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...
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