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Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and unusual spelling in the original document have been preserved. A small number of musical symbols (flat, sharp and natural) have been transliterated for this document. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document.
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BY FRANCIS JAMESON ROWBOTHAM AUTHOR OF 'STORY-LIVES OF GREAT AUTHORS,' 'TALES FROM PLUTARCH,' ETC.
NEW YORK FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY PUBLISHERS
TO THE MEMORY OF FREDERICK WESTLAKE, R.A.M.
Following the plan of his previous volume of Great Authors, the writer has here endeavoured to weave into more or less story form a few of the facts and incidents in the lives of some great musicians. It is hoped that young readers—and especially those to whom music is a subject of study—will take a greater interest in some of the masterpieces of composition when they have learnt something about the composers themselves, and the circumstances under which they wrote.
The author desires to express his acknowledgments for the assistance he has derived from the following works:
Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians; Bitter's Life of Sebastian Bach (translated by J.E. Kay-Shuttleworth); Rockstro's Life of George Frederick Handel; Williams's Handel in 'The Master Musicians'; Townsend's Haydn in 'The Great Musicians'; Jahn's W.A. Mozart (translated by P.D. Townsend); Schindler's Life of Beethoven; Nohl's Life of Beethoven; von Hellborn's Franz Schubert (translated by A.D. Coleridge); Benedict's Sketch of the Life and Works of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy; Hensel's The Mendelssohn Family; Hiller's Mendelssohn: Letters and Recollections; Devrient's Recollections of F.M. Bartholdy (translated by C.N. Macfarren).
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
GAZING AT ITS COVERS THROUGH THE LATTICE DOORS OF THE CUPBOARD 4
BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON HE BEGAN HIS TASK 9
CHRISTOPH SEIZED THE MANUSCRIPT BOOK AND THE COPY 10
DURING THE WINTER MONTHS THE SCHOLARS WERE SENT OUT TO SING IN THE STREETS 12
THE KING EXCLAIMED REPEATEDLY: 'ONLY ONE BACH! ONLY ONE BACH!' 30
HANDEL'S BIRTHPLACE, HALLE, SAXONY 38
BECKONED SILENTLY TO THE REST TO FOLLOW HIM 41
HE CALLED TO THE COACHMAN TO STOP 44
THE DUKE PRAISED HIS PERFORMANCE 46
A RESORT TO SWORDS 55
A GRAND PROCESSION OF DECORATED BARGES FROM WHITEHALL TO LIMEHOUSE 63
THE STROKES OF HIS HAMMER ON THE ANVIL KEPT TIME TO HIS SONG 66
'DID NOT YOU SAY YOU COULD SING AT SIGHT?' 'YES, SIR, BUT NOT AT FIRST SIGHT!' 76
HE WAS IMITATING THE PLAYING OF A VIOLIN 94
ST. STEPHEN'S CATHEDRAL, VIENNA 101
HE MANAGED TO SAVE SUFFICIENT TO PURCHASE TWO VOLUMES 104
THE TANTALISING PIGTAIL 109
'WHOSE MUSIC IS THAT WHICH YOU WERE PLAYING JUST NOW?' 117
HAYDN ENJOYED HIS FIRST SIGHT OF THE WAVES 133
LISSON GROVE A CENTURY AGO 135
HAYDN'S EYES FILLED WITH TEARS 145
HE PAID NO HEED TO THE ENTRY OF A SERVANT 152
THEY REMAINED STANDING, ROOTED TO THE SPOT 160
PLAYED BEFORE THE COURT AT VERSAILLES 164
CHELSEA AT THAT TIME WAS A RIVERSIDE VILLAGE 167
THE CARRIAGE WHICH WAS TO CONVEY THE TRAVELLERS DREW UP AT THE DOOR 188
'THERE IS THE DOOR!' 199
'NOW THEN, LUDWIG, TIME FOR PRACTICE!' 220
'PAY ATTENTION TO THIS YOUNG MAN, FOR HE WILL MAKE A NOISE IN THE WORLD SOME DAY' 228
SEATED BEFORE AN OLD, WORN-OUT PIANO 230
HAYDN PRAISED THE COMPOSITION HIGHLY 233
TAKING HIS HAND, TURNED HIM ROUND TO THE AUDIENCE 255
THEY INDULGED IN JOKES AT THE EXPENSE OF THE SPECTACLED BOY 273
HIS CLEVER PLAYING ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF THE LEADER 275
MANY EVENINGS WERE PASSED IN MUSICAL ENJOYMENT 282
THEY FOUND SCHUBERT HARD AT WORK 291
SCHUBERT FLED FROM THE ROOM 302
'HERE IS A GENTLEMAN WHO KNOWS ALL ABOUT THE NEW OPERA' 325
THE TUTOR'S CARRIAGE MET THEM 330
'THE SUCCESS WAS BEYOND WHAT I COULD HAVE DREAMED' 348
'WOULD NOT THAT BE SPLENDID FOR AN ORATORIO!' 362
STORY-LIVES OF GREAT MUSICIANS
'Christoph, I wish you would let me have that book of manuscript music which you have in your cupboard—the one which contains pieces by Pachelbel, and Frohberger, and Buxtehude, and ever so many others—you know which I mean. I will take such care of it if you will only lend it to me for a little while.'
