Gluck was a composer of Italian and French opera in the early classical period. Born in the Upper Palatinate and raised in Bohemia, both part of the Holy Roman Empire, he gained prominence at the Habsburg court at Vienna. There he brought about the practical reform of opera’s dramaturgical practices for which many intellectuals had been campaigning. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century. Gluck introduced more drama by using simpler recitative and cutting the usually long da capo aria. His later operas have half the length of a typical baroque opera.
The strong influence of French opera encouraged Gluck to move to Paris in November 1773. Fusing the traditions of Italian opera and the French (with rich chorus) into a unique synthesis, Gluck wrote eight operas for the Parisian stage. Iphigénie en Tauride was a great success and is generally acknowledged to be his finest work. Though he was extremely popular and widely credited with bringing about a revolution in French opera, Gluck’s mastery of the Parisian operatic scene was never absolute, and after the poor reception of his Echo et Narcisse, he left Paris in disgust and returned to Vienna to live out the remainder of his life.
Composer: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Date of Birth: 08 March 1714 Date of Death: 14 December 1788 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Classical / Late Gelante Contribution(s): C. P. E. Bach was a German Classical period musician and composer, the fifth child and second (surviving) son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. His second name was given in honor of his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann, a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach.
C. P. E. Bach was an influential composer working at a time of transition between his father’s baroque style and the classical and romantic styles that followed it. His personal approach, an expressive and often turbulent one known as empfindsamer Stil or ‘sensitive style’, applied the principles of rhetoric and drama to musical structures. Bach’s dynamism stands in deliberate contrast to the more mannered galant style also then in vogue.
To distinguish him from his brother Johann Christian, the “London Bach,” who at this time was music master to the Queen of England, C. P. E. Bach was known as the “Berlin Bach” during his residence in that city, and later as the “Hamburg Bach” when he succeeded Telemann as Kapellmeister there. He was known simply as Emanuel to his contemporaries.
Composer: Georg Christoph Wagenseil Date of Birth: 29 January 1715 Date of Death: 01 March 1777 Nationality: Austrian Period/Era/Style: Early Classical Contribution(s): Wagenseil was an Austrian composer.
He was born in Vienna, and became a favorite pupil of the Vienna court’s Kapellmeister, Johann Joseph Fux. Wagenseil himself composed for the court from 1739 to his death. He also held positions as harpsichordist and organist. His pupils included Johann Baptist Schenk (who was to teach Ludwig van Beethoven), and Marie Antoinette. He traveled little, and died in Vienna having spent most of his life there.
Wagenseil was a well-known musical figure in his day — both Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are known to have been familiar with his works. His early works are Baroque, while his later pieces are in the Classical style. He composed a number of operas, choral works, symphonies, concertos, chamber music and keyboard pieces.
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Concerto in E-flat major for oboe & bassoon, WWV 345
Composer: Johann Friedrich Agricola Date of Birth: 04 January 1720 Date of Death: 02 December 1774 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Late Baroque Contribution(s): Agricola was a German composer, organist, singer, pedagogue, and writer on music. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Flavio Anicio Olibrio.
Biography: Johann Friedrich Agricola’s joint careers as musician and writer about music placed him at the heart of north German musical life during the important generation after Johann Sebastian Bach; his studies with Bach and Quantz, and his other prominent musical contacts, also certainly fostered his stellar career. Though Agricola began his time at the University of Leipzig as a law student (1739), he had already studied music for some years and he quickly was accepted by J.S. Bach as a music student. Continuing the musical endeavors, Agricola moved to Berlin in 1741 to study with Quantz, and he never turned back. By 1751, he was firmly ensconced in Berlin’s musical culture. His first opera, a thoroughly fashionable Italianate work, was premiered in 1750. On the merits of this work, he was appointed one of the court composers for Frederick the Great. He had already published his first two treatises on music (1749 and 1751); by 1754 his musicological pen was well-known enough that Agricola co-wrote the important obituary for J.S. Bach with Bach’s son, Carl Philip Emmanuel. Agricola was also becoming prominent in Berlin vocal circles, marrying one of Frederick the Great’s opera singers, performing a vocal role in the premiere of Graun’s Der Tod Jesu, and taking on a variety of voice students. (Unfortunately, his marriage displeased his patron Frederick.)
