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Jakob Handl & Bach

The Handl motet

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 16, 2008):
David Glenn Lebut Jr. wrote:
< The only exception that I have read about (and this from the Leipzig Order of Service and other sources) of a motet having a specific liturgical placing and functtion is the annual singing of Jakob Handl's "Ecce quomodo moritur justus" during the Vespers of Good Friday. >
Sorry, that's not correct. See the endnote #21 on page 492 of Wolff's Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician: that composition by Jacob Handl was sung annually because one of the wealthy families of Leipzig
put down an endowment sponsoring its use. And it wasn't during Good Friday celebrations, but rather on January 18th, commemorating somebody in the Rettenbach family for whom that date was special. That same
family's endowment also sponsored annual performances of certain hymns on April 24, September 9, and October 26, whether it was a Sunday or not.

It was one of the perquisites of Bach's job to pick up this easy money, just by conducting or playing certain sponsored pieces of music on the correct days. Presumably, somebody from the family showed up to hear and/or meditate during these little performances.

More detail about this business (Bach's payola) is at #109 in the New Bach Reader. The contract for the Jacob Handl piece had been in place since 1668. Let's see: that's a 55-year tradition before Bach got into it, and Bach collected on it 28 times from 1723 to 1750...and presumably it kept going after his death, too.

More perspective, flipping over to Bach's estate inventory: with the amount Bach collected in just one year by performing the four designated pieces for the Rettenbach family, he could buy a writing desk, or a dozen black leather chairs, or six tables, or a viola da gamba. Not bad for a few hours of designated work each year, keeping the paid tradition going. Git-R-Done.

There were other families with similar arrangements, too. Bach apparently received nice juicy payments of 10 reichsthalers a year from the Sinner family (<consorting with Sinners!>) for doing something unspecified, presumably musical. With just one year's chunk of money from the Sinners, Bach could have bought all the pewterware in his house, or all the copper/brass kitchen paraphernalia, or his two best violins.


Jakob Handl: Short Biography | Motet Ecce quomodo moritur | Jakob Handl & Bach

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