One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.
He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.
While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.
Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.
Vivaldi, the most influential Italian composer of his generation, laid the foundation for the mature Baroque concerto and, in his orchestral writing, made possible the later development of the symphony. His instrumental music prompted considerable advances to violin technique and, in his use of pictorialism in music, he anticipated the prevalent use of extra-musical programmes by the Romantics.
The son of a professional violinist, with whom he almost certainly collaborated later in life, Antonio Vivaldi was born on 4 March 1678 in Venice. He suffered at birth from bronchial asthma, a condition that afflicted him throughout life. Although taught the violin by his father, he trained for the priesthood and was ordained on 23 March 1708, though he ceased to say Mass from 1706.
By September 1703 the 'Red Priest' (so-called for his red hair) had been given his first musical appointment, as maestro di violino at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an institution for the care of orphaned children that specialised in the musical training of girls. The concerts at the Pietà occupied a prominent place on the social calendar of the Venetian nobility and Vivaldi continued to supply music for the institution for the rest of his life, though not always with an official position.
When the Pietà's musical director, Francesco Gasparini took a leave of absence due to ill health in 1713, Vivaldi was also given the opportunity to write sacred music. Over the course of his career, he continued to write a great deal of vocal music, including secular cantatas, serenatas, and a D major Gloria that has become particularly popular.
Seeking recognition as a composer, Vivaldi had many of his instrumental works for the Pietà published, including in 1711 one of the most influential publications of the century, a set of 12 concertos known as L'estro armonico op.3. These were published in Amsterdam and spread Vivaldi's fame and influence throughout northern Europe.
In addition to his instrumental works, during the 1710s, Vivaldi established himself in the sphere of opera, working as a composer and impresario with the Venetian theatres of S Angelo and later, S Moisè. He travelled widely, to Mantua and Rome, ruling out any teaching post at the Pietà, though in 1723 he was asked to supply the Pietà orchestra with two concertos a month, giving him a regular income for six years.
He returned to S Angelo as an opera composer between 1726-8 and continued to publish collections of instrumental music; Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione op.8, a collection that includes the famous four seasons concertos, had appeared by 1725. However, by 1733, Vivaldi chose not to publish any more music as it inhibited the more profitable trade in his manuscript copies.
Further years of travel, to Prague and possibly Vienna, and a transfer of his operatic activity to the smaller mainland centres occurred in the early 1730s. In 1735, Vivaldi was reinstated at the Pietà as maestro di cappella, but his frequent travels prevented him occupying the post beyond 1738.
In 1740, with his popularity low with the Venetian public, he left for Vienna to produce a number of operas. The death of Charles VI had, however, closed the theatres and Vivaldi had to sell a number of concertos to pay his way. Either too ill or too poor to return to Venice, he died on 27 or 28 July 1741 and was buried in a pauper's grave.
Notoriously vain and boastful in life (he claimed he could compose a concerto in all its parts faster than it could be copied), Vivaldi's reputation was based more on his abilities as a violinist than those as a composer. Yet his influence spread far and wide throughout Europe, prompting established composers like Albinoni and Dall'Abaco to modify their style in accordance with his.
However, his place in the historical development of the concerto, of which he wrote some 500 examples, was not recognised until the 20th century. In being the first composer to use ritornello form regularly and promote the three-movement form of the concerto, he now occupies a prominent position in the history of the Baroque period.
- MIDI FILE - Concerto for two lutes (3'54'')
- MIDI FILE - From "The Four Season": La Primavera (10'20'')