Musical Legacies Converge: “The Spirit of Vivaldi at the Deathbed of Bach”

ByQuyen Anne

Jul 30, 2023

“The spirit of Vivaldi at the deathbed of Bach”. Both of them died in the same month and on the same day – the 28th of July, 9 years apart.

As Bach approached the final years of his life, he persevered in crafting some of his most renowned and demanding masterpieces. In 1749, he completed the Mass in B minor, and in 1747, he presented the world with the Musical Offering. Additionally, he embarked on the monumental task of composing ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ (‘The Art of Fugue’, BWV 1080), a grand opus that regrettably remained unfinished at the time of his passing.

r/lingling40hrs - "The spirit of Vivaldi at the deathbed of Bach" (Both of them died in the same month and on the same day - the 28th of July, 9 years apart). I found this on Deviant Art and immediately wanted to share this masterpiece with you all. The author is Rossi-Rosedeni.

In his later years, Bach resided in Leipzig, where he occupied newly refurbished apartments at the Thomasschule. He frequently hosted gatherings of musicians from all corners of Europe in his spacious music room, equipped with six claviers. His musical eminence drew countless visitors, and his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, affirmed that any significant musician passing through Leipzig would pay their respects to his father.

In 1747, Bach had a momentous encounter when he visited the court of King Frederick II of Prussia in Potsdam. The king presented a theme to Bach and challenged him to an improvisational duel. Bach astounded the king by transforming the original melody into a remarkable three-part masterpiece. This encounter inspired Bach to create the Musical Offering, a composition encompassing fugues, canons, and a trio, all based on the king’s theme.

Despite his failing eyesight around 1749, Bach continued to compose diligently in a darkened room. In the face of potential blindness, the Leipzig Council sought a successor for him. Trusting an English eye specialist, John Taylor, who had previously operated on Handel, Bach underwent two cataract surgeries in March and April 1750. Unfortunately, an infection ensued, leading to a decline in his health.

Even amid failing health, Bach persevered in his musical endeavors. He crafted his last choral fantasia, “Before The Throne O Lord I Stand,” and worked on a fugue featuring the B-A-C-H musical theme (B flat, A natural, C, and B natural, in German notation).

On the fateful day of July 28, 1750, Bach awoke with restored vision but soon after suffered a stroke and a high fever. That evening, just before 9 o’clock, at the age of 65, he passed away. Bach was laid to rest in St. John’s Cemetery without a tombstone. Eventually, his remains were relocated to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, where they find their final resting place. His timeless compositions and indelible impact on music ensure that his legacy will forever resonate with generations to come.

Vivaldi Dies On ‘Black Day’ of July 28

Antonio Vivaldi- The Great Musician And a Teacher – WeGotGuru

July 28, 1741 — Italian composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi died on this day. Lovers of Baroque music came to regard July 28 as a black day because the other master of the form, Johann Sebastian Bach, departed precisely nine years later – on July 28, 1750. By coincidence, both men were born in the month of March.

Born in Venice in 1678, Vivaldi was the son of a professional violinist. He began studying to become a priest at the age of 15 and was ordained ten years later. Because of his red hair he was known locally as “il Prete Rosso,” – “the Red Priest.” His twin passions of religion and music dominated his life, but health problems impacted both.

Though – thanks to his father’s teaching – Vivaldi was an accomplished violinist, a severe asthmatic condition often left him chronically short of breath and so unable to play wind instruments. It also meant that he could not deliver mass – a problem that caused him to abandon the priesthood shortly after his ordination.

But it did not stop him from becoming, at the age of 25, master of violin at the Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice. This was partly an orphanage where boys were taught a trade and girls learnt music. The most talented of them joined an orchestra that played Vivaldi’s compositions, and in 1716 he was promoted to music director. Over the next thirty years he composed most of his major works while working at the orphanage.

