Background Information
Performer Bios

Poet/Composer Bios

Additional Information

General Topics: Main Page | About the Bach Cantatas Website | Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Scores & Composition, Parodies, Reconstructions, Transcriptions | Texts, Translations, Languages | Instruments, Voices, Choirs | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings | Life of Bach, Bach & Other Composers | Mailing Lists, Members, Contributors | Various Topics

Bach’s Time
Part 1

Christmas Matins, Berlin, 1659

Boyd Pehrson wrote (December 28, 2001):
The Lutheran artistic and musical milieu of J.S. Bach's local parish church during his childhood was perhaps not unlike the situation described in Berlin, 1659, 26 years before Bach's birth. Here is recounted the Christmas Matins in the Berlin Lutheran church 342 years ago. Interestingly, the recounting of activities tells us that women and girls sang in the churches, and that children were an important part of the church services, as was the Cantor. The preacher of this Berlin Church is none other than Paul Gerhardt, who wrote some of the most important hymns Bach used in his sacred works, such as "Oh Sacred Head now Wounded" whose theme permeates the St Matthew's Passion.

The recounting below may be a peek into Bach's own childhood experiences, and perhaps can shed some light on why an orthodox Lutheran like Bach was able to write about Christ as the Joy of Man's Desiring. The situation in Lutheran churches of the time had become a tug of war between two polemic theological camps, the Orthodox and the Pietistic congregations. The Pietists emphasized the subjective experiences of Faith, while the Orthodox grounded themselves in the Bible and in the Traditions of their Church. Bach was an Orthodox Lutheran, but had a complete understanding of the Pietistic movement, as Bach's theological library attests, with books from many key Pietistic theologians. Thus Bach was able to construct Cantatas that used scripture and liturgical wording, but that also spoke of adoring Jesus with one's heart.

In years to come, Berlin would fall into the Age of Enlightenment, and by the time of Mendelssohn's Birth some 50 years after the death of Bach, the tradition of boys singing in Berlin church services would be considered ridiculous and unmusical. Those Berlin church musicians who continued to use boys for singing were considered to be backward country bumpkins. The Leipzig churches on the other hand had remained strongly orthodox, and traditional. Serious Church music was still being published by Leipzig printers who oversaw publications of Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelsshon's scared works.

The Berlin Christmas Matins 1659 recounting below shows how tolerant Lutheran churches of the time were in allowing naive or popular folk customs to be used during important church services, all the while remaining faithful to liturgical structure and practice. To the extent Bach participated in any similar Christmas service is anyone's guess, but I think it is not unlikely that Bach perhaps did enjoy such customs (transgressing good taste at times), that appear in full bloom in the narrative below:

"The church is cold. Candles are being lighted. The people are coming and taking their places. A group of schoolboys is at one side of the gallery and a choir of mixed voices is at the other side. Below the pulpit we see a Collegium musicum, a voluntary musical society composed of tradesmen and craftsmen, who perform on violins and wood-wind instruments, gathered around a small moveable organ. There is a small quartet, also a military band with trumpets, kettle drums and drums. After the organ prelude, a choral is sung in the following manner: Stanza 1 is sung by the congregation, Stanza 2 is sung as a solo by the Cantor, Stanza 3 is performed by four girls a capella, Stanza 4 is sung by a male quartet together with the wind instruments, Stanza 5 is sung by the congregation, Stanza 6 is sung a capella by the schoolboys in the choir, and Stanza 7 is taken by the congregation, the organ and all the singers. Now three clergymen with white clergyman's bands and black robes have appeared at the altar. The entire liturgy is sung in Latin, and all the responses and anthems are sung in Latin by the choirs and the school children. Next, a college student, dressed as an angel with large white wings, sings from the pulpit an Old Testament prophecy, accompanied by the Collegium musicum below the pulpit. More chanting from the altar, and then the principal door of the church opens, and in comes a procession of girls headed by the teacher, all dressed as angels. They proceed to the high altar, where the teacher sings Stanza 1 of "Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her," and Stanza two is sung by the girls in two-part counter point. The third stanza is taken by the organ and the choir in the gallery as a 'beautiful five-voiced motet.' While the procession has been marching down the aisle, one of the ministers chants a 'Gloria,' answered by the electoral court-and field-trumpeters with fanfares and drum rolls. After the sermon there is more chanting by the liturgist, and the instrumentalists play a boisterous Te Deum. Then follows another Latin anthem by the school children. Things now being to happen in the organ loft. Over the railing is raised a cradle with a doll, while some boys with incessant mooing imitate the animals in the Bethlehem stable. The choir and the congregation sing a hymn, and at this high point up in the organ façade a Bethlehem star, illuminated and supplied with small bells, is turned round and round. By the aid of a mechanism, operated by an organ stop, three wooden images representing the three Wise Men, with their traditional attributes, solemnly move forward and bow before the doll in the cradle. At the same time we notice two puppets, representing Moors, standing on each side of the central group. One blows a trumpet, and the other beats a drum. Throughout this scene on the gallery railing the Collegium musicum plays a ritornello. A boy soprano intiates In Dulci Jubilo, which is continued by male voices, accompanied by schalmeis (shawms) and bombards. The song is scarcely over before a sight 'exceedingly beloved to the children' appears in the center aisle. It is Old Father Christmas himself in his white beard, with pointed cap on his head and a large sack on his back, soon surrounded by 'angels' and children, who vie with one another for the good things to be given out. When the large sack is empty and Old Father Christmas has disappeared behind the sacristy door, then is sung as closing chorale Puer natus in Bethlehem."

(The costuming practice described in the narrative is called the "Zimbelstern" and the giving of gifts is called the "Weihnachtsbescherung.")

Source- "Sketches of Lutheran Worship" (17th Century), by Carl F. Schalk, from "A Handbook of Church Music," 1978, Concordia Publishing, Carl Halter, editor.

Music Education in the Past

Philip Walsh wrote (April 29, 2002):
I thought list members might be interested in the following. Even though it's not specifically related to Bach, it says something about where public education has been and where it is not now.