Each element of Agricola’s musical life continued almost until the day of his death. He published three further prominent theoretical treatises, including a seminal work on the subject of melody; he contributed articles and concert reviews to a central Berlin journal, as well as a biographical essay on Graun. He continued to compose works for both keyboard and voice, becoming a founding member of the First Berlin Lied School. In addition, upon the death of Graun in 1759, Agricola was named his successor as opera director to Frederick the Great. Eventually, he composed over a dozen operas, plus heavy revisions to many of them according to the whims of his patron. In 1772, two years before Agricola’s death, Charles Burney visited his Berlin home, and called him “the best organ player in Berlin, and the best singing master in Germany.”
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Composer: Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Date of Birth: 22 November 1710 Date of Death: 01 July 1784 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Classical era/Later Galante era Contribution(s): WF Bach was the second child and eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach, he was a German composer and performer. Despite his acknowledged genius as an organist, improviser and composer, his income and employment were unstable and he died in poverty.
Biography: Wilhelm Friedemann (hereafter Friedemann) was born in Weimar, where his father was employed as organist and chamber musician to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar. In July 1720, when Friedemann was nine, his mother Maria Barbara Bach died suddenly; Johann Sebastian Bach remarried in December 1721. J. S. Bach supervised Friedemann’s musical education and career with great attention. The graded course of keyboard studies and composition that J. S. Bach provided is documented in the Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (modern spelling: Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach), with entries by both father and son. This education also included (parts of) the French Suites, (Two-Part) Inventions, (Three-Part) Sinfonias (popularly known as “Inventions”), the first volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the six Trio Sonatas for organ. At the age of 16 he went to Merseburg to learn the violin with his teacher Johann Gottlieb Graun.
In addition to his musical training, Friedemann received formal schooling beginning in Weimar. When J.S. Bach took the post of Cantor of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (in 1723), he enrolled Friedemann in the associated Thomasschule. (J.S. Bach—who had himself been orphaned at the age of 10—said that he took the position in Leipzig partly because of the educational opportunities it afforded his children). On graduating in 1729, Friedemann enrolled as a law student in Leipzig University, a renowned institution at the time, but later moved on to study law and mathematics at the University of Halle. He maintained a lifelong interest in mathematics, and continued to study it privately during his first job in Dresden.
Friedemann was appointed in 1733 to the position of organist of the St. Sophia’s Church at Dresden. In competing for the post he played a new version of his father’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541. The judge described Friedemann as clearly superior to the other two candidates. He remained a renowned organist throughout his life. Among his many pupils in Dresden was Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the keyboardist whose name is erroneously enshrined in the popular nickname given to J. S. Bach’s 1742 publication, “Aria with Diverse Variations”—that is, “The Goldberg Variations.” The scholar Peter Williamshas discredited the story which links the work to Goldberg stating that J. S. Bach wrote the work for the Russian Ambassador Count Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk, who would ask his employee, Goldberg, to play variations for him to ward off insomnia. Williams instead has argued that J.S. Bach wrote the variations to provide a display piece for Friedemann.
In 1746 Friedemann became organist of the Liebfrauenkirche at Halle. In 1751, Friedemann married Dorothea Elisabeth Georgi (1721–1791), who was 11 years his junior and who outlived him by seven years. Dorothea was the daughter of a tax collector. The landed estates she inherited caused the family to be placed in a high tax bracket by Halle authorities, who were raising taxes to meet the revenue demands of the Seven Years’ War. To raise cash for these payments, she sold part of her property in 1770. The couple produced two sons and a daughter, Friederica Sophia (born in 1757), who was the only one of their offspring to live past infancy. The descendents of Friederica Sophia eventually migrated to Oklahoma.
