A dedication to music of the past predominates in modern classical music. Concert programs feature more music by dead composers than the living. Both performers and composers alive today have inherited many generations-worth of rarified, exquisite musical culture. However, fascination with the musical past is no modern invention; for centuries, musicians have looked to their predecessors for models of correct and beautiful composition. Palestrina, Corelli, Haydn, Schubert—these composers and many others influenced those who followed them. Today’s concert highlights part of the legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach, a titan of German Baroque music (who himself studied the music of Josquin and Vivaldi).
The reverence with which Bach has been treated for the last two hundred is almost unbelievable, especially considering the modest extent of his reputation during his lifetime. Bach had a very respectable job as music director in Leipzig, but his highly contrapuntal and erudite music was heard as old-fashioned and conservative, especially compared to his cosmopolitan contemporary George Frederic Handel, who was born the same year as Bach in a town twenty miles away. While Handel’s music received widespread international acclaim, Bach’s tireless labor went largely unrecognized outside of his burg. A statue of Handel was erected in London during his lifetime, but Bach died in relative obscurity in 1750. Bach did not remain in obscurity for long, however. In the 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann staged a major revival of Bach’s music, placing Bach at the beginning of a mighty canon of German classical music—a canon that includes the composers on today’s program. Bach’s influence continues to be felt today: students in music conservatories study his fugues and chorales in music theory classrooms, and his solo instrumental music is a kind of litmus test for most performers, separating the wheat from the chaff.
Join us February 4 for Mozart's arrangement of Prelude & Fugue for String Trio, K. 404a, Hindesmith's "baroque Bach meets 20th-century Modernism" in his String Quartet No. 4, Opus 22, and Brahms' beautiful Bach-inspired String Sextet in B flat, Opus 18.
-Guest post from Glenda Goodman