The quotation comes from "Living with Music", a collection of essays by black novelist Ralph Ellison. Talking about music education in the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, of his childhood. (Since he was born in 1914, he would be talking about the 1920's) Ellison says:

"Thanks to Mrs. Zelia N. Breaux, who was a very influential educator, it was quite extraordinary. The kids were taught music from the early grades, including sight-reading. There was a music appreciation course with phonographs and recordings taught city-wide in the black schools, and rare for most schools even today, we were taught four years of harmony and two of musical form. There was a marching and concert band, which I entered at the age of eight, two glee clubs, an orchestra and chorus, and each year Mrs. Breaux produced and directed an operetta."

There's a good deal more detail given in the book, but the main thing is that at one time public schools did this kind of thing which they don't do now.


Bach and be headings

Jim Morrison wrote (November 18, 2002):

Hi List, a friend of mine just sent me a link to an essay that talks about public executions in Bach's time, and how that could relate to his Passion music.

I'm not sure how long the link will stay active; it looks like it may be one of those that stop working in a short time, so download it while you can.

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 18, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] Interesting article!

Reading it, I wondered if maybe Williams is overlooking something. Yes, his point about public executions is valid as Bach's audiences would have seen themselves in that spectator role watching someone's death. And we don't have public executions like that now, so we're missing some direct identification with that. Fine.

But, translating forward to today's culture, we've all seen many MORE graphic murders than anybody of Bach's day would have ever have seen: we call them "entertainment" as they're dramatized images in television and movies. As Jerry Mander pointed out 25 years ago in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, biologically we're not built to separate fictitious images from real ones...if we see a fake murder in some television program, part of our brain records it as a real image indistinguishable from personal experience, no matter how much another part of our brain tries to rationalize it away as fiction. The image is part of us, since it came in through our eyes and ears just like anything real would do. Add to that the somewhat more "real" grisly stuff we see on television news programs.

So, in that way, perhaps we today identify more with the imagery in the SJP and SMP than Bach's audiences would have done; just not necessarily in the way we expect.


Laurent Planchon wrote (November 18, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Interesting article indeed, but I am not sure I would come to the same conclusions. Public executions at that time were rather frequent, (I was actually suprised to hear that common people were beheaded in Leipzig and not hanged.) and most people then might as well have enjoyed them. Looking back from our 21st century viewpoint, we are probably much more horrified at the thought (and not even the sight) of them than they were then. Too bad we don't know how Bach himself reacted to these kind of scenes.

Zev Bechler wrote (November 18, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Interesting point you make. But surely it works against your conclusion, for since we are TV-violence-soaked, we are also violence-immune. Violence just isnt what it used to be. We shrug it off and go on unfettered. If at all, this makes us half deaf and numb to the human tragedy that reigns over most of Bach's sacred vocal work.

BTW, have you the reference to Mander's paper?

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 18, 2002):
Zev Bechler wrote:
< Interesting point you make. But surely it works against your conclusion, for since we are TV-violence-soaked, we are also violence-immune. Violence just isnt what it used to be. We shrug it off and go on unfettered. If at all, this makes us half deaf and numb to the human tragedy that reigns over most of Bach's sacred vocal work. >
Yes, probably so.

< BTW, have you the reference to Mander's paper ? >
Yes, it's this book:

Mander, Jerry. Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.
New York: Quill, 1978. ISBN 0-688-08274-2 (pbk) or 0-688-03274-5 (hardback). 371 pp. (c)1977 and 1978 by Mander.

A review of it is here:

See also the links from this search:

And here's the Amazon page:

I read most of this book a few months ago. He was writing in an era when there were only a few networks. I kept thinking as I read: the problem is much worse today rather than better.


The problem also exists, to a lesser extent, with recorded changes people's perceptions of real performance, and the social roles of music, and the expectations put upon creators and recreators of music, and it reduces music to a passive consumer product rather than being something one "makes" oneself..... That's obvious to any
of us who remember when the phrase "music shop" primarily meant a place to buy printed music and/or instruments, rather than recordings of other people making music. There are books about this, too: for example, The Recording Angel by Evan Eisenberg.

(Come to think of it, I should get my wife a copy of Eisenberg's book...she's teaching an honors course next semester exploring those social roles people have vis-a-vis the arts: creators, re-creators, consumers, critics, hobbyists, art/music therapy, ... we were talking yesterday about books the students should read as background.)

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (November 18, 2002):
[To Laurent Planchon] Perhaps a close analysis of the Passions and other death-related works (such as "Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben?"-BWV 8, maybe even the final chorale) could give a part of an answer. I am guessing that he wrote works based on punishment and sin as well, so these could help too. For Bach, the music is always the message.

Jim Morrison wrote (November 19, 2002):
Just to throw my two-cents with of personal experience, I can say that my brushes with extreme violence have taught me (others will certainly react differently) that all my exposure to TV/movie violence didn't 'harden' me up or desensitize me to the violence. Nothing at all 'unsensitive' about those nights, which shook me up greatly. (Among other things I witnessed an attempted murder after some time of yelling and threats of murder, and my best friend's dad was murdered. Shot-guns involved both times.)

Now, TV/movie violence may desensitize me to other episodes of TV/movie violence, but those experiences have had little to due (once again, I'm only speaking for myself) with my up-close and personal run-ins with violence.

Widely different experiences, I think, TV violence and the real stuff. Even TV news reels of the real stuff. Nothing like being in the line of fire to get the old heart pumping and the feet flying. I think that many of us that haven't experienced real violence will be surprised at how little inured to it they really are, how little TV has deadened them to the real thing, how long memories of the real thing stick with you, how paltry relatively speaking, is the impact of TV violence.

I'm sure mileage will vary. I suspect that on average the more exposure one has to real violence, the less one is shaken by any particular episode of it, but also the more one is nevertheless altered in other ways those experiences.

Wozzeck! now there's a happy story. ;-) Anybody know of a translation on-line. I only have the Naxos version of this opera, and they don't include the libretto, though there is detailed scene-by-scene summary.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (November 19, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] I can check with the manager's office downstairs where I live and see if I can xerox a copy of the Wozzeck libretto and mail it out to you. I couldn't find anything on-line.

