Bach and the High Baroque

Introduction
1: Introduction

The goals of this course are to learn something of the life and personality of J. S. Bach, to learn something of the musical traditions and composers from whom he drew his inspiration, to understand Bach as a man of his time who was influenced by trends and traditions, and to get to know a good sampling of Bach's music.

47 min
Christmas, 1722
2: Christmas, 1722

This lecture provides background on Bach's early career, the death of his first wife and his remarriage, and his decision to go to Leipzig....

40 min
Introduction to the Baroque Aesthetic
3: Introduction to the Baroque Aesthetic

The Baroque era, from 1600, the birth of opera, to the death of J. S. Bach in 1750, was a diverse period that saw great change, characterized in vocal terms by opera, and in instrumental terms by fugue. These two genres epitomize the dichotomy of emotional extravagance (opera) and technical control (fugue) that formed the Baroque aesthetic....

46 min
Fugue
4: Fugue

Fugue, from the Latin fuga, meaning flight, is a polyphonic work for a fixed number of parts combining statements of one or more subjects with countersubjects derived from the subject material, in imitative patterns that follow established procedures. The Bach fugues combine overwhelming compositional technique with profound emotional and spiritual depth to a degree that is transcendent, making Ba...

49 min
Historical Overview from Constantine through the Great Thinkers of the Baroque
5: Historical Overview from Constantine through the Great Thinkers of the Baroque

We learn more on the background and history of the Baroque era, and political, religious, scientific, and philosophical developments contributing to the Renaissance.

47 min
Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part I-A Musical Glossary
6: Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part I-A Musical Glossary

J. S. Bach was born into an age when the materials and syntax of music were already developed and codified to a high degree. Six important elements were rhythm and meter, instruments and instrumental style, Baroque-style melody, musical texture, tuning systems, and functional harmony....

47 min
Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part II-A Musical Glossary
7: Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part II-A Musical Glossary

Bach did not so much evolve new styles as perfect existing ones, fusing and synthesizing national styles in both vocal and instrumental genres. In the Baroque era, beat became more regular; rhythms tended to be well-defined and were often based on dances. Instrumental music appeared, even as the vocal genre of opera was developed....

46 min
Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part III-A Musical Glossary
8: Style Features of High Baroque Music, Part III-A Musical Glossary

The demand for a more expressive musical system gave rise to more scale pitches from the Pythagorean model, and new tuning systems arose to handle this, including meantone, equal temperament, and well-temperament. Functional harmony was developed and codified, and it was supported by the convention of basso continuo or thorough-bass as both a rhythmic and a chordal device....

44 min
Bach's Inheritance, Part I-The Protestant Reformation and the Rise of Lutheranism
9: Bach's Inheritance, Part I-The Protestant Reformation and the Rise of Lutheranism

Bach's music was a synthesis: of German language and seriousness; of Lutheran spirituality; of the national styles of France, Italy, and Germany; and not least, of the composer's own extraordinary genius. Bach's Lutheran Christianity shaped his entire world view and his work ethic, causing him to see all that he did as an offering to God....

44 min
Lutheranism, the Chorale and the Chorale Prelude
10: Lutheranism, the Chorale and the Chorale Prelude

A central aspect of Lutheran life was the congregational hymn, or chorale, and chorale melodies are central to all Bach's church music. His harmonizations of them, and his chorale preludes for organ, are among the gems of Western music, and they remain the very paradigm of functional harmony in music education to this day....

49 min
Bach's Inheritance, Part II-The Development of the Italian Style
11: Bach's Inheritance, Part II-The Development of the Italian Style

The music of Arcangelo Corelli is one of the best examples of writing from this period. His music distinguishes the orchestra from the chamber ensemble, with just one instrument per part. The pipe organ reaches a pinnacle of design during the Baroque never again reached until the latter 20th century....

