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Music of the Augustan Age

Outside Composers

As the 20th century draws to a close we could characterise it as the 'Age of Restoration'. For the first time in musical history more attention is given to 'past music' than 'new music' and it becomes increasingly difficult for us to imagine a time, such as the early 18th century when all music performed was 'new music'. Even with the wealth of compositional talent at Dresden we know that Pisendel also sent written requests to virtually every German court for compositions. Pisendel maintained contact with a remarkable number of musicians, the most notable of them being J.S. Bach, G.P. Telemann and A. Vivaldi. Clearly the performance of 'outside works' served a dual purpose in that the quantity of music required could be assured and the diversity of music making was enhanced. Amongst the composers who provided compositions were Albinoni, Vivaldi, Fasch, Telemann, Venturini, Dieupart, Fischer, Finger, Montanari, C.H. Graun, Graupner, Stölzel and Valentini. However it would be incorrect to conclude that Dresden was merely a melting pot of influences from Germany, Italy and France. At what point a true Dresden style developed, a style characterised by self confidence, exuberance and sumptuousness that mirrored the grandeur of the court and in particular the legendary vitality of Augustus the Strong is difficult to determine. The number of 'outside works' which survive in versions peculiar to Dresden provide us with examples of the changes that were employed to make these works 'fit' the Dresden aesthetic. In instrumental music Pisendel was the key figure in this respect, but Heinichen, Ristori and Zelenka also made alterations to both sacred and chamber music. These alterations take the form of changes in structure, alterations to the length of movements, replacement of existing movements with newly composed material and augmentation of instrumentation. In instrumental music the addition of oboes and bassoons, which usually double existing lines but sometimes with newly composed material was seen as a minimum. Often horns and other instruments were also added. In sacred music augmentation of instrumentation usually applied to music written for four voices and organ or where the instrumentation was regarded as too meagre.

The compositions particularly by Fasch, Graun, Telemann and Vivaldi are characterised by virtuosic writing and a large number of instrumental lines. The Dresden Kapellmeister themselves clearly provided the model for such works which highlight the Hofkapelles strengths. The concerto suite being the most obvious form in which the Dresden virtuosi could show off their talents. Both Fasch and Telemann could not have performed these works in their respective positions, indeed it would appear that their contact with Dresden enabled the performance of music that would otherwise have been dismissed as entirely unreasonable. By this time Vivaldi had already produced the Concerto per l'orchestra di Dresda RV 577. Of the court composers, Heinichen's festive concerti in which not only the soloist but also the accompanying instruments vary from movement to movement typify this style. In vocal chamber music, sacred music and opera this virtuosic style was also adopted.

Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi's music epitomised the new Italian instrumental style. The Torelli / Vivaldi type of solo concerto allowed the individual personality to develop freely. The unrestrained play of the imagination, and the improvisation coming from the playing of the virtuoso, led to solo sections that were for the most part built in wider spans than in works of the earlier period. If the total form was to remain well-balanced, the orchestral sections had to be made correspondingly large. The first works of this kind must have impressed the public as a revelation of a new human freedom, and their long stretches of development must have had quite a breathtaking affect. Johann Joachim Quantz in "The Life of Mr. Johann Joachim Quantz described by himself" describes how as a 17 year old on his way to Dresden he first encountered Vivaldi's music at Pirna.

"At that time in Pirna I first saw violin concertos by Vivaldi. As a then completely new species of musical pieces, they made more than a slight impression on me. I did not fail to collect a considerable assortment of them. In later times the splendid ritornellos of Vivaldi provided me with good models."

Pisendel who studied with Torelli in Ansbach accompanied the Crown Prince to Venice in 1716. During his stay in Venice he studied and became friends with Vivaldi. Indeed he revisited Venice in 1717. Their association is recorded in two uncorroborated anecdotes by Hiller. The first recounts how Vivaldi while walking with Pisendel in St. Marks Square, suddenly broke off the conversation and urged the visitor to return home with him immediately. Privacy regained, Vivaldi explained that he had observed four constables shadowing Pisendel and asked him whether he had done or said anything forbidden by the authorities. Since Pisendel could think of nothing, Vivaldi sought the advice of one of the inquisitors, from whom he learned that they were looking not for Pisendel but for a man resembling him.

