Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven were two of the greatest composers in classical Western music. They were both Germans. Beethoven, a contemporary of Mozart, was born 20 years after the death of Bach. They're two of the "three Bs" of classical music - Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
Beethoven was an admirer of Bach. He often played the preludes and fugues of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Beethoven called Bach the "Urvater der Harmonie" ("Original father of harmony") and, in a pun on the literal meaning of Bach's name, "nicht Bach, sondern Meer" ("not a brook, but a sea").
Both composers struggled with disability; Bach became increasingly blind towards the end of his life while Beethoven began to lose his hearing when we was 26 and became completely deaf in the ensuing decade.
edit Early Life
Bach was born in a family of musicians. His father and all his uncles were professional musicians. By the time he was ten, both his parents had died. He then moved in with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach who was an organist. Here are some highlights from Bach's early life:
- At the age of 14 he was awarded a choral scholarship to study at the prestigious St. Michael's School in Lüneburg.
- As a court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar his reputation as a keyboard player spread.
- In 1703 started making serious compositions of organ preludes.
- In 1705 he walked 400 kilometers (250 mi) each way to spend time with Dieterich Buxtehuden, whom he probably regarded as the father figure of German organists
Beethoven was named after his grandfather, a Flemish musician named Lodewijk van Beethoven. By the age of seven it was clear that Beethoven was talented in music. His mother died when he was a teenager and his father got addicted to alcohol. Here are some highlights from Beethoven's early life:
- Beethoven’s father claimed his son to be a child prodigy on the posters for Beethoven's first public performance in March 1778 (Beethoven was around seven at the time).
- After 1779 Beethoven began his studies in music with Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was a Court's Organist.
- His first three piano sonatas, named "Kurfürst" ("Elector") for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Frederick, were published in 1783.
- In March 1787 Beethoven traveled to Vienna in the hope of studying with Wolfgang Mozart.
- From 1789 he contributed to the family's income by playing viola in the court orchestra.
edit Musical Contribution
Keyboard music was Bach's forte and he pioneered the elevation of the keyboard from continuo to solo instrument in his numerous harpsichord concertos and chamber movements with keyboard obbligato, in which he himself probably played the solo part.
- 1708–17 in Weimar - he started composing keyboard and orchestral works. He became technically proficient and learned how to write dramatic openings and adopt the works of Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli into his own. His steady output of fugues began at this time.
- 1717–23 worked as music director for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen - In this period his contribution to music included the Orchestral suites, the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello and the Sonatas and partitas for solo violin. The well-known Brandenburg concertos also date from this period. Bach composed secular cantatas for the court such as the Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht, BWV 134a.
- 1723–50 in Leipzig - he wrote up to five annual cantata cycles during his first six years in Leipzig. In 1733 he composed the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B Minor, though was never performed during the composer's lifetime, it is considered to be among the greatest choral works of all time.
- In 1747 he presented the king in the court of Frederick II of Prussia in Potsdam with a musical offering which consisted of fugues, canons and a trio based on the "royal theme," nominated by the monarch.
- The Art of Fugue – This is an unfinished work of Bach. It consists of 18 complex fugues and canons based on a simple theme. A magnum opus of thematic transformation and contrapuntal devices; this work is often cited as the summation of polyphonic techniques.
- The final work Bach completed was a chorale prelude for organ. The chorale is often played after the unfinished 14th fugue to conclude performances of The Art of Fugue.
- His largest single body of his fugal writing is Das wohltemperierte Clavier ("The well-tempered keyboard"—Clavier meaning keyboard instrument). It consists of two collections compiled in 1722 and 1744, each containing a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key. This is a monumental work for its masterful use of counterpoint and its exploration of the full range of keys.
- Bach's deep knowledge of and interest in the liturgy led to his developing intricate relationships between music and linguistic text.
- Many of his sacred works contain short motifs that can be regarded as pictorial symbolism and articulations of liturgical concepts. For example, the octave leap, usually in a bass line, represents the relationship between heaven and earth; the slow, repeated notes of the bass line in the opening movement of cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106) depict the laboured trudging of Jesus as he was forced to drag the cross from the city to the crucifixion site.
- Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin admired his work.
Beethoven's musical contribution is generally divided into three periods:
- Early period - His work during this period was greatly influenced by Haydn and Mozart. Some important pieces were the first and second symphonies, the set of six string quartets Opus 18, the first two piano concertos, and the first dozen or so piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique sonata, Op. 13.
- Middle period – This period is referred as the Heroic period. It was during this period that he started losing his hearing. This period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the last three piano concertos, the Triple Concerto and violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7–11), several piano sonatas (including the Moonlight, Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas), the Kreutzer violin sonata and Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio.
- Late Period – The works of this period are characterized by intellectual depth, their formal innovations, intense and personal expression. The String Quartet, Op. 131 has seven linked movements, and the Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement. Other compositions from this period include the Missa Solemnis, the last five string quartets (including the massive Große Fuge or Grand Fugue) and the last five piano sonatas.
edit Musical Style
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edit In memory
Bach is commemorated as a musician in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on 28 July. He is honored together with George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on 28 July.
A number of movies have been made about Beethoven, including
- Eroica - 1949, an Austrian film
- The Magnificent Rebel –1962, was produced by Walt Disney
- Immortal Beloved – 1994, was written and directed by Bernard Rose.
- Eroica - 2003, a BBC/Opus Arte film
- Copying Beethoven - 2006
For his 75th anniversary The Beethoven Monument was unveiled in Bonn in 1845. A statue of Beethoven was unveiled in Vienna in 1880.
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Some of the masterpieces of Bach and Beethoven are available on Amazon.com: