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Composer Capsules
On Thursday Evening Classics
With Steve Petke

March 4

Antonio Vivaldi
Birth: March 4, 1678 in Venice, Italy
Death: July 28, 1741 in Vienna, Austria
Vivaldi is widely considered the master of the Baroque instrumental concerto, which he perfected and popularized more than any of his contemporaries. Vivaldi's lively rhythms, fluid melodies, bright instrumental effects, and challenging instrumental technique make his some of the most enjoyable of Baroque music. He was highly influential among his contemporaries and successors. Vivaldi was the son of a professional violinist who played at St. Mark's Cathedral. He studied for the priesthood as a young man and was ordained in 1703. He was known for much of his career as "il prete rosso" (the red-haired priest), but soon after his ordination he declined to take on his ecclesiastical duties. Later in life he cited ill health as the reason, but perhaps Vivaldi simply wanted to explore new opportunities as a composer. In 1703 he was appointed maestro di violino at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of the Venetian girls' orphanages, where he would work in one capacity or another for much of his life.  Vivaldi's reputation had begun to grow with his first publications: trio sonatas (circa 1703-5) and violin sonatas (1709). Word of his abilities spread around Europe and in 1711 an Amsterdam publisher brought out, under the title L'estro armonico (Harmonic Inspiration), a set of Vivaldi's concertos for one or more violins with orchestra. These, containing some of his finest concertos, were widely circulated in northern Europe. This prompted visiting musicians to seek him out in Venice and in some cases commission works from him, notably for the Dresden court. Perhaps the most prolific of all the great European composers, he once boasted that he could compose a concerto faster than a copyist could ready the individual parts for the players in the orchestra. He published two further sets of sonatas and seven more of concertos, including La stravaganza op.4 (circa 1712), Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (circa 1725, including 'The Four Seasons') and La cetra (1727). It is in the concerto that Vivaldi's chief importance lies. He was the first composer to use ritornello form regularly in fast movements, and his use of it became a model. The same is true of his three-movement structure (fast-slow-fast). Of his 550 concertos, 350 are for solo instrument (more than 230 for violin). There are 40 double concertos, more than 30 for multiple soloists and nearly 60 for orchestra without solo, while more than 20 are chamber concertos for a small group of solo instruments without orchestra. Vivaldi was an enterprising orchestrator, writing several concertos for unusual combinations like viola d'amore and lute, or for ensembles including chalumeaux, clarinets, horns and other rarities. There are also many solo concertos for bassoon, cello, oboe and flute. Vivaldi was also much engaged in vocal music. He wrote sacred works, chiefly for the Pietà girls, using a vigorous style in which the influence of the concerto is often marked. He was also involved in opera and spent much time traveling to promote his works. His earliest known opera was given in Vicenza in 1713. Later he worked at theatres in Venice, Mantua, Rome, Prague, Ferrara, Amsterdam and possibly Vienna during his last visit there. More than 20 of his operas survive. Those that have been revived include music of vitality and imagination as well as more routine items. Throughout his career, he had his choice of commissions from nobility and the highest members of society, the ability to use the best performers, and enough business acumen to try to control the publication of his works, although due to his popularity, many were published without his consent. He was by most accounts a difficult man. He was plagued by rumors of a sexual liaison with one of his vocal students, and he was censured by ecclesiastical authorities. He died in Vienna and was buried as a pauper, although at the height of his career his publications had earned a comfortable living.