The second anecdote makes more sense if we know that the Crown Prince was already familiar with Vivaldi's work as Vivaldi had dedicated a concerto entitled La Sassiona to him. The Crown Prince asked Pisendel to play a concerto identifiable as RV 571 as an operatic entr'acte. During an extended solo passage in the upper register his accompanists tried to discomfit him by rushing ahead, but he kept his composure and forced them to slow down by marking the beat vigorously with his foot, much to the Crown Princes amusement.

While in Venice Pisendel collected a large quantity of manuscripts containing the latest works available and particularly those of Vivaldi. Some of these were presented to him by the composer, the autograph manuscripts of three sonatas and six concerti bear the inscription " fatto per il Sign. Pisendel." RV340 dedicated to Pisendel bears the inscription "per li coglioni" – for the blockheads that surely refers to some bass figures Vivaldi had included for the copyists benefit. The majority of the music however was copied by Pisendel himself, including 22 concerti, 7 violin sonatas and complete sets of parts for 15 further concerti. Copies of concerti by Benedetto Marcello and Albinoni, who dedicated a violin concerto to him were also made. These works were all acquired on Pisendel's death in 1755 by the Electress Maria Josepha and reside in Pisendel's private collection in the Sachsische Landesbibliothek except one violin sonata RV19 that is curiously held in the Paris Conservatoire. Pisendel subjected the originals to considerable alteration by the addition or substitution of solo passages, cadenzas or even whole movements as well as written out embellishments and marks of expression. In line with Dresden practise added ripieno parts for recorders, oboes and bassoon occur. Recent research by Fechner concerning the manuscripts copied at Dresden dates these as mid 1720's from the paper types and copyists involved, suggesting that these are copies of the originals Pisendel made in Italy or that other members who had accompanied the Crown Prince to Italy also brought back Vivaldi manuscripts. Evidence that Vivaldi's sacred music was also performed at Dresden is found in the inclusion of his Magnificat in an inventory drawn up by Zelenka.

In 1738-1740, the Elector Friederich Christian followed in his father and grandfathers footsteps by visiting Venice. On March 21st 1740 he visited the Ospedale della Pieta and heard a performance of Vivaldi's music. A volume containing three concerti and a sinfonia entitled "Concertos with many instruments played by the girls of the merciful Ospedale della Pieta in the presence of His Royal Highness, the most serene Friederich Christian, the Royal Prince of Poland and Elector of Saxony. Music by A.Vivaldi conductor at the aforementioned hospital. Venice 1740" resides in the Sachsische Landesbibliothek. It is surely due to Pisendel that the Sachsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden is the second largest repository of Vivaldi's work.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Today J.S. Bach is held to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest composer who has ever lived. The immense effort that has gone into illuminating every corner of hislife and work make it difficult for us to imagine that in his day he was not held in such esteem, and that other contemporary composers were often preferred for positions that Bach subsequently gained or failed to attain. I am referring to Heinichen's refusal to enter the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen in 1716 which enabled Bach's acceptance. With the death of Thomas Kuhnau, cantor at the Leipzig Thomasschule in 1722 the Consistorium offered the position to G.P Telemann who refused. Following Heinichen's recommendation, his friend Graupner was offered the position but he could not be released from his current position so paving the way for Bach's acceptance. In this context however Bach's most significant refusal came in 1733.

On the 1st of February 1733 Augustus the Strong died and a five month period of national mourning began. During this period Bach worked on the Kyrie and Gloria of his B Minor Mass. Ironically the background to the Kyrie is based upon the "Missa à 2 violini 2 viole Bassano 4 Voci Cant " by Johann Hugo Wilderer, the score is in Bach's hand and was probably copied from Dresden holdings through Zelenka. On July 27th 1733 Bach sent the manuscript accompanied by the following letter as a job application to Augustus II for the position of Kapellmeister which had not been filled since the death of Johann David Heinichen in 1729.

