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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Leila🌸

Late Baroque Composers Part 1

The Late Baroque period spanned from around 1680-1750. During this period instrumental music became more prominent and equally as important as vocal music. Music flourished with virtuosity, typical V-I progressions, steady driving rhythms, melodic sequences and dense and homophonic textures, which often combined exquisite contrapuntal techniques with international influences

Georg Philipp Telemann: 1681-1767 German composer and multi-instrumentalist

Brief History: Telemann was born in Magdeburg and showed musical talent in his early years. Despite this he was not given a music education, as his father was a Protestant minister and his family saw being a musician as negative. Instead Telemann mostly taught himself music and became a musician despite his family's disapproval. At 20 Telemann became a law student at Leipzig University but his musical career overtook this. The authorities saw that he had great musical talent, diligence and organisation so they employed him to assist the organist of the Thomaskirche and as organist at the university chapel. Shortly after he became director and composer of the Leipzig Opera. His talent was spotted by the royal courts and from 1705-12 he was employed as Kappelmeister (conductor of the court orchestra) and as concertmaster (first violinst) in Sorau and then Eisenach. From 1712-21 he had musical directorship, directing two churches and become in charge of the town's official music in Frankfurt am Main. He started publishing music there and became famous in Germany and abroad. From 1721-67. he became musical director of Hamburg, one of the most prestigious positions of that time .There he presented public concerts, composed music for the 5 main churches, ran the Hamburg Opera, was the Cantor and teacher at the Johanneum school and died.

Musical Style: Telemann was a prolific composer of both sacred and secular music, though his church compositions were most admired. It is estimated he composed over 3000 pieces. His pieces showed mastery of all the principal styles of his time (German, Italian & French) and influences of Polish and English music. They displayed various styles but all were well orchestrated and held flowing melodies, bold harmonies and vibrant rhythms. He was a multi-instrumentalist and played violin, recorder, oboe, viola da gamba, chalumeau and clavier. He also made music more available to the public by putting on regular public concerts and publishing music for anyone who was willing to buy it.

Fun Facts:

  • Telemann never left Germany apart from a brief voyage to France in 1737

  • He married twice and had eight sons and three daughters. His first wife died young in childbirth; his second wife built up debts for Telemann, regularly cheated on him then left him for a Swedish officer,

  • Telemann was also a writer. He wrote three autobiographies, published a satiric novel poetry book and wrote many of the words for his own vocal compositions.

  • Telemann was a friend of Bach and Handel and was godfather to Bach's son, Carl.

  • At the time Telemann's reputation was even greater than Bach

  • He loved and excelled at gardening stating in one of his letters, 'I am insatiable where hyacinths and tulips are concerned, greedy for ranunculi, and especially for anemones' He spent much time in his Hamburg garden, exchanged bulbs and plants with renowned botanists across Europe. He even received a consolation gift of exotic plants from Handel who wrote I am sending you a present—a chest of flowers which botanical experts assure me are select and rare. If in fact they are telling the truth, you shall have the finest plants in all of England.' Telemann proudly added these to his collection.

  • A critic once wrote that although Corelli and Lully may be justly honoured Telemann is above all praise.

  • Many of Telemann's scores were lost and destroyed in WWII but in recent years more have been found.

Jean-Philippe Rameau: 1683-1764 French composer, music theorist & harpsichordist

Brief History: Rameau was born in Dijon to a musical family. Not much is known about his earlier years except for that he held several organ posts and published his first book of harpsichord pieces. In 1722 he settled permanently in Paris where he died. For the remainder of his life there was much dispute about his music and writings, but due to his position as maitre de musique to the financier La Poupliniere he found peace lodging with his family at various residences. He also in his later years belonged to a circle of writers and musicians and in 1745 he became the compositeur de la musique de la chambre du royale at the Versailles Court.

Musical Style: Rameau in his early years was a violinist and even performed in the Lyons Opera. Later on, what he became known for were his operas especially Hippolyte et Aricie, Castor et Pollux, and Dardanus, theatrical works such as Pigmalion, harpsichord music and books on harmony theory, which still form the basis of the study of modern tonal harmony today. Although his theories were acclaimed there were many disputes about his Operas (which he started composing in his 50th year)between the old-guard Lullistes and the forward-looking Ramistes. His theories were based on harmony first before melody and he used mathematics to prove these theories.

Fun Facts:

  • Rameau left school at 13 because he would sing during school hours, write music and disrupt class.

  • He was a musical teacher and he married one of his students; the talented singer Marie Louise Mangeot. She appeared in several of his Operas and they had 4 children together.