 

March 11

Henry Cowell
Birth: March 11, 1897 in Menlo Park, CA
Death: December 10, 1965 in Shady, NY
Cowell began to study the violin at age 5, though his parents' hopes of creating a prodigy on the instrument remained unfulfilled when the lessons had to be stopped on account of the boy's poor health. After his parents' divorce in 1903, Cowell spent several years traveling around the country visiting relatives with his mother. It was during one such journey in 1908 that he began to write his own music. While receiving no formal musical education (and little schooling of any kind beyond his mother's home tutelage), he composed over 100 truly unique works of varying quality by his mid-teens. In 1914, Cowell was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley, as a protégé of Charles Seeger. Seeger was impressed by the young Cowell's output but was much more interested in the young composer's hyper-creative, open-minded musical personality. Free of the often confining attitudes which govern formal musical education, Cowell had come to view any sound as musical substance with which he could work, and his early music owes more to the influence of birdsong, machine noises and folk music than it does to any knowledge of earlier masterworks. In The Tides of Manaunaun, Cowell directs the pianist to use his or her fist, palm, and forearm on the keys of the instrument's bass register to evoke massive tidal waves. Dynamic Motion, his first important work to explore the possibilities of these “tone clusters”, requires the performer to use both forearms to play massive secundal chords and calls for keys to be held down without sounding to extend and intensify its dissonant cluster overtones.  After two years at Berkeley, Cowell pursued further studies in New York where he encountered Leo Ornstein, the radically "futurist" composer-pianist. Concert appearances throughout North America and Europe during the 1920s had earned the respect of such luminaries as Bartók and Schoenberg. But his performances frequently caused audience riots and incurred the wrath of critics who wondered if Cowell's headstrong independence disguised a lack of true musical craftsmanship. In The Aeolian Harp, Cowell instructs the pianist to play "inside" the piano by sweeping, scraping, strumming, and muting the strings. The Banshee applies indeterminacy and graphic notation with instructions for the pianist to play exclusively inside the piano while an assistant holds down the damper pedal. Playing techniques include scraping the strings with a fingernail, and pizzicato effects, all performed in the lowest registers of the instrument, yielding resonant and non-pitched waves of sound. Cowell's interest in harmonic rhythm, led him in 1930 to commission Léon Theremin to invent the Rhythmicon, or Polyrhythmophone, a transposable keyboard instrument capable of playing notes in periodic rhythms proportional to the overtone series of a chosen fundamental pitch. The world's first electronic rhythm machine, with a photoreceptor-based sound production system proposed by Cowell, it could produce up to sixteen different rhythmic patterns simultaneously, complete with optional syncopation. Cowell wrote several original compositions for the instrument, including an orchestrated concerto, and Theremin built two more models. Soon, however, the Rhythmicon would be virtually forgotten. In the early 1930s, Cowell began to delve seriously into aleatoric procedures, creating opportunities for performers to determine primary elements of a score's realization. One of his major chamber pieces, the Mosaic Quartet (String Quartet #3), is scored in five movements with no prescribed sequence.  Cowell was the central figure in a circle of avant-garde composers that included his good friends Carl Ruggles and Dane Rudhyar, as well as Leo Ornstein, John Becker, Colin McPhee, French expatriate Edgard Varèse, and Ruth Crawford, whom he convinced Charles Seeger to take on as a student (Crawford and Seeger would eventually marry). The ultra-modernist movement had expanded its reach in 1928, when Cowell led a group that included Ruggles, Varèse, his fellow expatriate Carlos Salzedo, Emerson Whithorne, and Carlos Chávez in founding the Pan-American Association of Composers, dedicated to promoting composers from around the Western Hemisphere and creating a community among them that would transcend national lines. Cowell, who was bisexual, was arrested and convicted on a "morals" charge in 1936. Sentenced to a decade-and-a-half incarceration, he would spend the next four years in San Quentin State Prison. There he taught fellow inmates, directed the prison band, and continued to write music at his customary prolific pace, producing around 60 compositions. Cowell's cause had been taken up by composers and musicians around the country, although a few, including Charles Ives, broke contact with him. Cowell was eventually paroled in 1940.  He relocated to the East Coast and the following year married Sidney Hawkins Robertson, a prominent folk-music scholar who had been instrumental in winning his freedom. Cowell was granted a pardon in 1942. Despite the pardon—which allowed him to work at the Office of War Information, creating radio programs for broadcast overseas—arrest, incarceration, and attendant notoriety had a devastating effect on him. Cowell's compositional output became strikingly more conservative soon after his release from San Quentin, with simpler rhythms and a more traditional harmonic language. Many of his later works are based on American folk music, such as the series of 18 Hymn and Fuguing Tunes.

