Handel and Bach Comparisons

10 October 2016

Their individualism and creativity influenced much of their time and together, their works defined the Baroque Period as we know it today. Johann Sebastian Bach, born in the year 1685, was a German born composer, virtuoso organist and keyboard player, a violinist, and a violist. His career includes over 1100 known compositions including 224 Cantatas, 7 motets, 24 large scale works including passions, 274 chorales, 223 organ works, and numerous cannons, fugues, chamber music, and lute pieces. Most famous for being an organist, Bach used many German styles.

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Perhaps one of his most famous works, Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”, is a collection of solo keyboard music that he composed. This collection, also known as the “Well-Tempered Keyboard”, consists of 48 preludes and fugues in all of the major and minor keys. Compiled over a span of many years, these works are compiled in two books, one compiled in Kothen, the other in Leipzig. Each book contains twenty four pairs of preludes and fugues, and, being paired in each of the twelve major and minor keys, they are arranged in rising chromatic order from C to B.

This is considered by many to be Bach’s greatest keyboard piece and influenced the course of history, having been studied closely by Haydn and Mozart. Upon his death in 1750, Bach had become widely known, and his influence on music grew with the years of his passing and his works are still influencing the world of music today. George Frideric Handel, however, served just an important role in his era. Born in 1685, the same year as Bach, Handel was a German composer, famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos.

His career includes 42 operas, 29 oratorios, 16 organ concerti, over 120 cantatas, trios and duets, chamber music, odes, and many ecumenical pieces, his most famous work being the Oratorio “Messiah. ” Composed in 1741, the oratorio was preformed first in Dublin in 1742. It had a scriptural text from the King James Bible and was written for modest vocal and instrumental forces. The work, although very much in the style of Handel, is a series of thoughts on the Christian idea of redemption and utilizes a mixture of traditions.

After Handel’s death in 1759, the Oratorio began to gain popularity even further and was adapted to larger scale choirs and orchestras. Handel has very much influenced the world of music, especially through his operas, and has grown in popularity throughout the years. As the inventor of English Oratorios and being so well known for his Italian operas his style and influence is felt around the world even still in the music of today. So where are the similarities between these two composers? Both being German and born in the same year, both excelled at organ and studied the music of German and Italian composers.

Being masters at counterpoint, both exhibited similarities in their skills and styles. Aside from Bach’s absence from opera, both composers had remarkable influence on nearly every contemporary genre. They both made huge impressions on keyboard pieces, being exceptionally skilled at organ. They both dedicated their lives to music and could, as well, play the violin. These composers both made great headway in the music of their era and helped to define the music of that time period. Both were blind later in their lives and pursued their career further.

Traveling and having studied in much of the same areas, their influences have been felt world round and even today, both composers contributions to music can be seen in modern day music. Although similar and different in many ways, all can agree that both Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, had significant influences on the Baroque period and modern day music. Their influence on music history can be identified in the works of many famous composers who studied their works, including Mozart, Haydn, and even Beethoven.

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