To His Most Serene Highness, the Prince and Lord, Frederick Augustus, Royal Prince in Poland and Lithuania, Duke of Saxony…My Most Gracious Lord.
My Most Gracious Lord, Most Serene Elector, Most Gracious Lord!
To Your Royal Highness I submit in deepest devotion the present slight labor of that knowledge which I have achieved in musique, with the most wholly submissive prayer that Your Highness will look upon it with Most Gracious Eyes, according to Your Highness's World-Famous Clemency and not according to the poor composition; and thus deign to make me under Your Most Mighty Protection. For some years and up to the present moment I have had the Directorium of the Music in the two principal churches in Leipzig, but have innocently had to suffer one injury or another, and on one occasion also a diminution of the fees accruing to me in this office; but these injuries would disappear altogether if Your Royal Highness would grant me the favor of conferring upon me a title of Your Highness's Court Capelle, and would let Your High Command for the issuing of such a document go forth to the proper place. Such a most gracious fulfillment of my most humble prayer will bind me to unending devotion, and I will offer myself in most indebted obedience to show at all times, upon Your Royal Highness's Most Gracious Desire, my untiring zeal in the composition of music for the church as well as for the orchestra, and to devote my entire forces to the service of
remaining in unceasing fidelity
Your Royal Highness's most humble and most obedient slave
Johann Sebastian Bach

We can only speculate as to the difference in the history of music if Augustus II had accepted this job application, that was surely the culmination of Bach's desires since his first contact with the Dresden Court, a court to which he ultimately owed allegiance from 1723 onwards. With his high artistic demands it is not difficult to imagine that Bach saw Dresden as an ideal environment for performance and in complete contrast to his own continual struggle for musical forces of sufficient number and quality to perform his music. We have Bach's famous 'Short but Most Necessary Draft for a Well Appointed Church Music' of August 1730 concerning the quality of musicians available to him and his comments on the Dresden musicians "relieved of all concern for their living, free from chagrin, and obliged each to master but a single instrument" as evidence of this.

After his unsuccessful job application Bach continued to make musical overtures by the composition of a series of congratulatory cantatas. On 3rd August 1733 another cantata for the Electors birthday (music lost), Cantata no 213 (5th September) for the heir to the electorate, no 214 (8th December) for the Electress, no 205a for the coronation of the elector as King of Poland, music lost, and unknown work (24th August) for the elector and Preise dein Glucke, gesegnetes Sachsen BMV 215 (5th October 1734) for the anniversary of the coronation of the elector, who was present at the performance at the Michaelmas Fair in Leipzig. The event was described by Reimer:

"On the 5th (of October), the coronation day of His Royal Majesty was celebrated in the greatest gala style….At seven in the evening a cannon was fired as a signal, and then the whole town was illuminated. The Rathaus tower and the balcony were very splendidly decked out with many variegated lamps; the towers of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas were beautifully and properly illuminated from the balcony to the belfries, and this could be seen for some miles out into the country… And the illumination lasted until twelve o'clock. Many people came in from the country to see it, and at seven o'clock in the morning one could still see some lamps burning. About nine o'clock in the evening the students here presented the Majesty and his family with a most submissive evening serenade with trumpets and drums, which the Hon. Capellmeister Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantor at St Thomas', had composed. For this, six hundred students carried wax tapers, and four Counts acted as marshalls in presenting the music. The procession made its way up to the King's residenc….When the text was presented, the four Counts were permitted to kiss the Royal hands, and afterwards his Royal Majesty together with his Royal Consort and the Royal Princes did not leave the windows until the music was over, and listened graciously, and liked it well."

(The Hosanna of his B Minor Mass employs the same music, as the first movement.) Finally, after the intervention of his patron Count Keyserlingk and a further application, all his efforts were rewarded when in November 1736 Bach was finally granted the title Composer to the Court Capelle!