When I did volunteer work on the Sioux Reservation at Standing Rock, North Dakota, I was attacked in front of an entire crowd. I said, "I don't believe in violence...", my adrenaline was all pumped up, so the blows were desensitized somewhat, and I said to myself, quite calmly, "So, I am going to die..." It's like going into a form of shock for

(Boulez's Wozzeck as well as his completed Lulu can't be beat!)

Bradley Lehman wrote (November 19, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] I'm not really "desensitized" to movie violence, either; I hate to watch it, and avoid it if possible. We were watching "Nurse Betty" a few days ago and I'd seen it before; I had to leave the room when I knew the two mosgraphic murder scenes were coming up, and wait until they were finished before I returned. I'd rather not have those sorts of images recorded in my brain.

And that film is about a character who witnesses one of these murders and is so shaken by it that she slips cheerily into a fantasy, a soap-opera world where she's one of the characters. Reality is too tough to deal with, so pick another more comfortable pseudo-reality.

It's sort of like the kid saying, "Hip-hopp! Hip-hopp!" at the end of Wozzeck, riding his toy pony.... :)


Organisation of church-music in Leipzig and number of listeners

Dick Wursten wrote (June 4, 2003):
I don't know whether you all have Chr. Wolff: Joh. Seb. Bach - the learned musician (I have the dutch edition: the subtitle has been suppressed, by which the chief statement of Wolff has disappeared from the title). This book has learned me a lot, esp. it helped me in 'imagining' how Bach lived and worked in Köthen and Leipzig. It also in a very low profile style has falsified many stories about Bach as legends/myths, without being hypercritical. Because pretending to PROVE that a legend is a legend and has no historical component is a form of scientism... But again I'm going off topic already.

I wanted to draw attention to a scheme in this book (in my Dutch editon p 280, table 8.2: organisation of churchmusic in Leipzig) which gives a good overview over what was expected from Bach in the 4 churches of Leipzig, yes the 5 churches: Thomas, Nicolai, Neue, Pauliner, Petri.(and of course he could delegate much tot his 'subordinates, the music prefects, but in all churches 'his boys' had to sing, they were BTW divided in 4 choirs !) Since sending a table is not possible in BCML I just mention it, so that you can look it up if desired... It at least makes clear that church-music was a highly professional activity which required logistic and management skills from the cantor. Also the ability to stimulate and motivate your 'crew' over and over again. No wonder in 1729 Bach is a little tired. When he started the cantata-production in Leipzig he engaged in an enormous ambitious project...

An interesting (but of course hypothetical) detail is given on the next page (dutch edition 281): Here Wolff gives an estimation of the number of people that would have had the privilege to hear Bach at work in church during the 27 years he was active in Leipzig: He makes the following calculation:

1500 performances of cantatas, passions, oratoria with an audience of (average) 2000 listeners each time...

The calculation (footnote 37) is based on the fact that Thomaskirche = 2000 seats (+ many more places to attend service standing). Nicolaikirche was even bigger. Both churches were usually completely filled at sundayservices. The number of ordinary sundays and religious feasts = 1630, taken into account the periods of illness and two periods of 'national mourning' in which there was no music.

thought it might interest you..

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 4, 2003):
[To Dick Wursten] I agree with Dick, that Wolff book is a good one to have.

Here's something from another good recent book, The Cambridge Companion to Bach, about how the Leipzig officials really wanted an opera composer (and had three such candidates ahead of Bach); or, failing that, they'd take an organist but had two others preferred ahead of Bach:
And then when they hired Bach they made some exceptions in his contract. And his appointment was a swing to the opposite political party.

Of those thousands of people who heard Bach's music on those Sundays, how many grumbled (whether from musical taste or from politics) that they'd really rather have Opera Man, and how long did they grumble into Bach's tenure, and what effect (if any) did it have on the music?


What would it mean to be Bach’s contemporaneous?

Henri N. Levinspuhl wrote (June 6, 2003):
What would it mean to be Bach's contemporaneous?

Such a question is derived from a more general one, which settles the investigation upon contemporaneousness itself and the peculiar implications involved in being a peer of unusual talents. Since behavior ranges in accordance with individual singularity, each person will probably find a personal answer as far as he dares to understand himself inwardly. He also may admit a difference when dealing with the talents of a dead man, defenseless in reference to his essential aim, or at least unable to claim his the appropriate defense. A dead man's glory can be dubious, since it is not clear that an admirer would maintain admiration in contemporaneousness; for, in its place, could arise envy, disdain, indifference and, mainly, a conflict with the main character of the talented one.

Now, to the Bach's cantatas: they were written soli Dei gloria - even if someone denies it, we do not understand why, as if we were to deny that a writer with a clear tendency of antichristianism were what he claimed to be. What would it avail us? The objective truth does not change our own choices. Or if a person passes his life in search of such a truth, can't he formulate a question much more important, that is, what is the truth about himself? Or, if a person said that Bach would be a different man in our age, he would have to admit himself a different person in his age, in all sincerity understanding that had no right to say which age was better. But, as far as a man accept the main character of the talented one, how could he say that seeking God's glory was inadequate in a place devoted to study those cantatas - as if the cantatas were now to be understood soli Bach gloria! Well, such a glory is all that Bach refused throughout his life.

In this context, being a worshiper accepted by Mr. Oron in his excellent and instructive site, I have only to commend him, in all sincerity. As far as human mood ranges in just a single person from very uncomfortable jests to the most pleasant delicacy, and inasmuch as in many respects one who comes to be regarded as a heap of troubles, subsequently branded as an inconvenient soul, might be seen by others as a completely different personality, we are confident that neither a premature remark nor an undeveloped judgment has the right of assigning the inner silhouette of a private individual, especially when such an assertion is formulated in a man's prefatory and, perhaps, immature entrance. When a particular mind is assured that even History is eventually unable to clarify the main singularity of a certain participant of its annals, so, what matters if he is blazed, by some of his contemporaneous, in discordance to his most deep wishes? God be praised that what prevailed as Bach's main contribution to mankind is not his youthful fight, which, in a moment of weakness, made him draw the sword of impetuousness; for if, from the chronicles of contemporaneousness, such an episode were to be emphasized as capital, we could indeed consider History childlike, and even more than a boyish inconsequence. For a man can be ignored by all his most intimate peers, and ignored throughout the whole multitude of his days - and nevertheless he can be even loved by those ones who do not dare to comprehend the stores of his spirit. As for me and my ignorance of yours, I must confess I do not know anything else my recognition of your wonderful taste in the universe of music, hoping that my unfamiliarity will not prevent me to stretch a hand of friendly inclination along with my most sincere salutations.

