35. Might make a fun screenplay, coming up with some shady character who serves as liaison, and developing a plot around him or her. Nicolas Cage would be about the right age to play either Händel or Bach, and maybe John Cusack the other one? They're both really good at conspiracy-type movies. Anthony Hopkins would be cool as the distinguished Englishman. Julia Roberts is about the right age to play Maria Barbara, in the parts before her 1720 demise. Kate Winslet as Anna Magdalena?

The clef thing is interesting, but again not proof or even circumstantial evidence that Händel had anything to do with it.

Personally, I believe it's more likely that Bach and Couperin did some exchanges of technical shop talk (in their letters that ended up as jam-pot lids), more than Bach and Händel doing so. But that's drifting off topic.

I second Peter Smaill's request, about Händel and Bach:

< If any recent scholarship can cast light on the transmission mechanism (or absence thereof) for music between London, Halle and Leipzig a reference or precis of the same would be gratefully received. >
I'd enjoy seeing some real evidence, not fantasy literature based on things we're asked to imagine, and which then suddenly become almost true in the next paragraph. Or, if there isn't evidence to be had, what about an exercise of some scholarly caution rather than the engagement in quick and untenable speculation?

Thomas Shepherd wrote (December 12, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
< …… But everyone should listen to both the upcoming BBC broadcast of the King's College Christmas Eve carol service and telecast of the Sistine Chapel's Midnight Mass from the Vatican. >
And if you want a wider and equally representative cross section of live cathedral singing in the UK, why not tune to "Choral Evensong" Radio 3 BBC every Wednesday afternoon (4.00 p.m. GMT) and streamed live. The web address is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/choralevensong/pip/8qa4x/.

This week its at Truro Cathedral, but it is possible to listen to the archives as well. Incidentally Bach is regularly performed at these broadcasts.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 12, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Personally, I believe it's more likely that Bach and Couperin did some exchanges of technical shop talk (in their letters that ended up as jam-pot lids), more than Bach and Händel doing so. But that's drifting off topic. >
Händel traveled a good deal in Germany on audition tours. Has anyone done any work on the indirect connections in the two men's musical circles? Through this sons? Musicians in diplomatic circles?

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 12, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< Lots of thi"can be imagined" and "hinted at". A bunch of loosely connected imaginative conjectures along with this unknown "distinguished Englishman", a music fan who allegedly carried Händel scores around? according to what?) do not constitute proof, or even very good circumstantial evidence, that Händel and Bach had ever exchanged music before either of them wrote those particular sets of suites.<<
This is a misreading and misinterpretation of my remarks. Nowhere did I contend a connection of any sort between Händel's suites and Bach's.

>>It's just a bunch of tempting speculation, about their lives before the age of 40 or 35. Might make a fun screenplay, coming up with some shady character who serves as liaison, and developing a plot around him or her. Nicolas Cage would be about the right age to play either Händel or Bach, and maybe John Cusack the other one? They're both really good at conspiracy-type movies. Anthony Hopkins would be cool as the distinguished Englishman. Julia Roberts is about the right age to play Maria Barbara, in the parts before her 1720 demise. Kate Winslet as Anna Magdalena?<<
Here we go again. Was there any good reason to launch into this type of facetiousness when the subject matter here is rather serious? This type of attitude should be set aside in discussing Bach and his music. This type of entertainment (indirectly trying to prove one's own superiority) at the expense of another list member should and must be curtailed!

>>The clef thing is interesting, but again not proof or even circumstantial evidence that Händel had anything to do with it.<<
This never had a "Händel" connection, but rather was offered to show any kind of musical connection between England and Leipzig at all.

>>Personally, I believe it's more likely that Bach and Couperin did some exchanges of technical shop talk (in their letters that ended up as jam-pot lids), more than Bach and Händel doing so. But that's drifting off topic.<<
It certainly is and it is also a wild speculation which you personally wish to hold onto.

>>I second Peter Smaill's request, about Händel and Bach:...I'd enjoy seeing some real evidence, not fantasy literature based on things we're asked to imagine, and which then suddenly become almost true in the next paragraph. Or, if there isn't evidence to be had, what about an exercise of some scholarly caution rather than the engagement in quick and untenable speculation?<<
The evidence about the change in clefs that Bach used for the English Suites comes from Peter Williams. The NBA KB used this information to come to the conclusion that this may be considered corroboration for Forkel's observation and could be used to explain Bach's title: English Suites which are not really in an English style of suite at all.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 12, 2004):
<< Personally, I believe it's more likely that Bach and Couperin did some exchanges of technical shop talk (in their letters that ended up as jam-pot lids), more than Bach and Händel doing so. But that's drifting off topic. >>
< Händel traveled a good deal in Germany on audition tours. Has anyone done any work on the indirect connections in the two men's musical circles? Through this sons? Musicians in diplomatic circles? >
I don't know of any, offhand, but those would be good leads. Especially around Mattheson or others in Hamburg, perhaps.

Doug Cowling wrote (December 12, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Hamburg would seem to be the place with the obvious connections. I wonder how freely manuscripts circulated. By the way, where did Van Sweiten get his copies of Bach that Mozart saw? He must have been a collector as a diplomat.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 12, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
>>By the way, where did Van Sweiten get his copies of Bach that Mozart saw? He must have been a collector as a diplomat.<<
Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803) obtained his copy of the English Suites (if we can at least stay on topic without wandering off too far) from the 'Forkel-Tradition' [technically called the Göttingen 1782 copy because this was the date that Count/later Prince Karl Alois Lichnowsky (1761-1814) acquired it while studying at the University of Göttingen. The NBA editors indicate that this copy had been most likely prepared shortly before this date upon Lichnowsky's demand. Later it came into the possession of van Swieten and was purchased at an auction in 1804 by Princess Josepha Sophia Liechtenstein (1776-1848) from which it went to Aloys Fuchs and then to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Vienna) where it is listed as VII 834.