"Whereas His Royal Majesty in Poland and Serene Electoral Highness of Saxony, etc., has most graciously conferred upon Johann Sebastian Bach, upon the lattersmost humble entreaty and because of his ability, the style of Composer to the Court Capelle; Now therefore the present certificate relating to the same has been prepared with His Royal Majesty's Most August Signature and the imprint of the Royal Seal. Done at Dresden, November 19, 1736"

Bach paid his respects with a concert on the new Silbermann organ at the Frauen- Kirche. An account appeared in the Dresden Nachrichten:

"On December 1, 1736, the famous Capellmeister to the Prince of Saxe-Weissenfels and Director Musices at Leipzig, Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, made himself heard from 2 to 4 o'clock on the new organ in the Frauen-Kirche, in the presence of the Russian Ambassador, Von Keyserlingk, and many Persons of Rank, also a large attendance of other persons and artists, with particular admiration, wherefore also His Royal Majesty most graciously named the same, because of his great ability in composing, to be His Majesty's Composer."

In Riemers Chronicle of Leipzig we learn of another homage work on the betrothal of Princess Amalia in April 1738 which the King again witnessed, the music for this dramma per musica is unfortunately lost.

What follows are instances of Bach's contact with the Dresden Court or the musicians who served there that I could find, which commenced much earlier than this. The earliest reference I could discover concerns Pisendel. Hiller says:

"For six years Pisendel was in the service of the Court of Anspach as soprano, and later, when his voice had changed, he continued there for five years as violinist. He then made his departure, and in March 1709 betook himself to Leipzig, to continue his studies at the Academy there…On the way to Leipzig, his path led through Weimar, where he made the acquaintance of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was at that time in service there."

During this meeting Pisendel received a copy of Telemann's Gmajor Concerto for two violins 2V.G(1) from Bach.

Marpurg in his Légende einiger Musikheiligien, Cologne 1786 tells the story concerning the competition between Bach and Marchand. It should be remembered that Bach had been dead for nearly forty years when this appeared and consequently imagination may have resulted in "embellishment" of the tale.

"In the year 1717, during his banishment from France, Marchand came to Dresden, performed before the King of Poland with particular success, and was so fortunate as to be offered a post in the Royal service, at several thousand Thalers. The Capelle of this Prince included a French Concertmeister, named Volumier, who either contemplated with jealous eyes the good fortune about to accrue to his compatriot or else had been accidentally offended by the latter. He called the attention of the Chamber Musicians to the scorn with which Marchand spoke about all German clavier players, and consulted with them as to how the pride of this Goliath might be somewhat humbled, if it were not possible to eliminate him altogether from the Court. Upon being assured that the Chamber and Court Organist Sebastian Bach was a man who could take up the challenge of the organist of the French Court any day, Volumier wrote at once to Weymar and invited Bach to come to Dresden forth with and break a lance with Mr. Marchand. Bach came, and with the consent of the King was admitted as a listener to the next concert at Court. When, at this concert, Marchand performed among other things a French ditty with many variations, and was much applauded for the art displayed in the variations as well as for his elegant and fiery playing, Bach, who was standing next to him, was urged to try the harpsichord. He accepted the invitation, played only a brief improvisation (with masterly chords) and, before anyone realised what was happening, he repeated the ditty played by Marchand, and made a dozen variations on it, with new art and in ways that had not been heard before. Marchand, who had hitherto defied all organists, had to acknowledge the undoubted superiority of his antagonist on this occasion. For when Bach made so bold to invite him to engage in friendly competition with him on the organ, and for this purpose gave him a theme which he jotted down with pencil on a scrap of paper, to be made the subject of improvisations, asking Marchand for a theme in return, Marchand, so far from putting in an appearance at the scene of battle, thought it better to leave Dresden by special coach."