 

March 18

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Birth: March 18, 1844 in Tikhvin, Russia
Death: June 21, 1908 in Lyubensk, Russia
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was the youngest member of 19th-century group of nationalist Russian composers known as 'The Five' or “The Mighty Handful” - Mily Balakirev (leader and organizer), Alexander Borodin, Cesar Cui, and Modest Mussorgsky. Rimsky-Korsakov was born into an aristocratic family and had a conventional music education. His initial ambition was to be a naval officer. In 1856, he entered the Corps of Naval Cadets in St. Petersburg but while serving he took piano lessons and even composed a symphony. He also attended operas and concerts. Influenced by Balakirev and impressed by Glinka’s nationalist works, he was inspired, and showed great promise in his musical ability especially in orchestration.  In 1862, after graduating form the naval school, Rimsky-Korsakov was at sea for two and a half years, devoting his free time to composition. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, in 1865, Balakirev conducted Rimsky-Korsakov's First Symphony, which was hailed as the first important symphonic work by a Russian composer. At 27, he was offered and accepted the professorship in composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, despite knowledge that he was not qualified. Secretly, he began his self-imposed study in harmony and counterpoint. He also married a fellow musician, Nadezhda Purgold. In 1873, Rimsky-Korsakov left active duty, becoming inspector of navy orchestras, a job which he held until 1884. During the 1870s, Rimsky-Korsakov composed, conducted, and collected Russian folk songs. In 1878, he started composing the opera May Night, after a story by Nikolai Gogol, his first stage work based on myths and legends. In 1882, his opera The Snow Maiden presented a new variation, fantasy blended with comedy. Six years later, he produced Capriccio Espagnol, which was encored at its first presentation. With its success, the Russian Easter Festival Overture followed and the symphonic suite Scheherazade, exotic music derived from the classic tale A Thousand and One Nights. In 1895, Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve, another opera after a Gogol story, was produced. Sadko, completed in 1896, conjured up a medieval Russian legend. In 1905, the year when the politically progressive composer was temporarily dismissed from this teaching post, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, was produced in 1907. Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera, The Golden Cockerel, completed in 1907, was inspired by a politically subversive story by Alexander Pushkin. The production of this work was a struggle, because the subject matter aroused suspicions among government censors. The opera was finally produced, in 1909, the year following the composer's death, by a private opera company in Moscow. Rimsky-Korsakov's music is accessible and engaging, rich in tone-coloring and brilliant orchestration. His operas are masterful musical evocations of myths and legends. In addition to his own output, Rimsky-Korsakov completed works by other composers, such as Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov (with his pupil Glazunov), and Borodin’s Prince Igor. Significantly, he extended his strong influence into the modern age, in particular his style, as a teacher of Stravinsky, Glazunov and Prokofiev. He was also instrumental in having the younger Stravinsky's works find their way to the French impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

 