Van Swieten also had 2 copies of BWV 526-530 arranged for 2 harpsichords made, one of these used the same copyist who also worked on Mozart's arrangement of the Messiah where this copyist is listed as Kp I.

Mozart, who made his own string trio arrangements of mvts. 2 and 3 of BWV 526 and mvt. 2 of BWV 527, comments in a letter dated April 10, 1782: "Every Sunday at noon I go to Baron van Swieten's house where nothing else but Händel and Bach are played. I am right now involved in making my own collection of Bach's fugues - those by Johann Sebastian as well as those by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach."

It is known that one of the earliest most reliable copies of these organ trios is in WF's own hand, but it is also surmised that he copied these from a copy very likely prepared by AMB (no longer extant.) Van Swieten's copyist appears to have been copying from WF's copy of these works.

Ludwig wrote (December 12, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] Forgive me but Kings College Chorusters are very professional sounding indeed. In fact they are paid according to the Will of one of the Earlier Monarchs although the amount today is a pitance compared to the same value it had when the Monarch lived.

The Midnight Mass from St. Peters, for the past 50 years, is anything but professional sounding. The singers often can not keep together and are often out of tune with each other and the written music, not in time and often sound as if they just walk off the streets of Romem,never learned to read music, never even saw the music before they before they attempted to sing the Mass. It is some of the most horrible singing (if it can be called that) I have ever had the displeasure of hearing. Based on Historical Records; we know that Bach at least would not have tolerated this and probally not Händel either. Händel had some of the finest singers of the age singing for him including the legendary bel canto castrati: Farinelli whose formidable rare talents so impressed the people of his age that he is still remembered today when most of the people he sang with are forgotten. To be sure; Händel did have some amateur singers which records show that he got professional level performances out of them as in the World Premiere Performance in Dublin of The Messiah. Forgive the stereotype; but it is hard to find an Irishman or Welshman who does not have at least some musical and literary gifts and in most cases they have much more.

Dale Gedcke wrote (December 12, 2004):
[To Doug Cowling] RE: Eric's and Doug's appended e-mail on the transition to large choirs:

This past week, while traveling with my sales representative in Japan, I mentioned that I enjoyed the Messiah by Händel, and works by Bach. Upon hearing that comment he pulled out two CDs to listen to as we drove to the Narita Airport. One was St. Mathew's Passion (BWV 244). The only name I recognized on the jacket was Hauptmann. I only heard part of this one, because we listened to it after The Messiah.

The other CD was the choruses from Händel's The Messiah. I was amazed to find it was directed by McCreesh. According to my host, the performance used period instruments. I have listened to The Messiah a few thousand times, mostly performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. That production has a huge, full and powerful sound.

The McCreesh production, on the othhand sounded like OVPP, or at most 2 voices per part. The sound was completely different. You could pick out the individual vocalists as well as the individual instruments. Instead of the blurred sound of a large choir and orchestra, there was a sense of extremely clear and distinct sounds that only small groups can produce. Still the sound was powerful and scintillating. The vocalists and instruments were very well balanced even with the extreme dynamics McCreesh elicited from his performers.

For anyone who has been indoctrinated by large choirs performing The Messiah, I highly recommend this CD for a refreshing and enjoyable difference!

Doug Cowling wrote (December 12, 2004):
Ludwig wrote:
< Forgive me but Kings College Chorusters are very professional sounding indeed. In fact they are paid according to the Will of one of the Earlier Monarchs although the amount today is a pitance compared to the same value it had when the Monarch lived >
Their high level of musicianship is what I was extolling. Today the choir of King's College Cambridge is a huge commerical operation with an annual operating budget of three million dollars. The income from recordings must be prodigous.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (December 13, 2004):
Doug Cowling wrote:
"Today the choir of King's College Cambridge is a huge commerical operation with an annual operating budget of three million dollars. The income from recordings must be prodigous."
Is that Canadian or American dollars? To be honest, I doubt if their income from recordings is that great - very few artists make any serious money from classical recordings.

 

Händel & Bach

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 23, 2005):
Luke Hubbard wrote:
< Frankly, I do not like Händel at all. Just as Gustav Leonhardt once said, "je deteste sa musique". I see it as shallow, frivolous, empty of substance and full of musical tricks to catch the audience. I is at least awkward to see how many people admire his operas. Of course, they are entitled to like everything they want. Some even go hand in hand liking baroque and 20th century output. >

"Do you mean that Wagner did not want to be public and wrote music for himself only?"
< Not at all. By "commercial" I understand music created solely for the reason to be sold (or lived by). Because of its inherent limitations, such music can almost never be thought provoking. Even Mozart, for example, composed a lot of trashy music to please the courtly audience. >

"Wagner wanted to sound serious, but can we take his subjects, characters and librettos seriously? He can also be boring allright."
< I don't like opera very much, so I wont take Wagner's side. The major difference between Wagner and other operatic composers is bound on different theories of music: for the former, it should be an intimate union between text and music, while for the latter, the texts are subordinate to music. >
I suppose it's okay to dismiss Händel. Ovid was once as popular as Homer in Europe, and is now rarely read. But I certainly don't. Not only do I like much of his choral music but I find much of instrumental production extremely rewarding. Indeed, I almost wonder whether Bach could have written better music to please a real live King (no slight to Saxony's august ruler, but he wasn't King of England) than Händel's Water or Fireworks music. (George I was always a fan - not that it necessarily did Händel any good.) For what it's worth Händel was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey - a rather more splendid send-off than Bach received. Indeed, Händel was one baroque musician that didn't need a revival. His fame was so great that when the Academy of Ancient Music was founded in the late 18th Century it was to rescue the works of composers that Purcell that had been so overshadowed by Händel. Mozart was likewise a fan. Haydn claimed to have been greatly inspired by exposure to Händel late in life, so much so that he composed two fine oratorios of his own. While all of this was going on, Bach's reputation, while high in some circles, was most limited. Vivaldi and others were almost forgotten.