Bach had the opportunity to impress King Augustus II who visited Leipzig and listened to a performance from the window of Apel's house on the Marktplatz of a cantata composed and directed by Bach in celebration of the King's birthday on May 12th 1727. The king was presented with a copy of the libretto 'Entfernet euch, ihr heitern Sterne' by Christian Friederich Haupt, the music is unfortunately lost, or associated with another text. Later in the same year the Electress Christiane Eberhardine died on the 6th September. The Electress was regarded with particular respect and affection by her people and a period of mourning of four months began. Hans Carl von Kirchbach organised a commemorative service to be held in the Paulinerkirche at Leipzig and commissioned Gottsched to write the lyrics and Bach to set these to music. This resulted in the cantata Lass, Furstin, lass noch einen Strahl BMV 198.

Indeed it was while Bach was at Leipzig that his direction of the Collegium Musicum prompted the visit to Leipzig of many of his musical acquaintances. C.P.E. Bach's remark that ' it was seldom that a musical master passed through without getting to know my father and playing for him ' surely refers to the performances of the collegium musicum that took place on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 pm in the coffee garden 'before the Grimmsiches Thor' in the summer and on Fridays between 8 and 10pm in Zimmermans coffee house in the winter. There is evidence that these musical acquaintances included Hasse, Benda, Weiss, C.H Graun and Zelenka from Dresden. A traditional function of the collegium was the performance of works in homage to Augustus the Strong in particular or members of the Royal family. Bach wrote 17 homage works in total and after his unsuccessful bid to gain a position at Dresden in 1733 wrote five in one year!

On the 13th September 1731 Bach attended a performance of Hasse's first opera for Dresden Cleofide, which featured the vocal talents of his wife Faustina Bordoni. Forkel Bach's first biographer stated that Bach knew the Hasse's who "had come to Leipzig and admired his great talents" Forkel continues that "Bach was therefore always received in exceedingly honourable manner at Dresden, and often went hither to hear the opera". He generally took his eldest son with him. (Wilhelm Friedemann became organist at the Protestant Sophienkirche in 1733) He used to say in joke some days before his departure "Friedemann shan't we go again to hear the lovely Dresden ditties?" Bach during this visit performed in the Sophienkirche and at court. (there were enthusiastic reports in the newspapers)

At least one documented occasion exists that Bach met S.L.Weiss. In 1739 Weiss accompanied by his student Johann Kropfganss visited the Leipzig home of Bach. Johann Elias Bach, who served at this time as private secretary to Bach, mentions the visit in the draft of a letter of August 11th 1739 to Cantor J.W. Koch.

"….so I certainly hoped to have the honour of speaking to my brother; I wished it all the more because just at that time there was extra special music while my cousin from Dresden (Wilhelm Friedemann) who was present here for four weeks, together with the two famous lutenists, Herr Weiss and Herr Kropfganss, played at our house several times…."

Go to Jan Koster's excellent Johann Sebastian Bach website or the Gottfried Silbermann website

Georg Philipp Telemann

Pisendel met Telemann in 1709 in Leipzig, when Pisendel was leading the collegium musicum and Telemann was on his way from Eisenach to Sorau. A close friendship developed from this first meeting and they corresponded through old age, until Pisendel's death in 1755. On Pisendel's death Telemann published an ode in honour of his friend. Telemann was one of the many people to visit Dresden in 1719 for the celebrations surrounding the marriage of the Crown Prince and Maria Josepha. During this visit he presented to the man to whom it was dedicated, Johann Georg Pisendel, a violin concerto in B Flat Major. Judging by the note at the end of the score, "The last Allegro is rather a scribble - better copy follows. Author", Telemann appears to have written out the finale in great haste. It is clear that Telemann knew many of the Dresden musicians: he published a piece by Weiss in his music periodical Der getreue Music-Meister (Hamburg 1728-1729) and knew Heinichen and the oboists François le Riche and Johann Christian Richter from his Leipzig days and undoubtedly met those he did not already know.

Telemann appears to have sent works directly to Pisendel for a number of years. His concerto for two violins in E minor was performed in Dresden as early as 1710-1711, however it was surely Pisendel's advocacy of his music that ensured it's performance particularly after his appointment as Concertmaster. The Sachsische Landesbibliothek is one of the two major repositories of Telemann's music.

If you have any comments, additions or questions I would be really pleased to hear from you!

Copyright © 1996-2000, David Charlton.