Germany was blessed and excited with music beyond any other nation but Italy. A family without musical instruments was an abnormality. Schools taught music almost on a par with religion and reading. Church music was in decline because science and philosophy, cities and industry, were secularizing minds; the great Lutheran hymns still resounded, but song was passing from church choirs to lieder, Singspiele, and opera. Johann Peter Schulz opened a new era in song with his Lieder im Volkston (1782); henceforth Germany enjoyed an unquestioned leadership in this application of music to lyric poetry.
The mechanical improvement of the piano stimulated the spread of concerts and the rise of instrumental virtuosi. Performers like Johann Schobert, Abt Vogler, and Johann Hummel conquered a dozen cities. On March 10, 1789, Hummel, then eleven years old, gave a piano recital at Dresden; he did not know that Mozart was to be in the audience; during the concert he saw and recognized his former teacher; as soon as his piece was finished he made his way through the applauding assemblage and embraced Mozart with warm expressions of homage and joy.106 Abt (i.e., Abbot) Vogler won his title by being ordained as a priest (1773); at Mannheim he was both court chaplain and music director. As a writer on music he was one of the most original and influential of the century; as a virtuoso on the organ he won the jealousy of Mozart; as a teacher he formed Weber and Meyerbeer; as a papal legate he made Mannheim laugh by wearing blue stockings, carrying his breviary with his music, and sometimes keeping his audience waiting while he finished his prayers.
Mannheim’s orchestra was now a group of seventy-six select musicians, ably led by Christian Cannabich as teacher, conductor, and solo violinist. Famous was Lord Fordyce’s remark that Germany stood at the head of the nations for two reasons: the Prussian army and the Mannheim orchestra. Only less renowned was the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig. Concerts were gigantic—three or four, sometimes six, concertos on one program; and they were everywhere—in theaters, churches, universities, palaces, taverns, and parks. The symphony now competed with the concerto in the orchestral repertoire; by 1770—even before Haydn—it was accepted as the highest form of instrumental music.107
Half the famous composers of this period came from the strong heart and loins of Johann Sebastian Bach. By his first wife he had seven children, of whom two, Wilhelm Friedemann and Karl Philipp Emanuel, achieved international celebrity. By his second wife he had thirteen children, of whom two, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian, became prominent in music. Johann Christoph Friedrich begot a minor composer, Wilhelm Fried-rich Ernst Bach, so that Johann Sebastian gave the world five men who secured a place in music history. A distant relative, Johann Ernst Bach, studied with the master at Leipzig, became Kapellmeister at Weimar, and left several compositions to oblivion.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was born at Weimar. The first part of his father’s Wohltemperirte Klavier was written for his instruction. He progressed rapidly, and was already a composer at sixteen. At twenty-three he was appointed organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden; and as his duties there were light, he wrote several sonatas, concertos, and symphonies. He rose in stipend and fame by being chosen (1746) organist at the Liebfrauen-kirche in Halle. There he remained eighteen years; so he came to be called the “Halle Bach.” He loved drink only next to music; he resigned in 1764, and for twenty years he drifted from town to town, living literally from hand to mouth by giving recitals and taking pupils. In 1774 he settled in Berlin, where he died in poverty in 1784.
Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach was lefthanded, and so had to confine his musical performance to the organ and the piano. In 1734, aged twenty, he entered the University of Frankfurt; there he enjoyed the friendship of Georg Philipp Telemann, who had been one of his godfathers and had given him part of his name. In 1737 he played some of his compositions before an audience that included Frederick William I of Prussia. Knowing that Crown Prince Frederick loved music, he went to Rheinsberg and presented himself, with no immediate result; but in 1740 Frederick, now king, appointed him cembalist in the chapel orchestra at Potsdam. He found it irritating to accompany Frederick’s temperamental flute and to accept his royal authority in music. After sixteen years of service in the orchestra he retired to specialize in teaching. His Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen (1753 f.) marked the beginning of modern pianoforte technique; Haydn formed his piano artistry on this manual, and because of it Mozart said of this “Berlin Bach”: “He is the father, we are his boys (Buben); those of us who know anything correctly have learned from him, and any [student! who does not confess this is a rascal [Lump]”108 In his compositions Emanuel consciously diverged from his father’s contrapuntal style to a simpler homophonic treatment and melodic line. In 1767 he accepted the post of director of church music at Hamburg; there he spent the remaining twenty-one years of his life. In 1795 Haydn came to Hamburg to see him, only to find that the greatest of Johann Sebastian’s sons was seven years dead.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, after studying with his father and at the University of Leipzig, became at eighteen (1750) Kammermusikus at Bücke-burg to Wilhelm, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe; at twenty-six he was Kon-zertmeister. The great event in his twenty-eight years at this court was the coming of Herder (1771) as preacher; Herder provided him with inspiring texts for oratorios, cantatas, and songs. Johann Christoph followed his father’s methods and spirit, and was lost in the changefulness of time.
In contrast, the youngest son, Johann Christian Bach, gave his musical allegiance to Italy. Only fifteen when his father died, he was sent to Berlin, where his half-brother Wilhelm Friedemann gave him support and instruction. At nineteen he went to Bologna, where Conte Cavaliere Agostino Litta paid for his studies under Padre Martini. The youth was so charmed by Italian life and Catholic music that he became a convert, and for six years devoted his compositions chiefly to the Church. In 1760 he was made organist in the Milan cathedral, and became the “Milan Bach.” Meanwhile Italian opera had aroused his ambition to excel in secular as well as ecclesiastical music; he produced operas at Turin and Naples (1761), and his Milan employers complained that thegalanterie of these compositions discorded with his position in the cathedral. Johann Christian changed his foot of earth to London (1762), where his operas had unusually long runs. Soon he was appointed music master to Queen Charlotte Sophia. He welcomed the seven-year-old Mozart to London in 1764, and frolicked with him at the piano. The boy loved the now fully accomplished musician, and took many hints from him in composing sonatas, operas, and symphonies. In 1778 Bach went to Paris to present hisAmadis des Gaules;there he again met Mozart, and the youth of twenty-two was as delighted with him as he had been fifteen years before. “He is an honest man, and does people justice,” Wolfgang wrote to his father; “I love him from my heart.”109
All in all, this Bach dynasty, from the Veit Bach who died in 1619 to the Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach who died in 1845, is the most remarkable in cultural history. Of some sixty Bachs known by name among the relatives of Johann Sebastian, fifty-three were professional musicians; eight of his ancestors and five of his progeny were of sufficient caliber to warrant special articles in a dictionary of music.110 Several of the sons won greater fame and reputation in their lifetimes than Johann Sebastian had enjoyed. Not that they monopolized musical fame; the executants, as usual, received the greater acclaim when alive, and were sooner forgotten when dead; and composers like Karl Friedrich Fasch and Christian Friedrich Schubart rivaled Bach’s sons in renown.
Looking back upon this second half of the eighteenth century we perceive some special lines of musical evolution. The growing range and power of the piano freed music from subservience to words, and encouraged instrumental compositions. The widened audience for concerts, and the lessening of ecclesiastical dominance, led composers away from the polyphony of Johann Sebastian Bach to the more easily appreciated harmonies of his successors. The influence of Italian opera made for melody even in instrumental pieces, while, by a contrasting movement, the lieder gave a new complexity to song. The revolt against Italian opera culminated in Gluck, who proposed to subordinate music to drama, but rather ennobled drama with music; by another avenue the revolt developed the Singspiel, which reached its peak in The Magic Flute. The concerto grosso passed into the concerto for one solo instrument and orchestra; the sonata, in Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Haydn, took its classic form, and the quartet evolved into the symphony. Everything was prepared for Beethoven.