May God be with you!


German musicians in town and city

Jack Botelho wrote (November 27, 2003):
The following is part one in a two-part post devoted to the historical context in which German musicians lived and worked during most of the 17th century and the first half of the 18th. As below, the German musician in Bach's time could either be employat court or in town (for municipality or church or sometimes both). The below discusses the situation for German musicians employed at court. This information is of general interest and helps to "flesh out" the historical realities in which Bach lived and worked, which is a very different matter from what this composer has enjoyed in post-humous reputation. I trust this information will be of interest to some members of this list. Enjoy:

"The German musician was faced with the possibility of employment in two very different environments - a court, as an employee of the ruling nobleman, or a town or city, as an employee of the town council or the church.

"By comparison with other European courts, the German courts were exceptional in their cosmopolitan nature, being dominated by Italian and French culture. To the aspiring German nobleman Italy represented all that was enviable in terms of art, whilst the French court at Versailles provided the model for the style and manners of their courtly society. Foreign musicians had been welcomed at the German courts long before the 17th century, but with the improving fortunes of Italian music in the 16th century and the acknowledged supremacy of Italy in other forms of art, Italian musicians became the most popular. If Germans tended to fill the ranks of the instrumentalists at the courts, the Italians were in demand chiefly as singers, but they also held many of the top Kapellmeister posts. The principal reason for this was the fashion for opera, the genre that offered rulers the most complete artistic expression of their own power and influence. Since the duties of the Kapellmeister usually included responsibility for the music of the Italian operas performed at court, Italians were extremely eligible for such posts. Vast sums of money were spent on all aspects of operatic production, and rival rulers vied with each other to attract the best Italian musicians by offering large salaries. Antonio Sartorio, the Italian Kapellmeister at the court of Hanover, received a salary of 600 thalers in 1667, whilst his two German assistants received in the same year only 300 and 220 thalers. Even the Italian scribe at the Dresden court in 1680 received a higher income than the German organist. By the early 18th century, the situation had become ludicrous. The top salary awarded to a German musician at the Dresden court in 1717 was 1200 thalers, whereas the leading seven Italian musicians collected a combined total of 32,000 thalers, averaging over 4500 thalers each. At some places Italians were also employed as instrumentalists - usually violinists. One such example is the violinist Giuseppe Torelli who worked at the court of Ansbach. Many courts experienced difficult relations between the Italian and German musicians. Dresden witnessed several disputes: in 1666 Christian Dedekind formed a group at the court specifically for German musicians, known as the Kleine deutsche Musik, but he eventually resigned; and Johann Heinichen's quarrel with some Italian singers led to an opera's being temporarily disbanded. The writer and musician Johann Mattheson complained that Italian musicians made all the money and then returned to Italy, and published in his Hamburg journal an anonymous letter from Berlin which deplored the customary blind adulation of foreigners at the expense of indigenous talent.

"The increasing importance of all aspects of French court life at the German courts from the middle of the 17th century was in part due to the outcome of the Thirty Years War, in which France had acted as the chief guarantor of the safety of the independent German states. It became common for young German noblemen to be sent to the French court in order to acquire its manners, dress and language, and some naturally gained a taste for its music. The Count of Promitz, having experienced such visits himself, commissioned Georg Philipp Telemann to compose overtures in the French style, and Duke Ernst Ludwig, resident of Darmstadt, himself composed a set of 'Douze suites et symphonies'. Frenchmen were employed at the German courts mainly for comedy acting and dancing, but French musicians also found work there, often as part of an acting or dancing troupe, such as that engaged by the Dresden court in 1708, which comprised seven men and six women who mainly sang and danced, and four violinists. Probably the most successful Frenchman in Germany was the violinist Jean Baptiste Volumier, who was Konzertmeister in charge of dance music at the Berlin court in the 1690s and subsequently director of the court orchestra at Dresden. Whereas most German musicians who traveled abroad to study during the 17th century went to Italy (of whom the most famous was Heinrich Schütz), for some, France became an increasingly attractive alternative. Johann Kusser, who worked at the Ansbach court and later at the Hamburg opera in the late 17th century, had formerly studied for six years with Jean-Baptiste Lully in Paris, calling himself Jean Cousser. Both Volumier and Kusser became particularly famous for introducing to Germany the high standard of orchestral playing at the French court.

"With the Italian dominance of opera and the vogue for things French, German musicians often faced considerable competition for their livelihood at the courts. However, all musicians were subject to the whims of their court employer, who could increase or cut back expenditure on music without a moment's notice. Music was just another aspect of court finance, although it was naturally of more importance to some patrons than others. Frederick the Great provides many examples of both the advantages and disadvantages of the system of courtly patronage. On the one hand, he avidly continued the work of Friedrich Wilhelm I in establishing Berlin as a major musical centre, to the point where it rivaled the longstanding supremacy of the Dresden court in musical excellence. He was also exceptional in his enthusiastic promotion of German composers, offering them unprecedented levels of pay. But against these positive features must be placed the disadvantage of the restricted nature of his musical outlook. The musical life of the Berlin court effectively stood still during the course of his reign, since he tolerated the music of only a handful of composers, in particular Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Adolf Hasse and Johann Joachim Quantz. When Charles Burney visited the court in the 1770s he was astonished to find a musical style which was over 30 years out of date. Frederick considered French music worthless, and Italian music meaningless beyond its role as a harmless vehicle for the prowess of Italian singers. With regard to German singers he is credited with the remark that he would as soon expect to receive pleasure from the neighing of his horse[!] In this climate a musician seeking originality, such as C.P.E. Bach, had little future. By contrast with the enormous salaries offered to Graun and Quantz, Bach's income remained meager throughout his time at the court, and he suffered the humiliation of seeing a deputy harpsichordist appointed on twice his salary. The frustration of Franz Benda's years at the Berlin court can be inferred from the comment in his autobiography that he had accompanied the flautist-monarch in concertos at least ten thousand times[!]

