Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work (Annotated)

Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art, and Work (Annotated)

by Johann Nikolaus Forkel

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Composers - Germany - Biography
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750


[pg ix]
Johann Nikolaus Forkel, author of the monograph of which the following pages afford a translation, was born at Meeder, a small village in Saxe-Coburg, on February 22, 1749, seventeen months before the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose first biographer he became. Presumably he would have followed the craft of his father, the village shoemaker, had not an insatiable love of music seized him in early years. He obtained books, and studied them with the village schoolmaster. In particular he profited by the "Vollkommener Kapellmeister" of Johann Mattheson, of Hamburg, the sometime friend of Handel. Like Handel, he found a derelict Clavier in the attic of his home and acquired proficiency upon it. Forkel's professional career, like Bach's half a century earlier, began at Lüneburg, where, at the age of thirteen (1762), he was admitted to the choir of the parish church. Thence, at the age of seventeen (1766), he proceeded to Schwerin as "Chorpräfect," and enjoyed the favour of the Grand Duke. Three years later he betook himself (1769), at the age of twenty, to the University [pg x] of Göttingen, which he entered as a law student, though a slender purse compelled him to give music lessons for a livelihood. He used his opportunity to acquire a knowledge of modern languages, which stood him in good stead later, when his researches required him to explore foreign literatures. Concurrently he pursued his musical activities, and in 1774 published at Göttingen his first work, Ueber die Theorie der Musik, advocating the foundation of a music lectureship in the University. Four years later (1778) he was appointed its Director of Music, and from 1779 to 1815 conducted the weekly concerts of the Sing-Akademie. In 1780 he received from the University the doctorate of philosophy. The rest of his life was spent at Göttingen, where he died on March 17, 1818, having just completed his sixty-ninth year.

That Forkel is remembered at all is due solely to his monograph on Bach. Written at a time when Bach's greatness was realised in hardly any quarter, the book claimed for him pre-eminence which a tardily enlightened world since has conceded him. By his generation Forkel was esteemed chiefly for his literary activity, critical ability, and merit as a composer. His principal work, Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik, was published in two volumes at Leipzig in 1788 and 1801. Carl Friedrich Zelter, Goethe's friend and correspondent, dismissed the book contemptuously as that of [pg xi] an author who had "set out to write a history of music, but came to an end just where the history of music begins." Forkel's work, in fact, breaks off at the sixteenth century. But the curtailed History cleared the way for the monograph on Bach, a more valuable contribution to the literature of music. Forkel already had published, in three volumes, at Gotha in 1778, his Musikalisch-kritische Bibliothek, and in 1792 completed his critical studies by publishing at Leipzig his Allgemeine Literatur der Musik.

Forkel was also a student of the music of the polyphonic school. He prepared for the press the scores of a number of sixteenth century Masses, Motets, etc., and fortunately received proofs of them from the engraver. For, in 1806, after the Battle of Jena, the French impounded the plates and melted them down. Forkel's proofs are still preserved in the Berlin Royal Library. He was diligent in quest of Bach's scattered MSS., and his friendship with Bach's elder sons, Carl Philipp Emmanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, enabled him to secure precious relics which otherwise might have shared the fate of too many of Bach's manuscripts. He took an active interest in the proposal of Messrs. Hoffmeister and Kühnel, predecessors ..

Product Details

BN ID: 2940162838135
Publisher: CASTILLO
Publication date: 06/04/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 3 MB

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