  • Rameau and Voltaire worked on several productions together including Les surprises de l’amour, a comedie-ballet, La princesse de Navarre and Platée which was created for the celebrations of the dauphin’s wedding

  • It is possible considering some evidence that he wrote the famous song, 'Frère Jaques'

  • Rameau loved to hear the performances of his works. He would hide away nearby ( sometimes even lying on the floor!) and usher anyone who came close away, silencing them with a mere hand gesture.

  • Once when his leave for travel was not approved he waited until the Feast of Corpus Christi, hid all the organ registers and played deliberately out of tune until he could obtain leave.

  • A funny story about Rameau - “Rameau, while visiting a lovely lady, suddenly gets out of his chair, takes the small dog who was sitting on her knees, and throws him out a third-floor window. The lady was horrified: “Eh! What are you doing, monsieur?” “He’s barking out of tune”, says Rameau walking with the utmost indignation as if his ears had been torn off”- Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Tableau de Paris - 1781

  • Over 1500 people attended Rameau's memorial service and 180 musicians performed pieces from his Operas there.

Music Recommendation: Le Rappel des oiseaux

Johann Sebastian Bach: 1685-1750 skilled organist, musical mathematician, composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist

Brief History: Bach was born in Eisenach,Thuringia into a family of musicians (Bach became the 7th generation musician). His family taught him how to play a variety of instruments but at 10 years old he lost both parents. When he turned 15 he was granted a scholarship for singing at St. Michael's School in Luneburg. 3 years later Bach become the organist at St Boniface's Church in Arnstadt which allowed him to expand his keyboard skills and supported him with a regular salary. A few years later when he was 22 he married his second cousin Maria. They had 7 children together (3 died in infancy). His first wife died in 1720 and he remarried a year later to an accomplished singer, Anna Magdalena Wilcke. They shared a happy marriage which was enriched by their joint interest in music and the birth of 13 more children. Bach regularly taught music classes and gave private lessons and in 1723 he became the choir leader of two churches in Leipzig, where he remained till his death. Towards the end of his life he struggled with blindness, endured a failed surgery and died of a stroke.

Musical style: Bach was admired for his outstanding keyboard skills on both the harpsichord and organ and was also an expert at organ building. He is now regarded as on of the greatest composers and a definitive figure of the Baroque Period. He composed numerous masterpieces in every Baroque genre except Opera due to his role in the Church which discouraged such extravagances. His most famous works being the Brandenburg Concertos, The Well Tempered Clavier(which consists of 48 preludes & fugues in every key, composed to help students learn keyboard techniques and methods) and the Mass in B minor. His music is endowed by the Protestant ethic, inspired by his study of the Italian greats Corelli and Vivaldi and often displays imitation, contrast and improvisation. It is even sometimes called, 'sewing-machine music' as it is composed with rational thinking and characterised by being very structured and balanced, containing florid notes, simple driving rhythms and steady harmony shifts. He excelled at counterpoint (two independent lines that make sense by themselves & together) and in writing Fugues, even being capable of improvising a 4 part fugue.

Fun Facts:

  • Bach had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians.

  • His sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel (Telemann's G-dson and namesake) became composers and musicians like their father.

  • Bach was very religious and inscribed I.N.J. (In Nomine Jesu - in the name of Jesus) on all his manuscripts

  • At 20 years old he walked about 250 miles to hear and meet Buxtehude

  • In one of his first jobs he lost patience with an error prone bassoonist student and called him a zippelfagottist (nanny-goat bassoonist). A few days later outraged by the insult the bassoonist attacked Bach with a walking stick, Bach pulled a dagger and they had to be pulled apart.

  • In 1714 the Crown Prince of Sweden heard Bach and was so amazed he gave him a diamond ring.

  • In 1716 Bach was imprisoned for 4 weeks because he asked for early dismissal from Duke Wilhelm's Court.

  • He loved coffee so much he composed a piece called, 'Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht' (Be still stop chattering) about a woman obsessed with coffee, whose father wants her to quit drinking it.

  • It is possible that Bach is not buried in his grave in Leipzig's St Thomas Church. Originally he was buried in an unmarked grave and when they went to find and move him there was a heap of jumbled bones that couldn't be properly discerned.

  • In 1829 Mendelssohn recused Bach's decaying popularity, saving him from oblivion, by performing the St Matthew Passion.

I hope you enjoyed this post and feel more acquainted with the Late Baroque period.

Much Love

Naomi Leila Xx

P.s. Watch out for my next blog instalment on Late Baroque composers Part 2.

P.p.s. This work is mainly from a lot of research I've done on the internet. If anything is inaccurate please let me know and I will update it.

P.p.p.s If you are looking to delve more into the characteristics of the Baroque period this is an amazing resource on it:

P.p.p.p.s If you liked this please press the heart button :)

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