"The principal benefits to be derived from court employment were the wide range of muopportunities, from church music to opera, the possibility of a handsome wage, and, perhaps most important for a creative musician, contact with many other musicians, both German and foreign. The prestige offered by court employment is evident from the way that musicians in town or church employment who held honorary court titles tended to sign themselves first with their honorary titles and only second with that of their actual employment. Examples include Johann Mattheson, who was able to sign himself as Kapellmeister to the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein, and J.S. Bach, who was during his time at Leipzig gathered the titles of Kapellmeister to the Prince of Saxe-Weissenfels and the Prince of Anhalt-Cothen, and Royal Polish and Electoral Saxon Court Composer."

Webber, Geoffrey: "German Courts and Cities" in
Sadie, Julie Anne: Companion to Baroque Music
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1990.

Jack Botelho wrote (November 28, 2003):
Following is the second part of the general discussion on the nature and conditions of employment for German musicians in the baroque era - in this case in town/city for municipal and/or church officials. This general information will be of interest to German baroque enthusiasts/beginners and will be referred back to in future discussions:

(PS. I am finding the Gardiner BWV 248 Christmas Oratorio on Archiv 423 232-2 excellent on first impressions. Cheers, JB)

"The German musician who found work in a town or city, away from the affectations and rarefied atmosphere of court life, lived amongst ordinary German people who had no particular predilection for foreign matters beyond possibilities for trade, and was subject to the generally more stable authority of a town council. Since the Middle Ages most prosperous German towns and cities could boast a permanent band of musicians, financed by the town council. During the 17th century such bands usually numbered about seven players, although their ranks were often increased for special occasions by the addition of apprentice musicians and amateurs. All kinds of instruments were employed by the town musicians, from flutes and violins to horns and trumpets, but the musical scope of the groups was inevitably limited by the fact that their main function was the provision of dance music and fanfares. However, in certain places the leadership of able musicians, such as Johann Schop in Hamburg or Johann Christoph Pezel in Leipzig, brought a considerable reputation to their groups, and did much to improve the generally poor impression of town musicians held by the church and court musicians. Quantz provides a fairly isolated example of a famous musician who began his career in a town band, in his case that of Merseburg.

"Apart from domestic music-making, chamber and ensemble music in the towns centred on groups of amateurs and interested professionals who met together, usually under the title of a collegium musicum. Such groups sprang up all over Germany during the 17th century, and were often based in the popular town coffee houses. The collegium musicum founded in Hamburg in 1660 by the organist of the Jacobikirche, Matthias Weckmann, had up to 50 members. It performed the latest music from all over Europe, including much Italian music. In some places a wealthy private citizen played host to a concert series, such as that organized by the Imperial Ambassador in Hamburg on Sundays in 1700. University students were another source of music-making, which often went beyond their traditional diet of drinking songs. As a law student in Leipzig, Georg Philipp Telemann formed a particularly lively collegium musicum from amongst his fellow students. Besides giving regular concerts, this group of up to 40 singers and instrumentalists also took part in performances at the opera house and services at the university church.

"The chief musical post on offer in the towns and cities was that of Stadtkantor. Each place developed its own set of duties for the holder of this post, and a variety of titles
was used, but the Stadtkantor usually held responsibility for the music at all the main churches, taught at the central school, and directed the music at all the major civic and ecclesiastical occasions. The problems associated with the holding of such a post usually resulted from the extent and nature of the Stadtkantor's authority. He had to maintain good relations principally with the town council, but also with his assistants at the various churches, the organists, the town and church instrumentalists, and the Rektor (headmaster) of the school. In this last case, problems appear to have particularly common. J.S. Bach held a lengthy dispute with the Rektor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig about authority over the choristers, and Samuel Scheidt had experienced difficulties a century earlier in nearby Halle. In Frankfurt and Nuremburg the school duties fell to a separate Kantor, and the chief musician was known as the town Kapellmeister. This situation may well have appeared attractive to musicians elsewhere in Germany. At the time when Bach applied for the post of director chori musici in Leipzig and Kantor of the Thomasschule in 1722, a number of applicants for the post objected to the requirement that they should teach Latin at the school. Bach surmounted the problem by offering to pay a deputy for this duty. But even in Frankfurt there could be occasion for dispute between the Kapellmeister and the Rektor, as, for example, when Kapellmeister Johann Herbst argued with the Rektor over whether the school Kantor should be allowed to direct some of the music in church.

"Opera achieved only limited success as a commercial venture in a few of the more prosperous cities, and the authorities generally considered it unsuitable for the Stadtkantor to be involved with such enterprises. It was the Dresden court Kapellmeister Nicolaus Strungk who was given authority to direct the opera house in Leipzig when it opened in 1693. A notable exception was Georg Philipp Telemann, who in 1722 became both Stadtkantor and director of the opera in Hamburg despite having initially been banned from operatic involvement.

"The differing environments and opportunities afforded by court and town employment led many musicians to move from one form of employment to the other. Bach moved from court posts at Weimar and Cothen to the chief town post at Leipzig, but subsequently entertained thoughts of returning to a court position, particularly during his recurrent disputes with the town council. In a letter to an old school friend working in Danzig, Bach tells of his arrival in Leipzig, where prospects seemed good:

'But since (1) I find that the post is by no means so lucrative as it had been described to me; (2) I have failed to obtain many of the fees pertaining to the office; (3) the place is very expensive; and (4) the authorities are odd and little interested in music, so that I must live amid almost continual vexation, envy, and persecution; accordingly I shall be forced, with God's help, to seek my fortune elsewhere.'