March 25

Bela Bartok
Birth: March 25, 1881 in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (Sânnicolau Mare, Romania)
Death: September 26, 1945 in New York, NY
Bartók began musical training at age 5 with piano studies from his mother. After his family moved to Pressburg in 1894, he took lessons from László Erkel, son of Ferenc Erkel, Hungary’s first important operatic composer, and in 1899 he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. He gave his first public concert at the age of 11 and would later become professor of piano at the Academy. Following his graduation and the composition of his first mature works — most notably, the symphonic poem Kossuth — Bartók and his friend and fellow-composer Zoltán Kodály embarked on one of the classic field studies in the history of ethnomusicology. The two traveled throughout Hungary and neighboring countries, collecting thousands of authentic folk songs. While Bartók’s earliest compositions blended elements of late Romanticism and nationalism, his later music, inspired by folk traditions, became more concentrated, chromatic and dissonant. Still, Bartók never embraced atonality as a compositional technique. In the 1920s and 1930s Bartók’s international fame spread, and he toured widely, both as pianist (usually in his own works) and as a respected composer. Works like the Dance Suite, the Cantata profana and the Divertimento for strings, commissioned by Paul Sacher, maintained his high profile. He earned even greater notoriety when the Nazis banned his ballet The Miraculous Mandarin because of its sexually explicit plot. As the specter of fascism in Europe grew ever more sinister, he refused to play in Germany and banned radio broadcasts of his music there and in Italy. He continued to teach at the Academy of Music until 1934, devoting his free time to his ethnomusicological research. With the outbreak of the Second World War, and despite his deep attachment to his homeland, Bartók and his second wife, Ditta Pásztory, emigrated to the United States. Although he obtained a post at Columbia University and was able to pursue his folk-music studies, his concert engagements dwindled and he received few commissions. Koussevitzky’s request for a Concerto for Orchestra was therefore particularly important, bringing him much-needed income. In his final years Bartók was burden by poor health. However, he was able to write his Third Piano Concerto and sketch out a Viola Concerto before his death from leukemia. These works were completed from Bartók's unfinished scores and sketches by his pupil, Tibor Serly.

April 1

Ferruccio Busoni
Birth: April 1, 1866 in Empoli, Italy
Death: July 27, 1924 in Berlin, Germany
Busoni was the only child of two professional musicians. His father, Ferdinando, was a clarinetist and his mother, Anna, was a pianist. Under the strict supervision of his father, Busoni developed a virtuoso keyboard technique. He made his public debut with his parents, at the age of 7. A couple of years later he played some of his own compositions in Vienna where he met Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Anton Rubinstein. He began composing early and had written forty works by age 17. Busoni pursued a serious interest in the music of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Liszt. Although Busoni's reputation as a great piano virtuoso was established in Europe by the end of the 1880s, he first made his mark as an editor of Bach's keyboard music. He subsequently held several teaching posts, the first in 1888 at Helsinki, where he met his wife, Gerda Sjöstrand. In 1890 he won the Anton Rubinstein Competition with his Concert Piece for Piano and Orchestra. He taught in Moscow in 1890 and in the United States from 1891 – 1894 where he also toured as a pianist. In 1894 he settled in Berlin, giving a series of concerts there both as pianist and conductor. In 1904, Busoni composed his massive piano concerto. Cast in five movements, it runs some 80 minutes and contains parts for full chorus. During World War I, Busoni lived first in Bologna, where he directed the conservatory, and later in Zürich. He refused to perform in any countries that were involved in the war. He returned to Berlin in 1920 where he gave master classes in composition. He had several composition pupils who went on to become famous, including Kurt Weill, Edgard Varèse and Stefan Wolpe. Busoni died in Berlin from kidney disease. He left a few recordings of his playing as well as a number of piano rolls. Busoni composed four operas, Die Brautwahl, Arlecchino, Turandot, and Doktor Faust. His major keyboard work is the Fantasia Contrappuntistica, a piece that concludes with an immense fugue built out of the unfinished Contrapunctus XXIV of Bach's Die Kunst der Fuge. His compositions were largely neglected for many years after his death, but he was remembered as a great virtuoso and arranger of Bach’s music for the piano.

