Music of the 18th Century
Derived from the Portuguese barroco, or “oddly shaped pearl,” the term “baroque” has been widely used since the nineteenth century to describe the period in Western European art music from about 1600 to 1750. Comparing some of music history’s greatest masterpieces to a misshapen pearl might seem strange to us today, but to the nineteenth century critics who applied the term, the music of Bach and Handel’s era sounded overly ornamented and exaggerated (Hosler, 27).
A magnificent classical composer, Johann Sebastian Bach is revered through the ages for his work's musical complexities and stylistic innovations. Born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach had a prestigious musical lineage and took on various organist positions during the early 18th century, creating famous compositions like "Toccata and Fugue in D minor." Some of his best-known compositions are the "Mass in B Minor," and the "Brandenburg Concertos". The Brandenburg Concertos are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era. Most likely, Bach composed the concertos over several years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (Boyd, 14-47). Each Brandenburg follows the convention of a concerto grosso, in which two or more solo instruments are contrasted with a full ensemble, and where a slow movement in the relative minor is bracketed by two fast movements, mostly structured as a ritornello. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment plays the Brandenburg Concertos in which the opening tutti (played by the full ensemble) reappears as a formal marker between episodes of display by the concertino (solo instruments) and again as a conclusion, thus producing a psychologically satisfying structure. Vivaldi and others who established the concerto grosso model used nuances of texture, tone coloration and novel figurations to contrast the ensemble's ritornello and the solo episodes. Bach, though, tends to fluently blend and integrate them. The concerto grosso form was pioneered by Italian composers like Archangelo Corelli, but Bach’s Brandenburg’s took the form to new heights. They changed music by demonstrating the potential of an already-established form. The only Brandenburg Concerto in four movements, the First may appear to be the conventional fast-slow-fast form to which a final dance section was added, but scholars trace a more complex origin, in which the first, second and fourth movements comprised a "sinfonia" to introduce a 1713 Hunting Cantata and thus was more like a standard suite of the time. To create the character of a concerto, Bach later added the present third movement with its prominent violin solo, the short phrasing of which suggests separate origin as a now-lost choral piece. The overall orchestration is unusual. The sheer number of instruments gives the work more of an orchestral than chamber character. Karl Geiringer calls it a "concerto symphony” (Schulenberg, 18, 37-90). To expand the range of the sonority, Bach specifies in lieu of his standard violin a "violone grosso" played an octave below the bass staff. Despite its immediate appeal to conservative ears, each movement has a remarkable feature typical of Bach's irrepressible sense of invention. The first movement is four minutes of pure sprightly swaggering infectious elation, yet there's a subtext of discomfort. The two natural horns appear to be making their first solo appearance in a concerto yet, their raucous disturbs the otherwise carefully-balanced texture and their insistent bellowing hunting calls disrupt the overall rhythm.
Joseph Haydn was a prominent and prolific composer of the Classical period. He was instrumental in the development of chamber music such as the piano trio and his...
Bibliography: Boyd, Malcolm. Bach, the Brandenburg Concertos. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge UP, 1993.
18th Century Overtures. Westport, CT: Hyperion, 1979. Print.
Clark, Caryl Leslie. The Cambridge Companion to Haydn. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.
Hosler, Bellamy. Changing Aesthetic Views of Instrumental Music in 18th Century Germany. Ann
Arbor, MI: UMI Research, 1981
Landon, H. C. Robbins, and Joseph Haydn. The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. London: Universal
Schulenberg, David. The Music of J.S. Bach: Analysis and Interpretation. Lincoln: U of Nebraska,
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