Vivaldi was aged 48 when a pretty 15-year-old contralto named Anna Girò sang in one of his operas. Her voice was unremarkable but she became part of his entourage and the indispensable prima donna of his subsequent operas. Inevitably, gossip began circulating that she was Vivaldi’s mistress, but it was never proven. After his death she continued to perform successfully in opera until quitting the stage in 1748 to marry a nobleman.

Around 1717 to 1721, Vivaldi wrote his masterpiece, “The Four Seasons”, for which he is probably best known. However, in his later years he was eclipsed by younger composers and more modern styles. Changing musical tastes meant that his compositions seemed outmoded and were no longer held in high esteem.

The result was that Vivaldi was engulfed by financial difficulties and died in poverty at Vienna of “internal infection.” Aged 63, he was buried in a simple grave after a funeral service conducted without music.

Vivaldi left some 450 unpublished compositions, a number of which, amazingly, were not performed until the 1990s.

Vivaldi and Bach
All musical thoughts are cumulative

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Vivaldi and Bach never met! While the Italian master led the life of an international jetsetter, racing from one lucrative appointment to the next, Bach never strayed far away from home. Although Vivaldi came in contact with a variety of national musical styles, his music was little affected by his travels. On the other hand, Bach was content to live and work in his native community, and never ventured beyond North-German borders. This self-imposed isolation meant that Bach had to patiently wait until a particular repertory or musical style, originating in different European regions, became available at his place of work. When Bach moved to Weimar in 1708 to take up the position of organist at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, everything was abuzz with the music of Antonio Vivaldi. Always an enthusiastic student, and eager to please his employer, Bach went to work and transcribed at least nine concertos of Vivaldi, three for solo organ (BWV 593-4, 596), and six for solo harpsichord (BWV 972-3, 975-6, 978, 980).

Johann Sebastian Bach: Organ Concerto in A minor, BWV 593 after Vivaldi RV 522

Antonio Vivaldi: Double Concerto in A minor, Op. 3 No. 8, RV 522

The importance of Bach’s confrontation with Vivaldi’s music should not be underestimated. In fact, scholars have suggested that it presented the strongest single development towards Bach’s personal musical style. His musical language acquired its enduring quality and unmistakable identity through the careful blending of Italian mannerisms with complex counterpoint. In simple terms, Bach saw music as an intellectual pursuit, while Vivaldi was primarily concerned with how the music sounded. Counterpoint and all-pervasion motivic relationships in the service of god on one hand, and aural surfaces that conveyed vivid emotionality on the other. However, both men acquired great fame for their mastery of their favorite instruments. Bach was considered an incomparable organist whose improvisations were celebrated beyond German borders. And although Vivaldi was internationally known as a composer, his enduring fame came from being a violin virtuoso. When Bach went to work on the “Vivaldi Transcriptions,” he fully respected the original compositions. Reluctant to introduce any structural alterations, he even literally transferred passages idiomatic to the violin. However, by filling out the parts with small canons, motivic references and rapid bass passages, Bach made sure that his personal musical signature would be instantly recognizable.

While the Vivaldi organ transcriptions are clearly not Bach’s greatest works for keyboard, they give testimony to the composer’s heightened interest in the Italian style. And when he accepted an appointment as Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen, he finally had the opportunity to put Vivaldi’s influence to practical use. In the Brandenburg Concertos, for example, Bach could have adopted the Corelli model by stringing together a number of short movements of contrasting characters. Instead, he elected to appropriate the compact and symmetrical model, including the idiomatic ritornello scheme practiced by Vivaldi. Take the Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042 for example, with the ritornello to the opening movement immediately disclosing Vivaldi’s influence. The opening hammer strokes give rise to a clearly defined rhythmic and melodic contour that seamlessly leads into a delightful sequence of harmonic modulations. Retaining the sharp outline of outer parts, the ritornello concludes with a playful and dynamically contrasting cadential section. If ever there was any doubt, the E-major Solo Concerto provides the sounding testament to corroborate the assessment of Johann Nicolas Forkel—Bach’s first biographer—that Vivaldi taught Bach to think musically!

Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042

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