 

Sergei Rachmaninov
Birth: April 1, 1873 in Semyonovo, Russia
Death: March 28, 1943 in Beverly Hills, CA
Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov is today remembered as one of the most formidable pianists of all time and the last truly great composer in the Russian Romantic tradition. Rachmaninov came from a musical family. His grandfather had been a pupil of John Field and his father, too, played the piano. Sergei's mother cultivated the boy's innate talent by giving him his first piano lessons. When Sergei was 9, financial difficulties forced the sale of the family estate and they moved to St Petersburg, where he took piano lessons at the Conservatory. Later, Rachmaninov’s cousin, the pianist and conductor Alexander Siloti, persuaded him to enter the Moscow Conservatory to study with the strict disciplinarian Nikolay Zverev and later with Siloti himself. He took counterpoint with Taneyev and harmony with Arensky, and also received advice from Tchaikovsky. A year after earning a degree in piano, Rachmaninov won the Conservatory's gold medal in composition for his opera, Aleko. The sudden death of Tchaikovsky in 1893 made a strong impression on Rachmaninov; who wrote the Trio élégiaque #2 to his memory. The premiere of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony, in Moscow in 1897, however, was a disaster. Allegedly the conductor, Alexander Glazunov, was drunk, and Rachmaninov later destroyed the score. Fortunately, a set of parts survived, which allowed the reconstruction of the score after Rachmaninov’s death. That dreadful reception, two hapless visits to writer Leo Tolstoy's estate and Rachmaninoff's distress over the Russian Orthodox Church's objection to his marrying his cousin, contributed to a period of severe depression that lasted three years, during which he wrote virtually no music. In 1900, Rachmaninoff began a course of therapy with the psychologist Nikolai Dahl, himself an amateur musician.  Dahl's treatment, helped by support from Rachmaninoff's own family and friends, cured the composer, who dedicated his Piano Concerto #2 to Dahl. The first decade of the 20th century proved a productive and happy one for Rachmaninov, who during that time produced such masterpieces as the Symphony #2, the tone poem Isle of the Dead, the Piano Concerto #3, the choral symphony The Bells, and two a cappella choral works, the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and the Vespers. A. On May 12, 1902, the composer married his cousin, Natalya Satina. By the end of the decade, Rachmaninov had embarked on his first American tour, which cemented his fame and popularity in the United States. The years up to the Russian Revolution were spent in an exhausting whirl of playing and conducting, with the family’s country estate at Ivanovka, in the countryside south-east of Moscow, offering a haven of peace where he could concentrate on composition. After the October Revolution in 1917 Rachmaninov and his family left the country. They stayed briefly in Stockholm and Copenhagen, sailing to America in November 1918. Thereafter he lived in Switzerland and the United States between extensive European and American tours. Rachmaninov sought to recreate the peace he had found at Ivanovka by building a villa on the shores of Lake Lucerne, far from the insistent pressures of the international concert circuit, and here he wrote the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Third Symphony which, in 1939, he recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which maintained a long association with his music. His last large-scale masterpiece was the Symphonic Dances, composed in 1940. While his tours included conducting engagements (he was twice offered, and twice refused, leadership of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), it was his astounding pianistic abilities which won him his greatest accolades. Rachmaninov possessed a keyboard technique marked by precision, clarity, and a singular legato style. Indeed, the pianist's hands became the stuff of legend. He had an enormous span — he could, with his left hand, play the chord C-E Flat-G-C-G — and his playing had a tremendous power. Fortunately for posterity, Rachmaninov recorded much of his own music, including the four piano concerti and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. He became an American citizen a few weeks before his death in Beverly Hills.