I am certainly not arguing that Händel was Bach's equal, simply that he was a great composer. Although the question seems surrounded by more than a little fog, Wolff's account pictures Bach as being an admirer of Händel. Does anyone here know if Händel was well acquainted with any of Bach's music?

PS: Wagner, being as always short of funds, composed an almost funny-it's-so-bad overture on commission celebrating the USA's centenary in 1876. As I understand it, Wagner loved the "good life" and considered it his due. And I was aware of Wagner's great respect for Bach. I did note that Wagner was a splendid writer and a fine critic. He just wrote some famous operas that I no longer find tolerable based on an artistic concept of almost extraordinary arrogance.

Stephen Benson wrote (April 23, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote (with respect to Händel):
< Mozart was likewise a fan. >
As was Beethoven!

Doug Cowling wrote (April 23, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< I am certainly not arguing that Händel was Bach's equal, simply that he was a great composer. Although the question seems surrounded by more than a little fog, Wolff's account pictures Bach as being an admirer of Händel. Does anyone here know if Händel was well acquainted with any of Bach's music? >
Of all the great paired composers -- Palestrina & Victoria, Mozart & Haydn, and Wagner and Verdi -- there are no others as unique and different from each other than Bach and Händel. It is always a pointless exercise to compare the "greatness" of composers. B & H created superb music in radically different ways. Don't ask me to choose between the Brandenburgs and the Concerti Grossi, or 'Zadok the Priest" and "Singet den Herrn", or "Messiah" and the "Christmas Oratorio". They are all masterpieces.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 23, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] In theory, of course, Doug is right. But frankly I don't see the transcendent genius in Händel that Bach showed on a regular basis in so many forms of music. Sure the Messiah is a masterpiece. Many other of Händel's works are in or near that category. I've said before on this list that on a good day Händel could rival Bach. However, a lot of Händel in my collection at least has little interest to me. What I find so amazing about Bach is that I really have a hard time thinking of a "dud." Even his lesser known cantatas certainly have their moments of great beauty. I can't imagine setting a goal to own every work composed by Händel. I think I already have done so with Bach's choral production and keep working on the instrumental end. So, sure, both men composed masterpieces. Bach just did it a lot more often. I'm no musical scholar so I don't have to be fair - Bach was the greater of the two, and by a good margin.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 23, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< In theory, of course, Doug is right. But frankly I don't see the transcendent genius in Händel that Bach showed on a regular basis in so many forms of music. >
I was amazed to read recently that none of Händel's solo organ music has survived (if it ever existed). Then there's the WTC....

Henri Sanguinetti wrote (April 23, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
>>I'm no musical scholar so I don't have to be fair <<
I am even much more ignorant. And a Bach-addict: yes needing to listen to some Bach at least once every day to survive, and to read the list to help me to keep the fire going.

Comparisons are nevertheless difficult in the case of great composers and in particular when their "fields" have been different. Yes Bach composed many masterpieces, but never one opera!!!

When you are fond of opera, doing whatever you have to do with some arias and duos and ouvertures trotting in your head from time to time, having some fantastic scenes always alive in memory, you think differently. I have I confess been "setting a goal to own every [work] opera composed by Händel". More surprising even, all this helped me to get at a later stage within the cantatas universe, and to try to penetrate within SM&JP.

Changing subject: I always thought that Bach and Händel should have known vlittle each other music, but never realised that they came close to meet together.

Tim Dooley (1990, Bach, Hamlyn), I quote, said this:"In 1719 Bach heard that Händel was visiting Halle while on a continental trip to find opera singers to perform in London; Leopold lendt Bach a horse, and he set out to meet the composer. Bur Händel had already left on his return journey to England".

Is this a true story?

Doug Cowling wrote (April 23, 2005):
Neil Halliday wrote:
< I was amazed to read recently that none of Händel's solo organ music has survived (if it ever existed). Then there's the WTC.... >
There are a number of pieces among the keyboard works - particularly the fugues -- which look very much like organ pieces. Händel, like Bach was a consummate improvisor, and probably thought, of his organ playing as occasional epehemera. There certainly wasn't much of a publishing market in England for organ music. Even in the comcertos, the organ part is only a sketch, clearly designed as an aide-de-memoire.

Bach's attitude to his organ pieces was much different. In the case of his chorale-based works, he seems to have wanted to write complete liturgical collections for the whole church year: the Orgelbuchlein has blank pages left for chorale-prelude which Bach didn't get around to composing. Whether the free works originated as improvisations is hard to know. All of his students must have wanted copies of the works which form the great corpus of his preludes and fugues.

