Saturday, November 10, 2007

1715 – 1740 Bach and Handel

1715-74 Reign of Louis XV
1740 Reigns of Frederick the Great, Prussia, and Maria Theresa, Austria, began

This generation was the last of the Baroque and the beginning of the Rococo. Represented by Bach, Handel, Rameau and Vivaldi, this was the last generation of the cantata, concerto grosso, trio sonata and organ counterpoint. Represented by Pergolesi and Couperin, this was the first generation of the opera seria of Zeno and Metastasio, rococo style opera buffa and keyboard music.

Vocal Music

Neapolitan Opera

"Reform" librettos rigidly excluding all comic elements from the serious opera (opera seria) were written by the Viennese court poets: 1718-30 Apostolo Zeno (1668-1750) and from 1730, Pietro Trapassi, called Metastasio (1698-1782). Traits were:

(a) three acts,
(b) alternation of active text (recitative) and passive text (aria),
(c) no chorus, and
(d) da capo arias in various types whose form and number were rigidly controlled.

Griselda (1721) by A. Scarlatti was on a libretto by Zeno. Some settings of Metastasio's 27 librettos were Artaserse (1730) by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730) and Olimpiade (1735) by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36).

Poro (1731) and Ezio (1732) by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) were on librettos by Metastasio. Handel wrote 40 operas for London between 1711 and 1741, including Rinaldo (1711), Ottone (1723), Giulio Cesare (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Admeto (1727), Orlando (1733), Alcina (1735, Serse (1738) and Deidamia (1741). Handel contributed the free formed dramatic scene to the rigid opera seria structure: the mad scene from Orlando.

Operas in the Venetian style were still composed by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) and Antonio Lotti (1667-1740).

Opera buffa

The most famous comic opera, in two acts to fit between the three acts of an opera seria, was La serva padrona (1733) by Pergolesi


Cantata was composed by Caldara, Pergolesi and Handel, who wrote about 100 examples, 28 with instruments.

Ballad Opera

Ballad opera began with The Beggar's Opera (1728), text by John Gay, arranged by Pepusch, and parodied upper class values by portraying low life characters in familiar ballad tunes and spoken dialog.

French Opera

The three types were

(1) Tragedie lyrique by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) with strong tonal orientation and advanced orchestration, in Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), Castor et Pollux (1737) and Dardanu (1739);

(2) Opéra-ballet, as in Les Indes Galantes (1735) by Rameau; and

(3) Opéra-comique, which began with Télémaque (1715) by Le Sage, a parody of an opera of the same name.

Catholic church music

Church music maintained the division into prima and seconda prattica. In baroque style were Leçons de tenébres (1714), continuo songs by François Couperin, Messe Santa Cecilia (1720) by A. Scarlatti and Stabat Mater (1736) by Pergolesi.

German Opera

Still composed by Keiser and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Pimpinone (1725), texts became increasingly vulgar until the Hamburg Opera closed in 1738.

Lutheran Cantata

About 200 church cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) are extant of a reputed 300 examples, including about 14 solo cantatas and two for chorus alone. In a variety of forms, the most common (1) began with a concertato chorus often built on a chorale cantus firmus, (2) had a middle section of recitatives and arias with occasionally, another chorus based on a chorale, and (3) ended with a simple four-part chorale. Sometimes all sections were based on the same chorale in chorale variations, as in Catata 4, Christ lag in Totesbanden (1724). Bach's form of da capo aria usually repeated only the ritornello. Though some of Bach's cantatas date from his Weimar period (1708-17), the vast majority were from the Leipzig period (1723-50). Telemann also composed 12 complete cycles of cantatas.


Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) interpolated meditations into the passion narrative in the manner of Neumeister; Handel set the Brockes' Passion in 1717. Bach's passions also contained meditative texts, fewer in the earlier St. John Passion (1723), more in his St. Matthew Passion (1729).


Other choral music of Bach included the Christmas Oratorio (1723, a set of 6 cantatas), Magnificat in D (1723), secular cantatas, 6 unaccompanied motets, 4 Lutheran masses (Kyrie and Gloria) and the great Mass in B minor (1733-38).