April 8

Giuseppe Tartini
Birth: April 8, 1692 in Pirano, Italy (Slovenia)
Death: February 26, 1770 in Padua, Italy
Tartini was born on the Istrian peninsula, in the Republic of Venice (now in Slovenia) into a prosperous family. It appears Tartini's parents intended him to become a Franciscan friar, and in this way he received a basic musical training. In 1708 he abandoned his religious training to pursue music. He studied law at the University of Padua, where he became a very good swordsman. Despite still officially being a candidate for the priesthood, Tartini married in 1710, and, having thereby incurred the wrath of the ecclesiastical authorities, found it necessary to hide out in the monastery at Assisi for a time. There he continued to study music, and by 1714 he found employment with the opera orchestra at Ancona. Reunited with his wife in 1715, Tartini spent the next several years trying to perfect his violin technique. There is a legend that when Giuseppe Tartini heard Francesco Maria Veracini's playing in 1716, he was so impressed by it and so dissatisfied with his own skill, that he locked himself away in a room to practice. By 1720, he was engaged as soloist and leader of the orchestra at St. Anthony's in Padua. Until an arm injury in 1740 seriously limited his career, Tartini fulfilled his duties at St. Anthony's even as he built a widespread reputation as the leading violinist of his day. He made an extended visit to Prague between 1723 and 1726. Officially retiring from St. Anthony's in 1765, Tartini remained active as a teacher until a mild stroke in 1768 incapacitated him even further. Tartini was the founder of an important school of violin playing, subsequently disseminated by such noteworthy pupils as Pietro Nardini and Johann Gottlieb Naumann. Because he did not seek fame as a composer, very little of Tartini's music was published during his lifetime. Some 135 violin concerti and 200 violin sonatas still survive in manuscript form. In addition to his activities as a violinist and composer, Tartini became increasingly interested in theories of acoustics and harmony in later years.  The music for his most famous work, the Devil's Trill Sonata, is alleged to have come to the composer in a dream where the Devil played with such virtuosity that Tartini felt his breath taken away.

 

Nikolay Myaskovsky
Birth: April 8, 1881 (Julian Calendar) in Novogeorgievsk, Poland
Death: August 8, 1950 in Moscow, Russia
The first-born son of an army engineer who eventually attained the rank of general in the Russian army, Nikolay was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. The son was enrolled in a Cadet College in 1891. But, Nikolay demonstrated a strong preference for arts and imaginative activities and was drawn at a very early age to the piano. His first piano teacher was an aunt, who became the children’s guardian after his mother's death in 1890. In 1895 the family moved to St. Petersburg, where in addition to his studies at the Second Cadet College, he began to attend regular concerts around the capital. After his graduation from military high school in 1899, Nikolay was enrolled in the School of Military Engineering, much against his wishes. His circle of friends at the college included some fanatical followers of Russian progressive, nationalist music, at that time represented by “The Five”—Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and Balakirev. For the next few years, Nikolay tried to balance his studies in military engineering and his increasing commitment and love of music. In 1903, Myaskovsky took a course in harmony from Reinhold Glière, which helped him decide on a music career. Although he was still serving in the army, all his efforts were dedicated to preparing for the St. Petersburg Conservatory entrance exam after 1907, when his term in the military would expire. He gained acceptance and studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov and Glazunov. By the time he graduated in 1911, he had composed a number of piano sonatas, two symphonies, a few overtures, and a sinfonietta. Myaskovsky then spent some time as a private teacher and music journalist. But the World War and the Revolution interrupted his career. He was called back into the army and served in front lines in Galicia. He spent 1917 with the navy and only returned to St. Petersburg in early 1918 for convalescence. Nevertheless he wrote his fourth symphony while recovering, and after the navy transferred him to Moscow in 1919 he wrote his fifth symphony. It was in 1919 that he was appointed to the Moscow Conservatory and became a member of the Soviet Bureau of Composers. Among his composition students at the Moscow Conservatory were Kabalevsky, Shebalin, and Khachaturian. He also was appointed assistant director of the music department of the People's Commissariat and editor at the Music Publishing House. In later years, he would become a consultant for music broadcasts for the All-Union Radio Committee, and would hold an important position in the Union of Soviet Composers. In 1926, Myaskovsky was awarded the title of Artist of Merit of the Russian Soviet Republic. With his Symphony #6, nationalistic themes entered his music. His Symphony #12, written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Revolution, was his first explicitly Soviet work, with its portrait of the past, present, and future of a Russian village. In 1940, Myaskovsky received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the Moscow Conservatory. His Symphony #21 of that year, written for the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony, earned him the first of his three Stalin Prizes. During World War II he was relocated to the Caucasus, later to Tbilisi and Kirghizia. The hardships he experienced didn't prevent him from composing, and he completed two symphonies, a cello concerto, and other works during those years. Despite the prominent place he held in Russian musical society and the title of People's Artist he received in 1946, Myaskovsky was one of the composers — along with Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, and others — denounced in 1948 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party for formalism, modernism, and ignoring the needs of the Soviet people and society. He wasn't criticized as harshly as the others, but the frequently pessimistic tone of his music was noted, and he was accused, through his teaching, of injecting "inharmonious music into the Soviet educational system." Myaskovsky was quite ill by this time, but was able to reply in part to the charges made against him with his Symphony #27, which was premiered 4 months after his death and won him his third, posthumous, Stalin Prize. Myaskovsky wrote 27 symphonies, 13 string quartets, 9 piano sonatas, and a host of other works. On his death, just eighteen months after his denunciation, he was lauded by the Soviet Council of Ministers as an "outstanding Soviet musical worker and people's artist."