Friedemann was deeply unhappy in Halle almost from the beginning of his tenure. In 1749 he was involved in a conflict with the Cantor of the Liebfrauenkirche, Gottfried Mittag, who had misappropriated funds that were due to Friedemann. In 1750 the church authorities reprimanded Friedemann for overstaying a leave of absence (he was in Leipzig settling his father’s estate). In 1753 he made his first documented attempt to find another post, and thereafter made several others. All these attempts failed. Bach had at least two pupils, Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Johann Samuel Petri.
In 1762, he negotiated for the post of Kapellmeister to the court of Darmstadt; although he protracted the negotiations for reasons that are opaque to historians and did not actively take the post, he nevertheless was appointed Hofkapellmeister of Hessen-Darmstadt, a title he used in the dedication of his Harpsichord Concerto in E minor.
In June 1764, Friedemann left the job in Halle without any employment secured elsewhere His financial situation deteriorated so much that in 1768 he re-applied for his old job in Halle, without success. He thereafter supported himself by teaching. After leaving Halle in 1770, he lived for several years (1771–1774) in Braunschweigwhere he applied in vain for the post of an organist at the St. Catherine’s church. Then he moved to Berlin, where he initially was welcomed by the princess Anna Amalia(the sister of Frederick the Great). Later, no longer in favor at court, he gave harpsichord lessons to Sarah Itzig Levy, the daughter of a prominent Jewish family in Berlin and an avid collector of Bach and other early 18th century music, who was also a “patron” of Friedemann’s brother CPE Bach. Friedemann died in Berlin.
Earlier biographers have concluded that his “wayward” and difficult personality reduced his ability to gain and hold secure employment, but the scholar David Schulenberg writes (in the Oxford Composer Companion: J.S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd, 1999) that “he may also have been affected by changing social conditions that made it difficult for a self-possessed virtuoso to succeed in a church- or court-related position” (p. 39). Schulenberg adds, “he was evidently less willing than most younger contemporaries to compose fashionable, readily accessible music”.
Friedemann Bach was renowned for his improvisatory skills. It is speculated that when in Leipzig his father’s accomplishments set so high a bar that he focused on improvisation rather than composition. Evidence adduced for this speculation includes the fact that his compositional output increased in Dresden and Halle.
Friedemann’s compositions include many church cantatas and instrumental works, of which the most notable are the fugues, polonaises and fantasias for clavier, and the duets for two flutes. He incorporated more elements of the contrapuntal style learned from his father than any of his three composer brothers, but his use of the style has an individualistic and improvisatory edge which endeared his work to musicians of the late 19th century, when there was something of a revival of his reputation.
Friedemann’s students included Johann Nikolaus Forkel, who in 1802 published the first biography of Johann Sebastian Bach; Friedemann, as well as his younger brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, were major informants for Forkel. Friedemann has in earlier biographies been called a poor custodian of his father’s musical manuscripts, many of which he inherited; however, more recent scholars are uncertain how many were lost. It is known that Friedemann sold some of his father’s collection to raise cash to pay debts (including a large sale in 1759 to Johann Georg Nacke). Also, his daughter took some of the Sebastian Bach manuscripts with her when she moved to America, and these were passed on to her descendants, who inadvertently destroyed many of them. Others were passed on through his only known Berlin pupil, Sarah Itzig Levy, great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn. Some of his scores were collected by Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch and his pupil Carl Friedrich Zelter, the teacher of Felix Mendelssohn and through them these materials were placed in the library of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which Fasch founded in 1791 and of which Zelter took charge in 1800.
Friedemann is known occasionally to have claimed credit for music written by his father, but this was in keeping with common musical practices in the era.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is not to be confused with Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, his nephew, also a composer.
Composer: Johann Georg Leopold Mozart Date of Birth: November 14, 1719 Date of Death: May 28, 1787 Nationality: German Period/Era/Style: Early Classical era/Later Galante era Contribution(s): Leoplod Mozart was a German composer, conductor, teacher, and violinist. He is best known today as the father and teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and for his violin textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (Attempt of a thorough violin school).