Christoph was about to leave the room, but he turned sharply to his little brother as the latter put his request.
'No, Sebastian, I will certainly not lend you the book, and I wonder that you have the impertinence to ask me such a thing! The idea of your thinking that you could study such masters as Buxtehude and Frohberger—a child like you! Get on with what I have set you to learn, and do not let me hear any more of such fancies!'
With that Christoph shut the door behind him, and Sebastian was left to ponder sadly upon his elder brother's harshness in refusing to accede to his simple request. The disappointment was very keen, for little Sebastian had been longing to get possession of that precious volume. For several days past he had spent hours in his brother's absence gazing at its covers through the lattice doors of the cupboard, and feasting his eyes upon the names of the musicians which were written on the back in bold letters in Christoph's hand.
What harm could there be in his trying to play the works of those masters? It seemed so unreasonable to the ten-year-old child, for he was passionately fond of music, and exceedingly quick at learning; yet Christoph persistently kept him to simple pieces such as he could master without the slightest difficulty, and which, therefore, afforded him no gratification whatever. He longed to be studying more advanced works, and there were times when this longing seemed insupportable—when the soul of this earnest child-musician rose in revolt against the tyrannical treatment of his elder brother. Christoph's lack of appreciation of Sebastian's capacity and gift for music was, moreover, so marked as to crush the feelings of love and respect which otherwise would have found a place in Sebastian's heart for the brother whom the sad circumstances of his childhood had made his guardian.
Johann Sebastian Bach, as the young musician was named, was an orphan. Ten years before the period at which our story opens—on March 21, 1685—he had first seen the light in the long, low-roofed cottage, which is still standing in the little German town of Eisenach, nestling at the foot of the wooded heights which form part of the romantically beautiful district of the Thuringer Wald. It is a country abounding in legendary lore, which, taking its birth from the recesses of the interminable forest, and perpetuated in ballad, has for ages found a home in the sequestered valleys lying locked between the hills. On one of the latter, overlooking the town, stands the Wartburg, in which Luther made his home, and where he translated the Bible into the German tongue.
Sebastian's father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, organist of Eisenach, was the descendant of a long race of musicians of the name who had followed music not merely as a means of livelihood, but with the earnest desire of furthering its artistic aims. For close upon two hundred years before Sebastian was born the family of Bach had thus laboured to develop and improve their art in the only direction in which it was practised in the Germany of those days—namely, as a fitting accompaniment to the simple, but deeply devotional, services of the Lutheran Church. So greatly had the influence of this ancient and closely-united family made itself felt in regard to church music that at Erfurt, where its members had practised the art for generations, all musicians were known as 'the Bachs,' although no Bach had actually resided in the town for many years.
That Sebastian should have shown a fondness for music at a very early age is not, therefore, to be wondered at; but, beyond learning the violin from his father, he had not progressed far in his studies when, in his tenth year, he found himself bereft of both his parents and taken into the charge of his brother Christoph, who filled the post of organist at the neighbouring town of Ohrdruff. Christoph, who was fourteen years older than Sebastian, possessed nothing more than an ordinary amount of talent for music, and in addition lacked the sense to appreciate the gift which his little brother at once began to display in response to his teaching. To give Sebastian lessons on the clavier and send him to the Lyceum to learn Latin and singing and other school subjects seemed to Christoph to comprise the full extent of his responsibilities; but that Sebastian possessed genius which called for sympathy and encouragement at his hands appears only to have aroused in him a feeling of coldness and indifference, amounting at times to stern repression.
Beneath this shadow of ill-feeling Sebastian suffered in silence, but, fortunately, the force of his genius was too strong to be crushed, and the spirit which was lacking in his brother's lessons he supplied for himself. The injustice of the denial with which Christoph had met his request for the loan of the manuscript music-book had fired him with the determination to possess himself of the treasure at all costs, and even the drudgery of playing over and over again pieces which he already knew by heart appeared to him in the new light of stepping-stones to the attainment of his cherished desire. Yet for some time it was difficult to see how the book was to be abstracted without his brother's knowledge.
One night, long after the other inmates of the house had retired, Sebastian stood at the open casement of his chamber, buried in thought. The moon was flooding the valley with her silvery light, rendering the most distant objects clear and distinct, and throwing into still deeper shadow the sombre hills which encompassed the town. But the boy had no thoughts to bestow upon the music of the scene thus spread before his eyes; his mind was absorbed by a great project which he was resolved upon carrying out that night, and to which the presence of the moon lent a promise of success. Perfect stillness reigned in the house, and Sebastian, deeming that the opportune moment had arrived for embarking upon his venture, closed the casement and crept softly downstairs to the parlour.