April 15
 
Johann Friedrich Fasch
Birth: April 15, 1688 in Buttelstedt, Germany
Death: December 5, 1758 in Zerbst, Germany
Johann Friedrich Fasch was the first child of a school principal and a devoutly Lutheran mother. After his father's death in 1700, Fasch was raised by an uncle who was a chaplain in Teuchern. Another relative arranged for Fasch to become a choral scholar at the Weißenfels court, an important performance venue of early German opera. Court Kapellmeister Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725), most likely fostered Fasch's musical talent. The composer, Johann Kuhnau heard him sing and convinced him to attend the Thomasschule in Leipzig from the age of 13. He became close friends with another student, the 20-year-old Georg Philipp Telemann. Fasch taught himself how to play the violin and keyboard instruments. He composed his first vocal works and overture-suites modeled after those of Telemann. While Fasch was attending the university as a law student, he founded a collegium musicum. It survived until 1756, and counted among its members Heinichen, Stölzel, Pisendel and later, J.S. Bach. It took a position in Leipzig's musical life nearly as important as that of the Thomasschule itself. As director of the collegium musicum he had occasion to study a wide variety of music. After finishing his university studies in Leipzig, Fasch undertook journeyed through the southern and western parts of Germany, ending in Kassel. He arrived in Darmstadt in 1713 and studied composition with Graupner and Grünewald. In the following decade, he took a series of jobs: violinist in the court orchestra of Bayreuth, municipal secretary of Gera, organist and municipal secretary in Greiz, and Kapellmeister to Count Morzin in the Bohemian town of Lukavec. He organized an orchestra there that Vivaldi had occasion to hear and proclaim excellent. It was near Gera that Fasch met and married his first wife.  She would later die in childbirth. Fasch remarried in 1728, but his second wife died in 1743. He took up the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Zerbst, 40 miles north of Leipzig, in 1721, and remained there for the rest of his life. He turned down the vacant position of Cantor at the Thomasschule at Leipzig, which Johann Sebastian Bach would eventually accept. His work, besides organizing musical activities in the church and the court, was primarily writing cantatas for the church and festive music for the count. His fame and his music spread throughout Germany. This was partly due to the network of correspondence he enjoyed with other composers, such as Telemann, Pisendel, his own son Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, and C.P.E. Bach. Fasch wrote 12 complete cantata cycles, at least 16 masses, four operas, over 90 overture-suites, and large quantities of symphonies, concertos, and sonatas. None of Fasch's music was published during his lifetime, and a large portion of the sacred music is lost, but most of the instrumental music survives. Fasch is credited with transforming the three-movement form of the Italian Baroque concerto by boldly inserting contrasting musical material, often assigning the new theme to winds.  This style would set the stage for the Classical form of dual thematic material. In addition, he used the wind section of the orchestra, not as soloists in a separate "concertante" group, but as components of the orchestra that offered a contrast in tone color or texture in the music. He also had a tendency to replace fugal parts with freer developmental sections. In all this he anticipated the Classical forms that before his death would begin to flourish in the music of Mozart and others.


Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 2010

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