45 min
The Italian Style, The Operatic Ideal and Lutheran Spirituality are Joined
12: The Italian Style, The Operatic Ideal and Lutheran Spirituality are Joined

The madrigal became the dominant Renaissance vocal form, mastered by the Italian composers; one example is Jacopo Peri's and Claudio Monteverdi's monodic settings for the mythological story of Orpheus and Euridice. The pipe organ reaches a pinnacle of design during the Baroque; no one knew organ design better than Bach, and no one has surpassed him in composing for the instrument....

49 min
Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part I-Vivaldi and the Venetian Opera
13: Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part I-Vivaldi and the Venetian Opera

While a court organist in Weimar, Bach encountered the concerti of Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi, a fine violinist, wrote 500 concerti, 49 operas, and other sacred works. His style was greatly influenced by Venetian opera and Italian vocalism and language in general, which he transferred to the solo violin, the instrument most like the diva soprano....

48 min
Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II-Vivaldi's Model and Bach, Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major
14: Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II-Vivaldi's Model and Bach, Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major

The typical Vivaldi concerto had three movements with tempos that were fast-slow-fast respectively. His first movements were usually in ritornello form, his second movements cantabile and expressive, and his third movements either fugal or ritornello, and very upbeat. Bach elevated Vivaldi's model, combining it with his polyphonic processes to create a very rich and varied texture....

47 min
Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II-Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major (cont.)
15: Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part II-Bach Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major (cont.)

Bach's Brandenburg Concerti were six diverse pieces written between 1619 and 1621 for Prince Leopold's virtuoso orchestra at Coethen, and brought together by their dedication to the Margrave of Brandenburg, with whom Bach sought employment in March of 1621....

47 min
Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part III-The Concerto Grosso and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
16: Vivaldi, Bach and the Concerto, Part III-The Concerto Grosso and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

Bach was unsuccessful in getting the job; the Margrave's little orchestra was probably overwhelmed by the complexity and difficulty of the pieces, but he left us with some of the very finest examples of the concerto grosso, a form in which a group of soloists, the concertino, is contrasted with the whole group....

48 min
Bach and the French Style, Part I-Dance and the Orchestral Suite
17: Bach and the French Style, Part I-Dance and the Orchestral Suite

The popularity of social and courtly dance increased during the Renaissance. Two of the most popular dance types were the Pavanne and the Galliard. At no time was the influence of dance on music stronger or more pervasive than in the Baroque, and nowhere more than in the French court, which eventually became the center for dance music under Louis XIV....

45 min
Dance and the Orchestral Suite (cont.)
18: Dance and the Orchestral Suite (cont.)

During the middle and late 17th century, the dances written for suites became more stylized, better for listening than dancing. Ballets de Cour, Masques, Balli, and Masqueratas were favorite late Renaissance/early Baroque court entertainments which combined staged and costumed dance performances with group dancing by the nobility, often led by Louis XIV....

48 min
Bach and the French Style, Part II-The Keyboard Suite
19: Bach and the French Style, Part II-The Keyboard Suite

Much keyboard music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries is in the form of suites. French suites were collections of dances to be played in any order, at the performer's discretion. In France, orchestral suites were arranged for private performance, first for lute, and later for harpsichord....

46 min
The Keyboard Suite (cont.)
20: The Keyboard Suite (cont.)

Bach wrote three large sets of keyboard suites, six complete suites in each set. They illustrate his genius in creating masterworks within a constrained form, using the harpsichord, an instrument of limited tonal resources....

48 min
Bach and Opera, Part I-Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme
21: Bach and Opera, Part I-Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme

The high point of the Lutheran worship service was the sermon, which was preceded by a cantata, which Bach sought to make a sermon in music. Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme (Sleepers wake, a voice is calling) for the 27th Sunday after Trinity, is based on the parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 25....

46 min
Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme (cont.)
22: Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf, uns ruft die stimme (cont.)