The moonlight shining into the room revealed the position of every object, and a glance sufficed to show him that the treasure he sought was in its accustomed place, but the cupboard, of course, was locked. He squeezed his little hands through the lattice-bars, and after much effort managed to reach the manuscript book. To draw it towards him required even more dexterity, but at length that was accomplished; and then came the crowning feat—to get it through the bars. During this time Sebastian had been tormented by fears lest his brother should have discovered his absence from his bedroom, and nothing but his firm determination to accomplish his purpose prevented him from quitting the room and returning to his bed.
For a long time his efforts to pull the book through the bars were in vain, but after trying each bar in turn he found one which was weaker than the rest, and having brought the book to this spot, he succeeded at last in forcing a passage for it by bending the bar, and the coveted volume was freed from its prison!
Breathless with exertion and excitement, the child hugged his treasure to his breast and stole back to his chamber. On gaining this haven of safety, he listened for some time to ascertain whether his movements had aroused the household, but finding that everything remained as silent as before, he drew a chair to the little table before the window, and by the light of the moon, which still streamed into the room, he feasted his eyes upon the pages before him. Then, taking his pen and some manuscript music-paper with which he had provided himself, he began his task of copying out the pieces contained in the book.
An hour or more slipped away in this absorbing occupation, and it was not until the moon had shifted her position, so that her rays no longer afforded the necessary light, that Sebastian ceased to ply his pen. Then, having hidden the book away and removed all traces of his work, the now wearied little musician sought his pillow and fell fast asleep.
This was but the beginning of endless nights of toil pursued whilst the house lay hushed in slumber. For six months, whenever the moon sent her friendly rays through his casement, did Sebastian prosecute his task, until the night arrived when he found himself at the last page. The fear of discovery had ceased to haunt him as time went on, and now he could only reflect with joy at the accomplishment of his long task, and creep into bed utterly unmindful of everything else—even of the precaution of putting his work out of sight!
Alas, for poor Sebastian! he was to pay dearly for this act of forgetfulness. As he lay sleeping—his dreams filled with the realization of the fruits of his untiring industry—the books lying open on the table where he had left them, and the moonbeams falling gently on the page whereon his fingers had traced those last passages but a few minutes before, the door opened, and a figure stole softly into the room. It was Christoph himself, who, fancying he heard sounds proceeding from Sebastian's chamber, had come to seek the cause. His glance fell upon the open books. With a stride he was at the table, bending over them. The next moment he raised his head and darted an angry glance at the child's sleeping figure. But Sebastian only smiled, and murmured something in his sleep, and the elder brother turned once more to examine the writing. As he scanned the pages which witnessed Sebastian's heart-work throughout those long months his face hardened. There was no pity in his breast for the child who had thus displayed his devotion to the art which he himself must have loved after his own fashion—no sympathy for one who had spent so many hours snatched from sleep in acquiring that which he, Christoph, had had it in his power to bestow as a free gift—only anger and jealousy at the thought that he had been outwitted by his little brother. With his mouth curved into a cruel smile, Christoph seized the manuscript book and the copy, and, taking them from the room, hid them away in a new place where Sebastian could not possibly find them.
It was well for Sebastian that his love of music enabled him to overcome the bitter disappointment occasioned by his brother's cruelty, and so to continue the struggle for knowledge in the face of such terrible odds. But there was one thing which served to comfort him in his hour of trial, and of which Christoph was powerless to rob him, and that was the memory of the beautiful music he had copied with such infinite pains. This in itself must have been a resource of priceless value to him in helping him to bear with his brother's oppression.
A new life opened for Sebastian when, at the age of fifteen, he quitted his brother's roof and, with a school-fellow from Ohrdruff, entered the Michael Gymnasium, or Latin School, attached to the Church of St. Michael at Lueneburg. The discovery that he possessed a beautiful soprano voice gave him a place at once amongst those scholars who were selected to sing the principal parts in the Church services in return for a free education. Lueneburg possessed two schools, attached respectively to the Churches of St. Michael and St. John, and the rivalry between the two was so keen that when, as was the custom during the winter months, the scholars were sent out to sing in the streets in order to collect money for their support, the respective routes to be traversed had to be carefully marked out so as to prevent a collision.