Doug Cowling wrote (April 23, 2005):
Henri Sanguinetti wrote:
< Changing subject: I always thought that Bach and Händel should have known very little each other music, but never realised that they came close to meet together.
Tim Dooley (1990, Bach, Hamlyn), I quote, said this:"In 1719 Bach heard that Händel was visiting
Halle while on a continental trip to find opera singers to perform in London; Leopold lendt Bach a horse, and he set out to meet the composer. Bur Händel had already left on his return journey to England".
Is this a true story? >
I once began a radio script which dramatized the meeting-that-never-was.Anyone know a producer who might be interested in the project?

David Hitchin wrote (April 23, 2005):
Doug Cowling wrote:
"I once began a radio script which dramatized the meeting-that-never-was. Anyone know a producer who might be interested in the project?"
Christopher Longuet-Higgins imagined a meeting between the two, and I have copied his story below. Bear in mind that they would have played perfect fifths and not in equal temperament!

David Hitchin

Once upon a time St. Cecilia was giving a music lesson to two young geniuses, called George Frederick and Johann Sebastian.

"Boys," she said, "I want you to take your violins and play this scale together in unison." And she put on the music stand a piece of manuscript paper on which was written the descending scale

D C# B A G F# E D C# B

The youngsters picked up their bows and St. Cecilia raised her baton. The first six notes were beautifully together, in tempo and in pitch; but at the seventh note (E) the two boys stopped and frowned at one another.

"You're sharp!" said one.

"No I'm not; you're flat" said the other.

"Now, now," said St. Cecilia, "there's no need to quarrel; you were both right." And she explained what had happened.

Which of the two young musicians had accused the other of playing sharp?

Saint Cecilia, a woman of perspicacity, had noticed that George Frederick was particularly fond of the key of D major. Johann Sebastian, on the other hand, had a special affection for B minor, and some of his finest later works were written in that key. So when St. Cecilia put the music on the stand, George Frederick naturally saw a scale of D major, and Johann Sebastian a scale of B minor. The two scales look identical on paper, but they are not quite the same.

The principal chords of D major are the major triads D-F#-A, A-C#-E, and G-B-D, while in B minor it is essential to tune correctly the three minor triads B-D-F#-, F#-A-C# and E-G-B. Now the outer notes of a major or minor triad are spaced by a perfect fifth, and the interval between the two lower notes of a major triad, or the two upper notes of a minor triad, is a major third.

Returning to our puzzle, we are now in a position to say which of the two pupils accused the other of playing sharp. To get from Johann Sebastian's E to George Frederick's one has to climb three perfect fifths, E-B-F#-C#-, fall two octaves and a major third, C#-A, and climb another perfect fifth. The last and first notes in this series have frequencies in the ratio 81 : 80, and it was therefore Johann Sebastian who accused George Frederick of playing sharp.

"So you see," said St. Cecilia, "you were both right all the time. That horrid noise was my fault; I didn't tell you whether to play in D major or B minor. If I had told you beforehand you would have played the same note.

But when you grow up, boys, you will find that composers sometimes forget, as I did, to give clear directions to their performers, and then it is their own fault if their music is played out of tune. Let this be a lesson to you both."

Doug Cowling wrote (April 23, 2005):
[To David Hitchin] A clever posting from the BachCantatas list.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 23, 2005):
David Hitchin wrote:
>>Once upon a time St. Cecilia was giving a music lesson to two young geniuses, called George Frederick and Johann Sebastian.<<
Given this format we can imagine quite a few things, but if we are, for just a moment, to take seriously any portion of this story with its mathematical puzzle in more than just a very general way, then some real questions arise which are left unanswered (very likely the author of this story did not really intend this to be any more than a musical mental exercise to demonstrate the wide-ranging, unresolved problems of temperament that confronted both Bach and Händel during their lifetimes.)

1. Favorite keys
Did either composer show a strong favoritism or a predilection for one key (Bach = B minor; Händel = D major) over all others? Did anyone do a statistical study of this encompassing all the works by each composer, or at least all of those which include violins/strings?

What about Bach's numerous works for choir & orchestra that are in D major? And how about the D major mvts. within a work (BWV 232 - Mass in B minor)? Should they not be counted as well?

2. The tuning of violins
Somewhere in the descending scale given, the open strings of a violin would be played (or do we have to assume that the violinist would avoid all open strings to adjust those notes accordingly as well?) Would these 'open' strings, if used in playing, be tuned in perfect fifths (in this instance the A down to D as a perfect fifth) or otherwise? Do most violinists tend to follow equal temperament intonation or do they intentionally play very slightly sharp or flat certain notes according to some non-equal-temperament scheme which they might have in mind)? All the while are we assuming, according to the story, that Bach and Händel used absolutely no vibrato whatsoever while playing these notes so that a normal mortal ear could be able to distinguish the differences involved?

3. Unclear notation
"you will find that composers sometimes forget, as I did, to give clear directions to their performers"

It is truly amazing that Bach with his cantata-composing schedule in Leipzig in the mid to late 1720s, did notate, much to the dismay of some performers then and now, quite carefully what he wished his musicians to play. It appears that St. Cecilia, is projecting her own failing upon upon mere mortals who were trying to do their best under very difficult circumstances, but then Bach and Händel were only boys when this happened and perhaps they did learn, as they became older, not to follow the bad example set by St. Cecilia.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 23, 2005):
< Christopher Longuet-Higgins imagined a meeting between the two, and I have copied his story below. Bin mind that they would have played perfect fifths and not in equal temperament!
(...)
D C# B A G F# E D C# B
(...)
The youngsters picked up their bows and St. Cecilia raised her baton. The first six notes were beautifully together, in tempo and in pitch; but at the seventh note (E) the two boys stopped and frowned at one another. >
An enjoyable fiction! But why assume that either (or both) of them would have tuned their violin strings in perfect fifths, rather than the more common 1/6 comma tempered fifths?