Bach used the chorale tune in three of the movements. A solo bass voice was used to represent Christ in dialogue with the Christian soul (or the Church), represented by a solo soprano. The orchestra was used effectively to evoke the festive pomp of a wedding in which Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride....

49 min
Bach and Opera, Part II-Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata
23: Bach and Opera, Part II-Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata

Coffee drinking was a popular and controversial pastime in Bach's day, illegal in parts of Germany. A 1727 satire on coffee provided a libretto that appealed to Bach, who owned many coffee pots and an expensive coffee-making machine. Bach also had several daughters, and the eldest had just passed through adolescence. The conflict between father and daughter portrayed in the libretto would have see...

47 min
Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata (cont.)
24: Opera Buffa and the Secular Cantata, The Coffee Cantata (cont.)

The important comic opera La Serva Padrona was then being written by Pergolesi. It used the same Italian opera buffa conventions, and it dealt with the same basic idea of a teenage girl outwitting a pedantic father character....

48 min
Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part I
25: Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part I

The Saint Matthew Passion was a surpassing work unlike anything of its time. Written to be performed on Good Friday in Holy Week, 1727, the Passion followed a long tradition of musical devotions in preparation for Easter. Bach expanded the form of the work and the performing forces, using two choirs (each with its own orchestra), a boy choir, and continuo....

47 min
Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part II
26: Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part II

In the course of the four-hour Passion, Bach uses every style and compositional device known in his time. His use of the Passion Chorale five times in the work, each time with a different text and harmonization, helps to unify the vast structure musically, while at the same time providing a vehicle for expressing his personal faith and the five wounds of Christ....

47 min
Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part III
27: Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part III

Bach embedded much musical and numerological symbolism into the Passion. For example, the key of E minor which opens the work has one sharp; in German the sharp was called a Kreuz, the same word for cross, making E minor the key of crucifixion. The libretto divided the events into two prologues and 15 "actions" but Bach further divides them into 27 actions. The number 27 was one of his f...

48 min
Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part IV
28: Bach Transcendent-The Saint Matthew Passion, Part IV

At the end of the Passion, Bach brings the soloists together in opera chorus fashion to comment on the completed action and deliver the moral of the story. As in the opening, a throbbing, grieving chorus mourns the sacrificed Christ, yet hidden within it is a tender lullaby that looks forward to the Savior's awakening from the sleep of death....

48 min
Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part I
29: Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part I

Bach's Goldberg Variations towers above every other work of this genre; certainly the 18th century produced nothing like it. So carefully and symmetrically constructed are the Variations, and so filled with numerical concepts, that they have stimulated a great body of discourse and analysis that ranges from the sober to the bizarre. They were written for a nobleman to be played during bouts of ins...

48 min
Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part II
30: Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part II

The work contains 32 movements; the first and last are the same. The remaining 30 variations are built on the same ground bass or its harmonies. They divide at Variation 15, which ends the first half, after which the second half begins with a French overture. The variations display the full range of Baroque compositional techniques and forms, including dance, canon, fugue, invention, toccata, over...

47 min
Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part III
31: Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part III

Bach organized the variations into trinities consisting of a character piece, a toccata, and a canon. These marvelous canons form the heart and soul of the Goldberg Variations. They are all canons for two voices, in strict imitation, and all are elaborated over a third voice, the thematic ground bass, except for the Canon at the Ninth, which is for the two canonic voices alone....

46 min
Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part IV
32: Bach Transcendent-The Goldberg Variations, Part IV

Some of the canons are mirrors, in which the follower voice does the opposite of the leader. Most of the variations are in a major key, but those in minor keys are placed at crucial points in the cycle, and they are deeply affecting and profound....

48 min
Robert Greenberg

For thousands of years cultures have celebrated themselves through their music. Let us always be willing and able to join that celebration by listening as carefully as we can to what, through music, we have to say to one another.

ALMA MATER

University of California, Berkeley

INSTITUTION

San Francisco Performances

About Robert Greenberg

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions-which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles-performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands. He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres. Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.