Bach had not been long at St. Michael's, however, ere his wonderful voice, which had attracted much attention at the services of the church, began to break; but, fortunately, his knowledge of the violin and clavier enabled him to retain his place in the school and to enjoy the educational advantages which it offered. He was working hard at his musical studies, spending a portion of each day in the convent library, where the works of the best composers were to be found. But all his thoughts and aspirations were beginning to centre themselves upon the instrument which, before all others, had the power to stir his musical soul to its depths. His love for the organ soon developed into a passion which overcame every obstacle offered to its gratification. The extremes of hunger and bodily fatigue were alike powerless to restrain his desire to study the capacities of the organ as these were brought forth by the ablest hands. His poverty forbade the hope of his receiving instruction on the instrument, though later on he gained much valuable help from his friendship with the organist of St. John's Church at Lueneburg. In those early days, however, Bach was almost entirely self-dependent—a penniless scholar, fortunate in finding his services rewarded by the plainest and meagrest of fare, yet swayed and urged forwards by a fixed determination to conquer and attain the knowledge upon which he had set his hopes.
Hamburg, which in those days merited the description applied to it of the 'Paradise of German music,' is situated at a distance of about twenty-five English miles from Lueneburg; but when Bach was told that the renowned Johann Adam Reinken, the 'father of German organists,' played the organ at St. Katherine's Church in the city, he seized the first opportunity that presented itself of tramping the whole way thither in order to hear him. With Bach to listen was to learn; but to enjoy this privilege he had to secrete himself in a corner of the church where he could not be seen, for he had been warned that such great players as Reinken resented the intrusion of strangers whilst they were practising.
The deep joy of listening to such a master must have seemed to Sebastian a fitting reward for his long tramp, and we may picture him on his homeward journey, weary and footsore, but with his mind stored with the memories of what he has heard. This visit to Hamburg was the precursor of many others, though, of course, such expeditions could only be undertaken when, by means of street singing, or in some other way, he had contrived to save a few shillings to pay for food and lodging. But he often went short of food rather than deprive himself of a chance of hearing his beloved Reinken. On one occasion he had yielded to the temptation of lingering at Hamburg until his funds were almost exhausted, and he was confronted by the prospect of a long walk with no means of satisfying his hunger until he reached the end of his journey. Nevertheless, he set forth with a light heart, for his stock of knowledge had been greatly enriched by the prolonged visit, and, after all, what were five-and-twenty miles to the young musician, possessed of limbs replete with strength and a head full of glorious dreams?
He had not proceeded many miles, however, ere the keen wind made his want of food painfully apparent, and the music within him became drowned by the clamourings of Nature. At this juncture he found himself opposite a small hostelry, from the open door of which a most savoury odour was issuing—an odour so rich in the promise of all that he needed that it brought him to a standstill. The kitchen window was nigh, and he could not resist the temptation of peering into the room to ascertain what was in preparation. At that moment he heard a window above him thrown open, and a couple of herrings' heads were tossed into the road. Probably some benevolent guest, attracted by the youth's starving looks, had taken this means of bestowing upon him the remains of his repast. The herring was a favourite article of food in Germany, and poor Bach was only too glad to avail himself of this feeble chance of satisfying his cravings. But what was his astonishment, upon pulling the heads to pieces, to find that each contained a Danish ducat! The acquisition of so much wealth fairly took his breath away, and for a moment he almost forgot that he was famishing. On realising his good fortune, he lost no time in entering the inn and regaling himself at the expense of his unknown benefactor. The money did more than this, however, for it enabled him to reckon upon another visit to Hamburg in the near future.
That distance formed no obstacle to Bach's ardent desire to obtain knowledge is proved by the fact that he performed several journeys on foot to Celle, which was distant some forty-five English miles to the south of Lueneburg, in order that he might hear the band at the ducal Court. The Duke's musicians were chiefly Frenchmen, and French instrumental music formed the principal part of their work. There was but little opportunity in Germany of hearing this important branch of music, and Bach seized upon the first chance that presented itself. He was now making rapid progress with his studies, and his friendship with Boehm, the organist of St. John's Church at Lueneburg, was a great incentive to him in his love for the organ.
After remaining three years at the Lueneburg school, Bach obtained a post as violinist in the private band of Prince Johann Ernst, brother of the reigning Duke of Saxe-Weimar. This, however, was merely to fill up the time until he could secure an appointment in the direction in which his affections as well as his genius were guiding him. The opportunity for which he sought was not long in coming. A visit to the old Thuringian town of Arnstadt, in which three members of his family had successively filled the post of organist in past years, took him to the new church to inspect the organ which had just been erected by the consistory. Arnstadt, in fact, was one of the centres in which the influence of the Bach family had made itself felt, and whence several of its members had gone forth to other parts of the country. The savour of the former presence of the Bachs was still fresh in the minds of the townspeople; the consistory of the new church, moreover, were on the look out for a thoroughly capable organist, and Bach's request to be allowed to try the organ was, therefore, willingly granted.