"Bach was particularly envious of the musical life of the Dresden court, where he eventually at least held an honorary title. In a note to the Leipzig town council Bach again mentions the problem of poor wages:

' . one need only go to Dresden and see how the musicians there are paid by His Royal Majesty; it cannot fail, since the musicians are relieved of all concern for their living, free from chagrin, and obliged each to master only a single instrument: it must be something choice and excellent to hear.'

"Bach touches on another difficulty here: the fact that most town musicians were expected to be fluent on a number of instruments. Johann Quantz, during his apprenticeship at Merseburg, studied no fewer than eleven instruments, although he specialized in just three: violin, oboe and trumpet. Quantz himself was made aware of the shortcomings of the system when he, like Bach, had the good fortune to travel to the Dresden court. Although Quantz went on to become one of the richest German court musicians of his day, he was not insensitive to the problems of town musicians. Whilst commenting on what he saw as a decline in the standard of organ playing in Germany at this time, Quantz points out that 'the much too small wages at most places provide a poor inducement for application to the science of organ playing'. Bach was probably delighted when his son Carl Philipp Emanuel secured a post at the newly prestigious Berlin court, but on account of his poor treatment there C.P.E. Bach eventually sought a town post; in 1755 he failed to obtain the post formerly held by his father at Leipzig, but in 1768 he followed his godfather Telemann as Stadtkantor in Hamburg.

"A significant factor for organists was that the most famous organs in Germany were generally to be found in the spacious surroundings of the large town churches, rather than in the court chapels. Some churches even had two large instruments. During Dietrich Buxtehude's tenure of the post of organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, even the smaller of the two organs was equipped with three manuals, pedals and 38 stops. On at least two occasions J.S. Bach was tempted to leave court employment for such a post, one at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle, where plans were afoot for a major rebuild of the organ, and the other at the Jakobikirche in Hamburg, which housed one of Germany's most celebrated instruments."

Webber, Geoffrey: "German Courts and Cities" in
Sadie, Julie Anne: Companion to Baroque Music
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1990

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (December 2, 2003):
[To Jack Botelho] Thank you for your interesting post.

Since I live in a country where I have very limit access to such kind of material, I'm always enjoying reading informative post from you in several Yahoogroups (and of course, insightful posts from other scholars and non-scholars in these groups).

From the post, I find two parts especially intriguing to me, please see below:

< ...Snipped
"Opera achieved only limited success as a commercial venture in a few of the more prosperous cities, and the authorities generally considered it unsuitable for the Stadtkantor to be involved with such enterprises. It was the
Dresden court Kapellmeister Nicolaus Strungk who was given authority to direct the opera house in Leipzig when it opened in 1693. A notable exception was Georg Philipp Telemann, who in 1722 became both Stadtkantor and director of the opera in Hamburg despite having initially been banned from operatic involvement.
...Snipped >
It seems to me a plausible reason why there is no opera output from our master, Bach. I once read he and his son W.F. would went to Dresden to watch opera, which led me to an assumption that there was no opera house in Leipsig. It seems to me now the reason he went to Dresden is probably that he appreciated the higher opera quality there(eg. by Hasse). To me, it confirms that if granted a chance, our master may be quite willing to compose an opera himself.

< ...Snipped
"Bach touches on another difficulty here: the fact that most town musicians were expected to be fluent on a number of instruments. Johann Quantz, during his apprenticeship at Merseburg, studied no fewer than eleven instruments, although he specialized in just three: violin, oboe and trumpet. Quantz himself was made aware of the shortcomings of the system when he, like Bach, had the good fortune to travel to the
Dresden court.
...Snipped >
I'm somewhat surprised to learn that flute (flauto traverso?) is NOT among one of the specialized instruments of Quantz. Isn't he the flute teacher of Federick The Great and the author of a famous flute instruction book?

I would be appreciated to hear comments from others.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 2, 2003):
[To Wang Xiao-yun] You're correct about Quantz' teaching and writing; he was also a maker of flutes who invented some new features (the second key, and the tuning slide). Information about that is in chapter 3 of this excellent book:
...a book that also has an annotated bibliography of the major performance-practice treatises (not only about flute-playing).

When Bach wrote his flute music--both solo, and in vocal works--these technical developments of the instrument were new and cutting-edge. This book, written by a professional player of early flutes, brings out that point especially well.


And here is Quantz' own book:
...which contains vital information about aesthetics, music criticism, taste, style, basic musicianship, advanced musicianship, orchestral playing, strings, keyboards, singing, and much more (not only instructions for flute players). It is a "you are there" slice of life, from a person who knew the most important musicians and styles, and (importantly) who could distinguish them and write well about it all.

A wonderful resource for listeners and performers of any music from the first half of the 18th century, including Bach's...for anybody who wants to understand the music in the ways the people then heard it, and the things they thought were important for beginners, connoisseurs, teachers, and students to know.

Jack Botelho wrote (December 2, 2003):
Wang Xiao-yun wrote:
< Thank you for your interesting post.
Since I live in a country where I have very limit access to such kind of material, I'm always enjoying reading informative post from you in several Yahoogroups (and of course, insightful posts from other scholars and non-scholars in these groups). >
I very much appreciated reading the above - a fact that should be obvious to enthusiasts around the globe: we should never assume that basic information is easily accessible by all of us, and further, there is no point in pursuing the tact of - "well I know, because I have access to such and such source, and if you don't, well you are out to lunch" - as far as I am concerned this kind of old-boys-club attitude "sucks". If anyone wants to convince us of any information, take the time to write it down here, and please don't send us all over the internet with links - some of us don't have the time to read all of this. Also please write in plain English - those small stars are a pain in the ass to digest.

Thanks for drawing attention to the point of Quantz's specialization in the flauto traverso, but perhaps the author, Geoffrey Webber, discusses Quantz's study at Merseburg only, and it would be nice to read in writing if he specialized in the flauto traverso there or elsewhere.

It would also severy true that Bach's appointment to work at the Dresden court would have been an ideal post because of the very high standard of musicianship and opportunities to compose in a wide variety of genres.

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (December 3, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you for your information, and let me take this chance to thank you for a lot of posts you previously wrote in the other two mail groups, which I found very interesting and enlightening. Besides, your playing on the Sakura theme, which though a Japanese folk song is quite familiar to a lot of Chinese people including me, is a thoughtful and completely fresh rendition to me.