We're doing the Vivaldi-Bach concerto for four harpsichords tomorrow, with all the string players tuning their open strings to regular 1/6 comma fifths, i.e. matching the harpsichords' placements of all those notes C, G, D, A, and E. It's worked out marvelously in the rehearsals. (With Bach's keyboard temperament: F-C-G-D-A-E as 1/6 fifths, E-B-F#-C# pure, C#-G#-D#-A# as 1/12 fifths.) The concertmaster and the viola da gamba player each take all their open strings from the hpsi, and then they give those pitches in turn to everybody else. The orchestra for tomorrow--good university students playing Baroque-setup instruments, two to a part--picked this up quickly in the first rehearsal, putting their sharps at the right places in the musical texture and using their open strings wherever available, playing in first position most of the time. So, why would this same practice be any problem for either Händel or Bach?

Quantz, "Of the duties that all accompanying instrumentalists in general must observe," paragraph 4: "To tune the violin quite accurately, I think you will not do badly to follow the rule that must be observed in tuning the keyboard, namely, that the fifths must be tuned a little on the flat side rather than quite truly or a little sharp, as is usually the case, so that the open strings will all agree with the keyboard. For if all the fifths are tuned sharp and truly, it naturally follows that only one of the four strings will be in tune with the keyboard. If the A is tuned truly with the keyboard, the E a little flat in relation to the A, the D a little sharp to the A, and the G likewise to the D, the two instruments will agree with each other. This suggestion is not presented as an absolute rule, however, but only as a matter for further reflection."

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 23, 2005):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
>>Quantz, "Of the duties that all accompanying instrumentalists in general must observe," paragraph 4:"To tune the violin quite accurately... If the A is tuned truly with the keyboard...the two instruments will agree with each other. This suggestion is not presented as an absolute rule, however, but only as a matter for further reflection."<<
Over 30 years earlier, Mattheson, "Von der Harmonie" paragraph 72, stated essentially the same idea that violins (not necessarily only as accompanying instruments) should tune narrow fifths, but not from a keyboard instrument, but rather using a pocket monochord in such a way that the fifths would have the proper narrow beating (not off by even a 'schisma'= 1/2 of a 'comma') that they should properly have. He even expressed a wish that it would be possible to do this with all the instruments in the orchestra so as to improve generally the sound of the entire orchestra.

I don't know what this 'pocket monochord' looked like or whether Mattheson had patented such gadget, but he certainly felt it would be far preferable to violinists carrying around snuff boxes or fancy watches to show off. Mattheson seems to imply that wooden pitchpipes were not at all reliable (the tuning fork had not yet appeared in Germany at that time) and that the pocket monochord could be 'set up' to provide 'the newest and best temperament'(the one with only slightly narrow fifths) for orchestral performances. This sounds like equal temperament that Mattheson refers to here. Let's see -- Bach in Hamburg (1720) Mattheson publishes the above (1721) and Bach completes Pt. 1 of the WTC(1722). An interesting sequence indeed!

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 24, 2005):
< This sounds like equal temperament that Mattheson refers to here. Let's see -- Bach in Hamburg (1720) Mattheson publishes the above (1721) and Bach completes Pt. 1 of the WTC (1722). An interesting sequence indeed! >
An "interesting" circumstantial presentation assembled to illustrate...what, exactly?

Charles Francis wrote (April 24, 2005):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< I don't know what this 'pocket monochord' looked like or whether Mattheson had patented such gadget, but he certainly felt it would be far preferable to violinists carrying around snuff boxes or fancy watches to show off. >
Or perhaps the watches were used for beat counting to set the temperament?

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 24, 2005):
Händel and Bach - dramatizing the meeting-that-never-was

[To Doug Cowling] Of this matter I did last year hear of a theatrical play performed here in Greece, in a jesty mood (or at least exaggerated enough so as to be quite a
jest). Of what I heard, Händel was presented as the Noble City-man, where Bach was quite in the vulgar side - a crude-mannered peasant... O well...

Teddy Kaufman wrote (April 24, 2005):
Bach and Händel "The Charming Brute"

In addition to the most informative comments regarding Bach and Händel, there is another aspect, may be trivial, to be mentioned:

Bach conducted a relatively very modest life, almost "Spartan". On the contrary, Händel, being a very skillful businessman, enjoyed life, drinking, eating and smoking his pipe. Händel's reputed enjoyment of the fine things in life, gave rise to criticism, insults and mockery.

"...A drawing in the Fitzwilliam, attributed to the British artist Joseph Goupy *** and entitled The Charming Brute, savages the great composer. Händel is presented as an obese half-man half-hog, seated on a dripping beer barrel before an organ, his hands barely able to reach the keyboard over his vast belly. A dwarfish servant holds up a mirror in front of this monster. A joint of ham and a dead fowl hang from the side of his instrument. Behind him are scattered oyster shells, while before him are various musical instruments. A pig's head on the floor reinforces the insult."(Stories and Histories -web).

