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Bach and his Musical Contemporaries

Session Six (June 10th): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Session Five (June 3rd): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Session Four (May 27th): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Session Three (May 20th): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Session Two (May 13t): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Session One (May 6th): Presentation Slides (pdf)

Official Description

Dates: May 6 – June 10 (6 sessions)
Time: Wednesdays, 10:10 a.m. – 11:55 a.m.
Location: VIC 303

This course will explore early 18th century music, including Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and others, that accompanied and echoed a time of increasing ferment and change. During this centuy a new emphasis on the individual and a new challenge to established authority and orthodoxy arose, eventually leading to the revolutions that transformed the West. We will sample music of the major European composers of the period and some of their less well-known colleagues, all of whom created the musical backdrop during this time of change. We’ll explore how Bach, with his solid Christian faith, expressed the glories of his religion, how Vivaldi explored new individual lyricism, how Handel celebrated English royalty, and how Rameau added elegant refinement to the French court. And we’ll tap into vast, largely hidden, musical treasures that we are only now beginning to appreciate. Most of the music will be drawn from the YouTube library, giving participants the ability to hear it again in the privacy of their own homes. This was an explosive and important time, and its music reflected this.

Extended Comment

For many decades, Johann Sebastian Bach has been my favorite composer. I retired, i.e. stopped searching for paying consulting assignments. Then I discovered The LIFE Institute. Teaching is where I started my career and it's always been a natural act for me. I offered a Bach course last year - "Bach and his Successors". That course allowed me to examine the impact of Bach on succeeding generations of composers. It was well received, at least it was based on the returned questionnaires.
The good people at LIFE asked me to consider another music course. This time I decided to focus on the "context" within which Bach lived and worked. Bach lived between 1685 and 1750. Vivaldi, Handel and Rameau all overlapped Bach's life. It was a time when great and lasting music was being written. The working title selected was "Bach and his Musical Contemporaries". My challenge was to try to understand what was happening during Bach's life. Clearly, there was much interesting music being written. But what else was happening?

Historical periods always have fuzzy beginning and endings. But the early 18th century could reasonably be identified as the start of the Enlightenment, and the time when the focus shifted from the community to the individual. It was also a time when it seemed as through everything could be explained by the science that was being discovered (Newton published his major works early in the 18th century). And music echoed these broad changs in European society.
Bach can be viewed as summarizing a communal view of music, with multiple interwoven musical themes. His music is a tight "fabric" of different, but compatible ideas. It's fundamentally communal. The other obvious extreme is the music of Vivaldi. The focus shifts from interwoven themes to a single soaring theme accompanied by a supporting musical base. The individual soars in Vivaldi. Interesting and telling contrast - Bach summarizing the past and Vivaldi introducing the future, with some overlap between this two composers.
The other central opportunity that this course affords is the introduction and exploration of relatively unknown composers from Bach's day. There was a quite considerable amount of music being composed in the first half of the 18th century. And this was the first musical era that (more or less) consistently used tonality as the musical foundation, and the time when the scale became well-tempered. We have been trained to hear, and understand, the music of this period. Music from previous eras lacks this foundation - it's more difficult for us to hear and appreciate.
I'm working away at organizing the ideas, and the composers, to introduce in the course. I'm enjoying the exploration. My hope is that class participants will also find this exploration interesting, ... and will discover a number of previously unknown, but interesting, composers from that period.

Sources: I find the Wikipedia is often a great source for basic "facts" about a person, place, or event. When factual information appears without attribution, the source can generally be found on the relevant Wikipedia page.

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May 6 – June 10 (6 sessions) Time: Wednesdays, 10:10 a.m. – 11:55 a.m. Location