The books in your post (and books recommended by you and Uri in the BRML) are not easily accessible to me, mainly because the highly-charged shippment fee and custom duties. I hope someday the Chinese publishers would be generous enough to release these books locally.

Meanwhile, I find E-book seems to be a more appealing way to me since it avoid shippment and duties, and the price is much lower. However, I found no recommended books available in such a format.

One of the E-book interesting to me is "The Social and Religious Designs of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos" written by Michael Marissen. Reading English should not be a big problem to me, but I'm only a Bach enthusiast without much musical knowledges. Do you think it is a good book to a musical layman like me?

BTW, I have read an essay on the same work by Philip Pickett, "The Brandenburg Concerto: A New Interpretation". It took me quite some time and efforts. I found some of Pickett's decoding is not very convincing. However, the most valuable experience I got from the article is a brainstorm on the baroque music rhetorics. That helps me try to lauch a deeper thought on the baroque music and pay more attention to performaces which can bring out the nuances of the music.

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (December 3, 2003):
Jack Botelho wrote:
< ...Snipped
If anyone wants to convince us of any information, take the time to write it down here, and please don't send us all over the internet with links - some of us don't have the time to read all of this. Also please write in plain English - those small stars are a pain in the ass to digest. >
Thank you for you post.

Besides the portion of the text painstakingly written down by the contributer, I would also like to see the internet links pointing to the whole source if possible. It may avoid misunderstanding when certain assertion are taken out of the context. And I personally enjoying reading complete article though that's more time-consuming.

As for the stars, I personally find it's a more effective way to emphasize a certain word than an all-capital type in a plain text format. In my Mozilla email client, the bold text and /italic/ text can be distinguished in this way very easily.

Of course, these are only my opinions.

< ...Snipped
It would also seem very true that Bach's appointment to work at the
Dresden court would have been an ideal post because of the very high standard of musicianship and opportunities to compose in a wide variety of genres.
...Snipped >
I have some reservations wether Bach would (continue to) be happy on the appointment of a Dresden court post. From an article in the Goldberg magazine, I learned that Federick The Great may favor a galant music style rather than Bach's then out-of-date style. But anyway, wild guess does no harms:)

Jack Botelho wrote (December 3, 2003):
[To Wang Xiao-yun] Thank you for the very moderate and interesting discussions you have contributed so far to this forum. I look forward to your further input. Just to clarify the point about Quantz: Webber states this musician's specialization during his early apprenticeship at Merseburg in the oboe, trumpet, and violin (above). Only later when Quantz realized his career as oboist would be less than lucrative did he specialize in the flauto traverso.

I understand the inadequacy of only providing portions of an article here - I will contribute the remainder of Webber's article in the near future.

Someone previously stated the inadequacy of doing research online - that is why I like to quote published sources directly.


German baroque opera

Jack Botelho wrote (December 7, 2003):
"The chequered history of opera in Germany reveals much about German culture and society in this period. In France, composers were able to draw upon a rich tradition of indigenous secular literature, but German composers had no equivalent tradition from which to build a German form of opera. The operas performed in Germany were mostly sung to Italian librettos, either in Italian or in complete or partial translation, but the tales of classical mythology held little interest for most of German society. At the commercial German opera houses, such as that in Hamburg (founded 1678), Italian opera initially delighted with its novelty and spectacle, but then failed to sustain the public's interest, causing a number of opera houses to close. Some attempt was made to found a German form of opera based on religious themes, but this was overshadowed and eventually eclipsed by the growing popularity of the oratorio and cantata. It is perhaps significant that the two most successful German operatic composers of the early and mid 18th century – Johann Adolf Hasse and George Frideric Handel - found their fame mostly outside Germany, Hasse in Italy and Handel in England. The union of national music and literature found in the operatic masterpieces of Lully or Alessandro Scarlatti is paralleled in Germany not by any operatic achievement, but by the Passions of J.S. Bach."

Webber, Geoffrey: "German Courts and Cities" in
Sadie, Julie Anne: Companion to Baroque Music
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1990.
p. 155-156


Religion in the 17th century German-speaking lands

Jack Botelho wrote (December 7, 2003):
"In the 17th century, German society was dominated at all levels by religion. Well over a hundred years after the Reformation, German intellectual life continued to be centred on traditional theological matters at a time when the new doctrines of the Age of Reason were gaining much ground elsewhere in Europe. One of the main reasons why music flourished above almost all other forms of artistic activity in Germany during the 17th century was that Martin Luther had held strong views on the importance of music. He considered music the greatest treasure in the world next to the Word of God, and repeatedly laid stress on the immense value of music as an integral part of divine worship. The central position of music in the Lutheran liturgy meant that music was less susceptible to the destructive effects of the Thirty Years War than some forms of art. The strength of Lutheranism also supported the production of religious poetry in this period, and religious music and poetry came together in some forms of church music and also in songs for domestic use. Books of religious songs enjoyed an enormous popularity in Germany during the 17th century, and accounted for a large proportion of music publishing.

"In the latter half of the 17th century Lutheranism found itself increasingly under attack from Calvinism. The Calvinists had gained a firm foothold in the German-speaking lands when they were granted equal rights with the Lutheran majority at the end of the Thirty Years War. They objected to the elaborate church music of the Lutherans, whether the lengthy motets or the frequent chorale improvisations from the organists, as they were afraid that the music might become an end in itself rather than a means of praising God. The same objection was also raised within the Lutheran church by the Pietist movement. Many prominent Lutheran musicians became involved with this movement and composed sacred songs, often in direct collwith a Lutheran poet, as in the case of the organist Nikolaus Hasse and Pastor Heinrich Muller in Rostock.

"While religious songbooks for domestic use were obviously not a matter for religious dispute, opera certainly was. It was considered by many to be a corrupting influence on account of its customary adoption of secular subject matter, in particular Greek mythology. The opera house in Berlin was condemned as 'the Devil's Chapel', and denounced for its use of effeminate foreigners in depraved music and wild French dance. The Calvinists rejected all aspects of opera, including its music. By contrast, many Lutherans welcomed opera to Germany, and hoped that composers of church music would take advantage of the new musical styles that it brought. Just as some Catholic motets were sung in Lutheran churches with revised texts, so favourite
operatic arias came to be performed with religious texts substituted. The Leipzig theologian G.E. Scheibel saw no reason why a church congregation should not be moved to tears with powerful music in the same way as the audience at an opera house; one of the leading figures in the establishment of the opera house at Hamburg was the Pastor of the Catharinenkirche, H.E. Elmenhorst. Even so, commercial opera houses were always founded in the face of considerable religious opposition."

Webber, Geoffrey: "German Courts and Cities" in
Sadie, Julie Anne: Companion to Baroque Music
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1990.
p. 155


German politics and economics in the baroque era

Jack Botelho wrote (December 7, 2003):
"During the 17th and 18th centuries, the geographical area which comprised the German-speaking lands was extensive and disparate. Towns and cities on the Baltic coast were once part of Protestant Germany as were cities as far south as Nuremberg and Stuttgart. Moreover, the influence of the German-speaking lands was of considerable importance in the Scandinavian countries, where German Lutheranism was firmly established. At the end of the Middle Ages, the German-speaking lands were a group of autonomous states, each with its own ruler, with no single focus of political or cultural activity. However, the states were still loosely bound together by the Holy Roman Empire. Originally founded by Charlemagne to defend the cause of Christianity in the West, the empire had lost much of its relevance by the end of the Middle Ages, owing to the reduced threat from the Moors and the Turks. One
important and distinctive feature of the empire which did remain was the presence throughout the German-speaking lands of imperial cities - cities which were governed not by the local nobility but by the Holy Roman Emperor. However, since by the 17th century the emperor wielded negligible authority, these cities were effectively self-governed, a fact that added to the political complexity of Germany at this time. Unaffected by the prohibitive taxation inflicted by the nobility upon most towns and cities, trade in the imperial cities was able to flourish. Fortune-hunters appeared from all over Europe, and some of the wealthier tradesmen were even in a position to lend money to the nobility. Life in Hamburg, for example, was dominated by financial matters to such an extent that one 17th-century prayer-book carried details of the stock exchange[!], and showed a picture of stockbrokers on its title page. The organist who was appointed to the Jakobikirche in 1720 was described by one contemporary journalist as being able to improvise more successfully with his money than with his fingers. However, despite their freedom from the nobility, the imperial towns were neither havens of democracy nor of capitalism; authority lay with a council of town officials whose presence was determined either by hereditary status or by wealth, and trade was restricted by the continuing strength of the medieval trade guilds.

"At the beginning of the 17th century, the German-speaking lands constituted one of the most prosperous regions of Europe. In the 16th century trade had been based on the metal industries, concentrated on the main imperial towns of the south-west such as Frankfurt and Nuremburg, but by the turn of the 17th century trading interests were moving towards agriculture and the linen industry, bringing about a significant increase in the prosperity of the eastern lands. Important links emerged between the Baltic ports (such as Danzig - now the Polish city Gdansk - Rostock, Lübeck and Hamburg) and the major ports of southern Europe, particularly Venice, the northerners exchanging their grain and linen for the exotic products of the south, such as fruit and spices. The main trading route across land between north and south gravitated from Frankfurt and the Rhineland to the newly flourishing area of Leipzig and the river Elbe, with Hamburg at its mouth. Such trading connections form an important background to the close stylistic links between the music of Hamburg and Venice in the early 17th century: for example, between the polychoral style of composers such as Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and that of Michael Praetorius.

"In 1618, however, an uprising in Bohemia precipitated the Thirty Years War, a bitter conflict which threatened the trading activity of all the German-speaking lands. Many historians have attempted to piece together an accurate picture of the extent of the devastation caused by the war, some estimating that it took over a hundred years for the population to restore itself to its pre-war level, but even the most optimistic accounts indicate much hardship from sieges, massacres and plagues. During the curse of the war the fate of the German lands fell increasingly into the hands of foreign powers. Denmark, Sweden and France each in turn proclaimed themselves the defenders of the north German Protestant lands against the advancing armies of the Catholic south, although the presence of foreign troops was treated with only guarded acceptance by the German people. At the conclusion of the conflict, France ensured the maintenance of the disunity of the German-speaking lands so that they would remain susceptible to French influence and even invasion. The Rhineland was thus a highly vulnerable region (one of the major factors in its decline as an important trading route), and it was only the collaboration of the other major European powers that prevented France from realizing her expansionist desires. The hardship endured by the German people during the Thirty Years War affected every aspect of German life, including music. The writings of the Dresden Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz make frequent reference to the difficulties faced by musicians at this time. One notable musical feature of this period was the prominence of sacred works for a few voices and continuo, a reflection of the generally sparse forces available for
music-making during the war.

"With a fortunate outcome at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and the demise of Sweden's influence south of the Baltic, the north-eastern state of Brandenburg became increasingly powerful during the second half of the century, aided by its expanding economy. On the acquisition of Prussia, the Elector of Brandenburg became the first King of Brandenburg-Prussia, and Berlin emerged as an important political and cultural centre. The third king, Frederick the Great, was not only the pivotal character behind what were arguably the two most significant developments in the history of 18th century Germany - the rise to a major European power of Brandenburg-Prussia, and the impact of the Enlightenment - but was also one of Europe's most zealous and fascinating patrons of music."

Webbe, Geoffrey: "German Courts and Cities" in
Sadie, Julie Anne: Companion to Baroque Music
London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1990.
p. 149-150


Continue on Part 2

Life of Bach: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Bach’s Time: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

General Topics: Main Page | About the Bach Cantatas Website | Cantatas & Other Vocal Works | Scores & Composition, Parodies, Reconstructions, Transcriptions | Texts, Translations, Languages | Instruments, Voices, Choirs | Performance Practice | Radio, Concerts, Festivals, Recordings | Life of Bach, Bach & Other Composers | Mailing Lists, Members, Contributors | Various Topics


Back to the Top

Last update: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 05:25