*** More information about this painter and Händel are available at:

Bernard J Shapero Rare Books-the rare & antiquarian bookshop.htm

Doug Cowling wrote (April 24, 2005):
Teddy Kaufman wrote:
< In addition to the most informative comments regarding Bach and Händel, there is another aspect, may be trivial, to be mentioned :
Bach conducted a relatively very modest life, almost "Spartan". On the contrary, Händel, being a very skillful businessman, enjoyed life, drinking, eating and smoking his pipe. Händel's reputed enjoyment of the fine things in life, gave rise to criticism, insults and mockery. >
Bach lived a simpler life because he had a large family and was not as wealthy as Händel. It certainly wasn't a quasi-monastic, spiritual decision. In fact, Wolff has a hilarious description of Bach running up huge room service bills when he was visiting other cities to advise on organs. The only artifact which survives from the Bach household is a very fancy beer glass.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 25, 2005):
[To Teddy Kaufman] I read Hogwood's biography of Händel a year ago or so and the picture that appears isn't quite as Teddy relays. Händel did indeed rub shoulders with the "great" of Hanover and later England (thanks to the Hanoverian succession.) He was an impresario which was about the only way to make real money out of music. It was also very risky business and royal favor would not necessarily pay the bills for expensive Italian singers. In any case, Händel spent seveyears near bankruptcy. There was a time when his operas were out of fashion and Händel considered by many a "has been." This situation forced him to turn to oratorios. It proved a successful career move (to say the least) and by his death Händel was once again very well off and a member of high society. Hence his tomb in Westminster Abbey. (The Hogarth style picture described was, I betcha, done before the fickle English public anointed the Messiah as a masterpiece.)

It's true that Bach wasn't on speaking terms with the top gents of a European great power. That said, for his time, his life was a pretty good one. Having multitudes of children was perhaps an eccentric hobby, but Bach could afford it. His food, lodgings etc were perfectly civilized. Bach liked his beer and hung out with university faculty and students. He was acquainted with some of the Saxon ruling class. Above all he had a position of respect in a society where status played a role hard for us to imagine.
True, the good citizens of Leipzig never understood that they were graced with one of history's greatest artists. Maybe Bach himself didn't know that. But I should think Bach and those that knew him would have considered his life a success.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 25, 2005):
< True, the good citizens of Leipzig never understood that they were graced with one of history's greatest artists. Maybe Bach himself didn't know that. >
Why would he, and they, not know that? To get that job at all Bach had to get through a field of very tough candidates amid some fiery bipartisan politics (read Ulrich Siegele...); and then he was there for almost 30 years.

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 26, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, I think we need a little larger perspective here. There is no reason to doubt that Bach had great pride in his accomplishments and no doubt considered himself a master of his craft. That's quite another thing than considering oneself the greatest composer up until his own time and the equal in his own field of Michelangelo, Dante, Shakespeare, Galileo, Newton or Palladio. This is indeed the position that we now give Bach. As for the people of Leipzig, I don't know that we have good evidence as to Bach's popularity or lack thereof. (We do have good evidence, as I understand it, that Bach was very popular among the musicians and music lovers of the University of Leipzig and was a fine teacher.) As far as his employers go, we have CPE Bach's testimony that they "could hardly wait for him to die" (or very similar words) before looking for a successor. By Bach's time great artists were becoming major public figures. Bach, luckily for us, had a reputation strong enough to have spread among keyboard and chamber music fans throughout Germany and others parts in Europe. But as I understand it, Händel, Telemann or Lully, in their day had "bigger names" than Bach. Michelangelo could and did duke it out with Popes. Newton, who joined Händel in Westminster, was considered something of a demi-god among fanciers of natural science. Bach was nowhere near this league in his own lifetime - if he had been, I doubt he would have toiled for the city fathers of Leipzig. No, we all owe much gratitude to the musicians and 19th century German musical scholars that first kept Bach's music alive and then brought it to a prominence I doubt Bach would have dreamed of. And, from the looks of things, Bach's relative position in the musical pantheon has never been stronger than it is today.

Peter Smaill wrote (April 26, 2005):
Many of us will at school have been told that Bach's reputation died with him until Mendelssohn's revival of the SMP (BWV 244). However, that can never have been true in view of the interest taken by Mozart (heard a motet at Leipzig in 1789) and Beethoven, and due to the influence of Bach's sons.

On this theme, it now appears that even before the Wesley interest in Bach, London was beginning to hear JS Bach via the "48", quite probably only a few years after Bach's death. The evidence that even in these benighted lands that Bach almost immediately failed to achieve obscurity, as some romantics might wish, is set out in "The English Bach Awakening, 1750?-1850" (please note the questionmark, O flamethrowers !) ed. Michael Kassler, published 2004.

Apologies to those who have alread read it. A question remains ; at his death one of Bach's confessors, Christoph Wolle, Rector of St Thomas, was a linguist who could speak English. Do we know the names of any British visitors to Leipzig who would have gravitated towards such an eminent English speaker?

In particular, there is a personal interest in Patrick Home of Paxton, a Scotsman at Leipzig University in the 1740's whom Frederick the Great took a shine to, Home being accoutred as a joisting knight at the Carnival given by the King of Prussia in honour of his sisters at Berlin on 25 August 1750. He is a (remote) ancestor. Did he meet Wolle?

Uri Golomb wrote (April 26, 2005):
Peter Smaill wrote:
< Many of us will at school have been told that Bach's reputation died with him until Mendelssohn's revival of the SMP (BWV 244). However, that can never have been true in view of the interest taken by Mozart (heard a motet at Leipzig in 1789) and Beethoven, and due to the influence of Bach's sons. >
It would probably be more accurate to say that, before the SMP (BWV 244) revival, Bach was primarily a "musicians' composer" -- admired and loved by composers and other musicians, but relatively unknown to the wider public; and even his reputation among musicians was based primarily on his keyboard music, rather than the vocal music. (Though they were exceptions: Haydn, for example, owned a copy of the B minor Mass (BWV 232), and that work was advertised by the publisher Naegli as "the greatest musical work of art of all times and nations" in 1818, a few years before the SMP (BWV 244) revival).