No sooner had they heard him play than they offered him the post, and, furthermore, stated their willingness to augment the pay attached to it by a contribution from the town funds. Bach, therefore, found himself installed as organist with a salary of fifty florins, with, in addition, thirty thalers for board and lodging—equivalent in all to about eight pounds thirteen shillings of English money—a small enough salary indeed! but one which in those days was considered to be a fair emolument for the services of a young player. On August 14, 1703, Bach, who was then eighteen years old, entered upon his duties, having previously taken a 'solemn pledge of diligence and faithfulness, and all that appertaineth to an honourable servant and organist before God and the worshipful Corporation.'
The requirements of the post left him plenty of leisure in which to pursue his studies and improve his playing. Up to this point he had done very little in the shape of actual composition, his aim having been to perfect himself in a knowledge of the requirements of the instrument on which he had fixed his heart's choice, to which end he had spared no diligence in studying the works of the greatest masters. Now, however, he set about teaching himself the art of composition, for which purpose he took a number of concertos written for the violin by Vivaldi, and set them for the pianoforte. By this means he learnt to grasp the connection of musical ideas and the manner in which they should be worked out, and as this exercise implied the rewriting of many passages in order to adapt them for the piano, he gradually attained facility in expressing his own musical thoughts on paper without first playing them on an instrument. Thus, without assistance from anybody, he worked on alone, very often till far into the night, to perfect himself in this important branch of his art.
From the outset, however, his playing at the new church excited attention and admiration, and that it should, nevertheless, have failed to entirely satisfy the authorities was due, not to any lack of power, but simply to the extraordinary manner in which the services were accompanied. The fact is that Bach had no sooner seated himself at the organ than he straightway forgot that choir and congregation were depending upon him, and began to indulge his fancy to such lengths that the singing soon ceased altogether, and the people remained mute with astonishment and admiration. Naturally, these flights of genius were not exactly in accordance with the wishes of the consistory, who, moreover, saw little prospect of their choir becoming efficiently trained under the circumstances. Yet, notwithstanding there were frequent disputes between Bach and the elders of the church with regard to his vagaries, so marvellously were the authorities influenced by the power and beauty of his playing that they overlooked his faults for the sake of his genius.
That Bach must have tried their patience sorely cannot be denied. On one occasion, being specially desirous of visiting Luebeck, in order to hear the celebrated organist Buxtehude perform on the organ at the Marien-Kirche during Advent, he obtained a month's leave of absence for the purpose. Fifty miles lay between Arnstadt and the town which formed his destination, but Bach resolutely performed the entire journey on foot, so eager was he to profit by the playing of this master. Once at Luebeck, he became so wrapped up in the musical attractions of the town that he completely forgot his promise to return to his post until reminded by his empty purse of the fact that he could no longer prolong his stay. By this time he had gratuitously extended his leave from one month to three! Hence it is not surprising that on his return to Arnstadt the consistory should have expressed serious displeasure at his neglect. On the other hand, it affords a striking proof of the esteem in which his playing was held that the authorities should have allowed him to retain his post in spite of all that had happened.
It was not long before the services of the young musician were sought by the Church authorities of several important towns, whither the fame of his organ-playing had spread. He longed to find a wider scope wherein to prosecute his aims for raising the standard of Church music. Arnstadt had become too narrow for his desires, and, consequently, when, in 1707, he was offered the post of organist of St. Blasius', at Muehlhausen, near Eisenach, he accepted it at once. The invitation was coupled with a request that he would name his own salary—a compliment to his powers to which he modestly responded by fixing the sum at that which he had lately received; but, in addition to pay, his emolument comprised certain dues of corn, wood, and fish, to be delivered free at his door. His post at Arnstadt was filled by his cousin, Johann Ernst, to whom, as he was very poor, and had an aged mother and a sick sister to support, Bach generously handed over the last quarter's salary which was due to him on leaving.
With this improvement in his worldly prospects Bach deemed that he might prudently marry. He had been contemplating this step since the time, some months before, when he had incurred the displeasure of the Arnstadt authorities by introducing a 'stranger maiden' into the choir—a proceeding altogether contrary to rule, but one which, like the rest of his faults, was condoned for the sake of hearing him play. The 'stranger maiden' was no other than his cousin, Maria Barbara, the youngest daughter of Michael Bach, of Gehren, with whom he had fallen in love, and to whom he was married on October 17, 1707.
It was customary in those days for organists to maintain their instruments in repair, and Bach's first duty on entering upon his new post was to undertake some extensive alterations in the organ committed to his charge. The completion of these repairs, however, was left to his successor, for Bach did not retain his position at Muehlhausen for more than a year. He was filled with a desire to raise the standard of Church music, reverently desirous of clothing the old services in a new dress—one which should elevate the thoughts of the worshippers to a higher plane by giving to the words of Scripture a fuller and more sympathetic interpretation. In this longing for freedom from the old modes of Church music, by which, owing to the rigid simplicity of the Lutheran services, the truths of religion were trammelled and obscured, Bach hoped to have secured the support and sympathy of his congregation; but he soon found that his efforts were unappreciated. For us, who now see this longing for the first time clearly expressed in his life, and who know what important fruits it was destined to bear in the future, this stage in the career of Sebastian Bach possesses a peculiar interest. In his letter to the town council announcing his resignation he explains that he has 'always striven to make the improvement of Church music, to the honour of God, his aim,' but that he has met with opposition such as he sees no chance of being enabled to overcome in the future. Moreover, he states that, 'poor as is his mode of living, he has not enough to subsist on after paying his house-rent and other necessary expenses.'
The shortness of his means, with a wife and the near prospect of a family to provide for, no doubt had a good deal to do with Bach's decision to resign his post at St. Blasius' at once. He had, in fact, already received the offer of a more important engagement. An invitation to perform before Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar early in the year 1708 had been seized upon in the hope that it might lead to an appointment at the Court. The hope was not disappointed, for the Duke was so delighted with Bach's playing that he immediately offered him the post of Court and Chamber Organist. Bach had always been on the best of terms with the elders of St. Blasius' Church, however, and the separation was accompanied by marks of friendliness on both sides. Thus we see Bach acting once more on his own initiative—choosing his path deliberately as he saw the opportunity for furthering the great objects he had in view.
The wider scope for which he had been longing was now within his grasp, and from the date of his appointment at Weimar he began to compose those masterpieces for the organ which in after-years were to help to make his name famous. Hitherto we have followed the fortunes of Sebastian Bach as a zealous student, self-dependent, and almost entirely self-instructed as regards his art, battling against poverty with stolid indifference to the drawbacks and discomforts that fell to his share, unmindful of fatigue, seeking neither praise nor reward, but with his mind wholly set upon the accomplishment of his life-purpose—the furtherance of his beloved art. The promise of his childish days had been largely sown in sorrow and disappointment. He had not been hailed as a prodigy of genius. No crowd of wondering admirers had gathered to listen to his childish efforts, and to prognosticate for him the favours of fame and fortune in the near future. Not even his parents, loving him as they doubtless did, could have done more than dared to entertain the hope that he would do honour and credit to the musical name which he bore ere they sank into their untimely graves, and left him to fight the battle of life alone. No; the childhood and youth of Sebastian Bach were stages in the life of a genius which were entirely destitute of the advantages of either wealth or the patronage of the great, and as such they command our interest and respect.
Henceforth we have to picture Bach as settled in his Weimar home, no longer as a student, but as a player and composer whose fame was gradually spreading throughout the country. So rapid had his progress been both on the organ and the pianoforte that he was even led to overestimate his own powers, and one day remarked somewhat boastingly to a friend that he could play any piece, however difficult, at sight without a mistake. The friend, disbelieving his statement, invited him to breakfast shortly afterwards, and placed several pieces on the pianoforte, amongst them being one which, though apparently simple, was in reality extremely difficult. He then left the room to prepare breakfast, and Bach, seating himself at the instrument, began to play over the pieces. Coming to the difficult work, he struck into it very boldly, but after proceeding a little way he came to a stop, then tried it again from the beginning, and once more halted at the same place. His host then appeared bringing in the breakfast, and Bach, turning to him, exclaimed, 'You are right. One cannot play everything at sight—it is impossible!'
In August, 1712, Zachau, the organist of the Liebfrauen-Kirche at Halle, and Handel's old master, died, and Bach, whose knowledge and practical skill in the matter of organ construction had now become widely known, was asked to plan a new instrument for the church. He accordingly made his plans, and then, induced by the thought of having a fine organ under his control, he applied for the vacant post. The elders of the church, having heard a sacred cantata which he composed for the occasion performed under his direction in the following year, were most willing to accede to his application, but Bach, fearing that his independence would be threatened by the conditions attached to the position, withdrew at the last moment. Nevertheless, so great was the appreciation in which his abilities were held that when the new organ was completed he was invited to Halle for the purpose of inspecting it and testing its capabilities.
In 1714 Duke Wilhelm Ernst raised him to the position of Hof-Concertmeister—a step which afforded increased scope for the exercise of his powers. Every autumn for several years he utilised his leave of absence by journeying to the principal towns in order to give performances on the organ and clavier, by means of which his reputation was greatly enhanced. It was on one of these tours that he found himself in Dresden at a time when expectation was rife concerning the powers of a remarkable French player who had just arrived in the town. Jean Marchand, as the Frenchman was named, had achieved a great reputation in his own country, where, in addition to filling the post of organist to the King at Versailles, he was regarded as the most fashionable music-master of the day. His conceited and overbearing manners, however, had led to his banishment from the French Court, and he had undertaken a tour in Italy with triumphant success before coming to the German capital. Bach found everybody discussing the Frenchman's wonderful playing, and it was whispered that he had been already offered an appointment in Dresden. The friends of Bach insisted that he should engage Marchand forthwith in a contest in defence of the musical honour of his nation, and as Bach was by no means indisposed to pit himself against the conceited Frenchman, he gave his consent to the challenge being dispatched. Marchand, for his part, showed an equal readiness to meet Bach, foreseeing an easy victory over his antagonist. The King promised to grace the contest with his presence, and the time and place were duly fixed. It was agreed that the contestants were to set each other problems to be worked out on the piano, the victory to be adjudged by the connoisseurs who were present.
The day fixed for the trial arrived. A brilliant company assembled, and at the appointed time Bach made his appearance; but his adversary had not arrived. The audience awaited his coming for some time with impatience, and at length the news was brought that Marchand had left the city suddenly that morning! It transpired that on the previous day Bach had been performing on the organ in one of the principal churches of the town, and Marchand, attracted by the crowd, made his way into the building and listened to Bach's wonderful playing. So greatly had the music impressed him that, when he learnt who the player was, he began to tremble for his success at the coming contest. As the time approached his fears grew apace, and at length, without a word to anybody concerning his intentions, he fled from the city.
The year 1717, in which the above event took place, was marked by a further advancement in Bach's fortunes, for on his return from Dresden he was appointed Capellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen. His new position left him abundant leisure in which to follow the bent of his genius in regard to the composition of instrumental music, and many of his finest works were written at this time. His relations with the Prince were of the most cordial character. The latter was an enthusiastic lover of music, and on his frequent journeys to various towns in order to gratify his taste he insisted on having Bach as his travelling companion. Thus, for several years Bach continued to lead a life which in every respect brought him much happiness, and added not a little to his fame. Then a great sorrow befell him, for during one of these expeditions with the Prince, when, owing to their movements, he was unable to receive news from home, his wife died suddenly, and when he returned to Coethen it was to find the family plunged into grief, and the mother already buried.
The close of the year 1721 saw Bach married to his second wife, Anna Magdalena Wuelkens, a daughter of the Court trumpeter at Weissenfels. Anna Magdalena was in every way suited for the wife of a musician, for she had a deep love for music, in addition to possessing a beautiful voice. Moreover, as time went on, her reverence for her husband's genius, which she used every effort to promote and encourage, did not fail to make itself felt in influencing the musical tastes of her children.
Life, meanwhile, at the Court had not proceeded so happily for Bach as heretofore, and in the year of his marriage he made a journey to Hamburg with the object of competing for the post of organist at the Jacobi-Kirche. His playing on this occasion excited the greatest admiration, though, as a matter of fact, this was not the first time he had awakened the enthusiasm of Hamburg audiences by his performances; but the organ on which he now played was an exceptionally fine one, and responded so perfectly to his touch as to assist in imparting to his improvisation the character of an inspired performance. When the trial came to an end, every one present felt certain of the result. Not one of the competitors had approached Bach in feeling or execution. Yet, notwithstanding the popular verdict in his favour, the prize was snatched from him and given to another—younger, unknown, and even insignificant man, who, however, was enabled to offer four thousand marks for the position, whilst Bach could only present his genius.
Nevertheless, Bach, with his characteristic indifference to fortune, made no protest against this unfair treatment, but went quietly on with his work at Coethen, waiting for a fresh opportunity to present itself. He had now become personally known to the famous and aged organist of Hamburg, Reinken. At one of his visits he improvised on a theme composed by the master in the latter's presence, and when he had finished, Reinken seized him by the hand, and as he shook it exclaimed with emotion, 'I thought that this art was dead, but I see that it still lives in you!' This was the last meeting between Bach and the organist from whose playing he had derived so much profit, for shortly afterwards Reinken died at the age of ninety-nine, holding his post up to the last.
His life at Coethen was largely devoted to composition. His only pupils appear to have been his wife and his sons, in whose musical education he evinced the deepest interest, and for whose benefit he wrote many works, including several books of studies and his famous 'Art of Fugue.' Another of his great works, the 'Wohltemperirte Klavier' (Well-tempered Clavichord), better known in England under the title of 'The Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues,' was begun at this time. It is, perhaps, the most popular of all Bach's works, and the idea of writing it is said to have occurred to him whilst staying at a place where no musical instrument of any kind was available. That he should have sat down to write the first part of this monumental work (the second part was not completed until twenty years later) in a place where from sheer force of circumstances his fingers would otherwise have been condemned to idleness is not surprising when we consider the mental activity by which Bach's character was distinguished. He could not, in fact, be idle. When not playing, or composing, or teaching, he would often be found hard at work engraving his compositions on copper, or engaged in manufacturing some kind of musical instrument—at least two instruments are known to have been of his own inventing. The one idea which seems to have pervaded his whole life from beginning to end was to be of the greatest use to the greatest number of his fellow-creatures, and it was this noble purpose which was urging him at this time to discover a wider sphere of work. The Coethen post, while it gave him abundant leisure for composition, did not satisfy his longing to be of greater use in the furtherance of his art—a longing which can only be appreciated when we study the works which at this period were occupying his mind. Moreover, the Prince, who had recently married, no longer showed the same devotion to music as heretofore—a change of feeling that necessarily produced a corresponding slackening of the ties of friendship and interest which had formerly existed between the Prince and his Capellmeister. The opportunity which Bach sought came at length when, in 1723, he was appointed cantor of the Thomas-Schule at Leipzig, and director of the music in the Churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas in the town.