Instrumental Music


Bach while in Arnstadt (1703-07), Mühlhausen (1708) and Cöthen (1717-23) concentrated on instrumental music. Important keyboard forms were

(1) prelude and fugue, including the Well-tempered Clavier I (1718-22) and II (c.1740), each with 24 pairs in all the major and minor keys, Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (1720) and Prelude and Fugue in Eb major (1730), and
(2) chorale prelude, including Orgelbüchlein (c.1717) and Clavierübung III (1739). His works for organ often included up to two voices for pedal and long passages using pedal point.

The reigh of Louis XV (1715-74) brought the artificial and ornate style galant, especially in the harpsichord (3) suites of François Couperin (1668-1733), Pièces de Clavecin
(1713-30). Called ordres, they were collections of dances and character pieces in the same or related keys with expressive and dense figuration. His treatise on harpsichord technique was L'Art de toucher le clavecin (1716).

Late Baroque instrumental music

Chart of texture for instrumental pieces in this period.  For instance, in a trio sonata there are two solo treble instruments and continuo consisting of keyboard and cello, in an orchestral suite there are just orchestra and continuo, etc.


Concerto Grosso
Bach solo


Violin Sonata
Trio Sonata
Concerto Grosso

Solo Concerto
Violin Sonata
Concerto Grosso

Solo Concerto

Concerto Grosso

Solo Concerto

Suites were also composed by Rameau (1724-31), Handel (1720-33) and J.S. Bach, whose six English suites (1718-22), six French suites (1718-22), six partitas (c.1735) and French overture were all in the conservative ACSG+ form.

Pre-classic style also advanced in the (4) sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Essercizi per Gravicembalo (1738), etude-like single movement works in binary form. He composed over 500 examples.

Violin sonata

Increasingly homophonic texture and regular phrases characterized the violin sonatas of Giovanni Battista Somis (1686-1763) and Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762), both students of Corelli. Geminiani's treatise was The Art of playing the Violin (1731). Others were by Francesco Veracini (1690- c.1750), Handel, Vivaldi, Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) and J.S. Bach.

Solo Instrument

J.S. Bach composed six sonatas and partitas for violin alone (1718-22), six suites for cello alone (1718-22) and a sonata for solo flute. The string pieces created the illusion of counterpoint through the use of multiple stops.

Trio Sonata

Trio sonatas were by Couperin, including Apothéose de Lulli (1725), Le Parnasse (1725) and Les Nations (1726). They were also composed for strings or other treble instruments by Telemann, Pergolesi, Handel and Bach.

Orchestral suite

Handel's Water Music (c.1717) and Fireworks Music (1749) and Bach's four Ouvertures were suites for orchestra.


About 2/3 of the 450 concertos of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) were solo concertos, most commonly violin, but also oboe, flute, cello or bassoon, including Op. 3, L'estro Armonico (1709) and Op. 8, The Seasons (1725), a set of four program concertos. Both solo concertos and concerti grossi were in the three movement form of Torelli. Solo figuration was more closely related to the tutti theme which was enlarged and emphasized.

Other concertos were Geminiani, Handel's organ concertos (1738, '40, '61) and Op. 6, concerti grossi (1739), Bach's violin concertos in A minor and E major (1717-23), concerto for two violins in D minor (1717-23), D minor concerto for clavier 1729-36) and the six Brandenberg Concertos (1721):

1. F, 2 horns, 3 oboes, bassoon, violino piccolo (str & cont.)
2. F, trumpet, flute, (recorder), oboe, violin (str & cont.)
3. G, 3 violins, 3 violas, 3 celli and continuo (no soloists)
4. G, violin, 2 recorders (str & cont.)
5. D, flute, violin, harpsichord (str & cont.)
6. Bb, 2 viole da braccio, 2 viole da gamba, cello, continuo (no soloists)

1, 2, 4 and 5 are concerti grossi. Bach's formal structure and solo-tutti contrast were influenced by Vivaldi; the use of winds was typically German.


Stile antico counterpoint was taught in Gradus ad Parnassum (1725) by Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741). Rameau discussed his theory of chord inversion in Traité de l'harmonie (1722). Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) wrote Grosse Generalbass Schule (1731) on figured bass playing and Der vollkommene Capellmeister.

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