Mendelssohn's composition teacher, Zelter, taught him a lot of Bach's music, but wasn't very keen on the idea of a public performance of the SMP (BWV 244); I don't recall the details right now, but, as far as I recall, he didn't believe the public will understand this music. Mendelssohn thought otherwise; and his performance of the SMP (BWV 244) was indeed a pivotal event in the history of Bach reception -- it did a lot to resurrect Bach's VOCAL music, and to introduce Bach to the concert-going public.

Adrian Horsewood wrote (April 26, 2005):
Bach's posthumous reputation

[To Uri Golomb] There's an interesting example of Bach admiration from before the general revival in 1829. In 1799 Frederick Kollmann (a performer and theorist) published a diagram of a 'sun' of composers, which had names of such composers as Gluck, Hasse, and Telemann in the rays of the sun, and the names of Händel, Haydn, and Carl Heinrich Graun on the three sides of a triangle at the centre of the diagram. But in the very middle, inside the triangle, is Bach's name.

I think Haydn also owned copies of the motets - a man of real taste...

Zelter did rehearse the SMP (BWV 244) and the B Minor Mass (BWV 232) with the Singakademie Choir in Berlin between 1811 and 1815, but, as Uri said, wasn't keen on performances of the works! He was a fairly sober, rationalistic sort of person and wasn't very taken with the Lutheran chorale texts - he said:

'the biggest obstacle is the atrocious German chorale texts which are full of the polemical earnestness of the Reformation and try to disturb the mind of the non-believer by smoking him out with the dense fumes of belief, which is what no one really wants nowadays' (!)

Doug Cowling wrote (April 26, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< By Bach's time great artists were becoming major public figures. Bach, luckily for us, had a reputation strong enough to have spread among keyboard and chamber music fans throughout Germany and others parts in Europe. But as I understand it, Händel, Telemann or Lully, in their day had "bigger names" than Bach. Michelangelo could and did duke it out with Popes. Newton, who joined Händel in Westminster, was considered something of a demi-god among fanciers of natural science. Bach was nowhere near this league in his own lifetime - if he had been, I doubt he would have toiled for the city fathers of Leipzig. >
"Popularity" and "greatness" are concepts which are difficult for those of us who who grew up in the self-generated cult of "unpopularity" in which 12-tone composers luxuriated. This of course was a reaction to the self-aggrandisement of the late Romantic composer-hero, but in my lifetime I have never known a living composer who has had both general popularity and critical greatness.

I remember going to a sold-out performance of the Philip Glass Ensemble a few years ago and being fascinated by the cross-over audience of classical, rock, jazz and New Age types of all generations -- so unlike the fields of grey in a usual classical concert! I speculated to my wife that this must have been what it was like in the 18th and 19th centuries to attend a concert of new music with a living composer who was both critically and popularly acclaimed.

We have to be very careful about "popularity" and "greatness" when we talk about the 18th century. Telemann was both popular and great in his lifetime, perhaps THE composer in all of Europe. Yet today, although admired in an academic sense, he has no popularity whatsoever. I always say, whistle a tune by Telemann (don't bother to rush forward with examples -- no one is going to record a 'Greatest Hits of Telemann.')

In the 18th century, social factors come into play. Bach was known primarily as an organ virtuoso in his lifetime but few of his works were published and thus he never achieved greatness or popularity. It wasn't that he was stuck in a provincial backwater filled with philistines: he just had a very small audience for his music.

Händel on the other hand was a relentless entrepreneur. When the new Händel House museum opened a few years ago, there were some sniffy comments that a gift shop had been included in the restoration. The curator pointed out that the shop was located in the room which Händel kept open to the public to sell his music! Händel uniquely achieved both a popularity and greatness which continued unbroken to this day. Only Palestrina before him can claim such a continuous publication and performance history.

Therefore, it is pointless to bemoan that Bach did not enjoy the greatness and popularity which is his due. Far more productive is what we do most of the time on this list: explore the social, liturgical, intellectual and musical matrix in which Bach worked.

It hardly needs to be said here that Bach is our favourite composer and that he is the greatest musician who ever lived.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 26, 2005):
< I always say, whistle a tune by Telemann (don't bother to rush forward with examples -- no one is going to record a 'Greatest Hits of Telemann.') >
Well, the Telemann tune that Händel yanked from his "Tafelmusik" subscription and reused in a piece of his own is a pretty nice one.... <grin>

Eric Bergerud wrote (April 27, 2005):
[To Doug Cowling] I won't quibble with Doug concerning equating popularity with greatness. The two are, however, inevitably related because art reflects the culture of time. And the culture of the time will preserve, however precariously, some of it's historic memory its cultural past. Indeed the factor that characterizes the really "big guns" in the visual arts and literature is that once an individual is at or near the top it's rare to tumble to obscurity. Furthermore, most of our greatest artists were recognized as such in their own time. It's safe to say that Michelangelo was the most famous artist of his day. He may be the most famous of ours. Bach lay in a grey zone. He wasn't the most famous composer of his time but he was well known in professional circles but now occupies a position in the cultural stratosphere. (In literature a figure fitting something of the same description, although not to the same degree, is Jane Austen.)

Music for reasons that are not clear to me was the last of the great arts to create a pantheon. (Architecture is a little difficult because until the 19th century great architects were often great artists in other fields.) And certainly tastes have changed. Cherubini or Salieri, while still recorded, once stood at or near the top of the heap among composers. But most of the others that till this day provide a goodly portion of the standard symphony program (Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Dvorak, Grieg, Sibelius, Stravinsky etc) were very famous men in their own lifetime. Since the death of Aaron Copland, I don't think there is a famous composer of serious music today at least in the US. I've been told that contemporary "classical" music has a hardy following in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe and I hope its true. But for whatever reason the West does seem to exhaust its art forms more rapidly than other great cultures. Perhaps we've hit a kind of cultural brick wall. Below is an interesting piece from the SF Chronicle that addresses this:

Modernist music masters flail their batons at evil music critics - mailto:jkosman@sfchronicle.com
Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic Wednesday, March 30, 2005

It's a safe bet that Barry Bonds doesn't have any music by the arch-modernist composer Charles Wuorinen lurking on his iPod. But the two men can agree about one thing, at least: When the going gets rough, it's always a good idea to blame the media. Wuorinen and conductor James Levine -- who in spite of his smiley public demeanor seems to be equally embittered -- let loose with a bizarre joint display of pique in the pages of the New York Times on Sunday, as part of a round-table discussion on the subject of modern music and its discontents (composer John Harbison also took part, but largely declined to grouse). Apparently, these guys aren't getting the respect that is their due, nor is Arnold Schoenberg, who according to Levine was perhaps the most important composer of the 20th century.

And whose fault is that? You guessed it: music critics.
"The problem with what happened after Schoenberg," Levine intoned, "was largely, or partly, coming from what turned out to be this desperate morass, futile attempt, to explain it."
Daniel J. Wakin, the Times' superb new classical music reporter, lost no time in picking up Levine's implication. "You seem to be laying all the blame on journalists, critics, writers on music," he said.
Darn right. "There was bad faith all around there for a while," said Levine, magnanimously spreading the responsibility around a little. "The problem is exacerbated by talk and print."
"A lot of writing about music involves copying what somebody already said," Wuorinen added.

In a way, it's easy to understand why Wuorinen, once the San Francisco Symphony's compin-residence, should be so disgruntled. He has spent his career working assiduously to create music that conforms to the modernist ideals of historical progress and technical innovation. Impeccably crafted and intricately structured, it pursues the organizational ideas established by Schoenberg with impressive zeal. Along the way, he has garnered what rewards the world of contemporary music has to offer, including a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and a Pulitzer Prize. And Levine, who this year began as music director of the Boston Symphony with a veritable orgy of knotty modernist scores, is now a high-profile champion.

Audiences couldn't care less. Wuorinen's music and that of other similarly oriented composers has yet to make a dent in the culture at large, or in the consciousness of music lovers. Hence the bitterness, the self-pity, the snarling at the listeners for whose benefit all this scribbling is ostensibly being undertaken. (Elsewhere, Levine paints music as an arcane mystery whose secrets are available only through the efforts of a priestly caste of initiates, when he bewails the notion that "in music, everyone's entitled to an opinion.")

Not that public whining is exclusively a modernist pastime; Ned Rorem, as staunchly anti-modernist as they come, has made it a cottage industry. But it's especially poignant in their case, because things weren't supposed to play out this way.

The founding myth of modernism, dating back to the "Music of the Future" propounded by Liszt and his followers and later codified by Schoenberg, was that this was music too "advanced" for any but a handful of contemporary listeners. In later generations, though, all would become clear: The prophetic artist, scorned and misunderstood in his own day, would be hailed once his time had come.

It didn't work out that way -- or rather, it did for some, but not for everyone. Mahler's time came; so did Stravinsky's, Bartók's, Ives', even Berg's. Schoenberg and his acolytes are still waiting, and they're getting really testy.

Some folks, like the late English novelist Kingsley Amis, think they'll be waiting indefinitely. "Twentieth-century music is like pedophilia," Amis wrote. "No matter how persuasively and persistently its champions urge their cause, it will never be accepted by the public at large, who will continue to regard it with incomprehension, outrage and repugnance."Obviously, that statement is mostly a compound of curmudgeonly conservatism and plain old philistinism, leavened by a desire to shock. But any music lover has to concede that it contains a grain of truth as well, from a sociological if not an artistic point of view.

The musical modernism of Schoenberg and his followers has never been embraced, even by those who long ago accepted equally challenging strains in the other arts. And as long as we're being honest, we might as well admit that we don't know why.

It may have to do with inherent qualities in the way the brain processes auditory information. It may have to do with trends in music education. It may simply be a function of cyclical patterns of history. It may be because the music stinks.

It seems to me that it would be worth trying to solve this enigma, especially for those who love and devote themselves to this tradition. Sniping at the messenger is a tired and fruitless ploy.E-mail Joshua Kosman at: jkosman@sfchronicle.com

Mike Mannix wrote (May 1, 2005):
Samuel Sebastian Wesley must have been the first person outside the Bach family circle to be christened 'Sebastian' as a homage to the great man as early as 1810. Bach manuscripts were in circulation in England during JSB's lifetime.

Mendelssohn only performed SMP (BWV 244) twice and never touched SJP (BWV 245). The Bach revival would have taken place without Mendelssohn.

 

Continue on Part 2

George Frideric Handel: Short Biography | Opera Alcina, HWV 34 | Brockes Passion, HWV 48 | Cantata Armida Abbandonata, HWV 105 | Georg Friedrich Händel & Bach

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Last update: ýMarch 12, 2012 ý15:54:33