With this appointment Bach entered upon the final stage of his career, for he retained the Leipzig post until his death. The story of his connection with the Thomas-Schule is one that redounds to his honour, for, in spite of considerable opposition at the hands of the authorities, who failed to appreciate his genius and hampered his activity by petty restrictions and accusations; in spite, also, of the poverty of the material with which he was called upon to deal, he laboured unceasingly to raise the standard of efficiency in the scholars whose training was committed to his charge, and from whose ranks the choirs in the two churches under his control had to be furnished. Apart from his duties, however, those twenty-seven years of Leipzig work and intercourse are marked out for us as comprising the period during which he wrote and dedicated to the service of the Church those masterpieces of undying beauty—the Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John. In these works, and in the 'High Mass in B Minor,' which also belongs to this time, but more especially in the first-named work, we seem to witness the crowning-point of those generations of striving for the advancement of the art which have indissolubly linked the name of Bach with the history of music. Bach himself stood on the top step of the ladder: with him the vital forces of the race exhausted themselves; and further power of development stopped short.'
The life at Leipzig was distinguished by the simplicity which had always been Bach's chief characteristic. That he was imbued by deeply religious feelings is evidenced by the works to which we have just referred; his genius, in fact, found its highest and noblest expression in the interpretation of the spirit of the sacred writings. Next to his art—if, indeed, they can be considered apart—came his devotion to his family, in the training and welfare of whom he took an absorbing interest. Outside these twin centres of attraction he hardly ever ventured, and though his fame brought him notice, and to some extent honour as well, his desire for retirement became stronger as the years went on.
His modest, retiring disposition is well illustrated by an incident which marked the latter period of his busy life. His third son, Carl Philip Emanuel, had entered the service of Frederick the Great, and was acting as cembalist in the royal orchestra. His Majesty, who was exceedingly fond of music, and a considerable player on the flute, had repeatedly expressed a wish to see Bach, and from time to time sent messages to this effect to the old composer through the latter's son. Bach, however, intent upon his work, for a long time ignored these intimations of royal favour, until at length, in 1747, Carl brought to him an imperative demand from his royal master which Bach saw that he could not disobey without incurring the King's displeasure. Accordingly, he set out for Potsdam with his son Friedemann. The King was about to begin his evening music when a servant brought to him a list of the strangers who had arrived at the castle that day. Frederick glanced at the paper, and then turned to his musicians with a smile. 'Gentlemen,' said he, 'old Bach has come!' and down went his flute. Bach was immediately sent for—he had not time even to change his travelling-dress—and with many excuses he presented himself to the King. His Majesty received him with marked kindness and respect, and when the courtiers smiled at the old musician's embarrassment and his somewhat flowery speeches, Frederick frowned his disapproval. He then conducted Bach through the palace, showing him the various points of interest, and insisted on his trying his Silbermann pianofortes, of which he had quite a collection. Bach extemporised on each of the instruments, and then Frederick gave him a theme which he reproduced as a fantasia, to the astonishment of all present. The King next requested him to play a six-part fugue, and Bach extemporised one on a theme selected by himself. The King, who stood behind the composer's chair, clapped his hands with delight, and exclaimed repeatedly, 'Only one Bach! Only one Bach!' It was a visit replete with honours for the old master, and when he returned home he expressed his gratitude by writing down and elaborating the piece which he had composed on the King's theme, dedicating it to His Majesty under the title of 'Musikalisches Opfer' (Musical Offering), and sending it to Potsdam with a letter begging its acceptance.
Late in life, and just after he had completed his great work, 'The Art of Fugue,' Bach became totally blind—the result, no doubt, of the heavy strain to which he had subjected his sight when, in order to educate himself, he had copied out entire many of the works of older masters. Nor can we overlook the fact that, when a child, his sight must have been injured by the long, self-imposed task of copying music by moonlight. He suffered a great deal in consequence of the drugs which were administered in the hope of restoring his eye-sight, but, notwithstanding, he continued to work up to the last. On the morning of the day on which he died—July 28, 1750—he startled those about him by suddenly regaining his sight, 'but it was the last flickering of the expiring flame. He was allowed to see the light of this world once more before leaving it for ever.' A few hours later he became unconscious, and passed away in his sleep.
Considered apart from his works, the life of Sebastian Bach stands out as a noble example of untiring industry and perseverance; but we miss the brilliancy and fire which in the case of many other great musicians have served to render their lives so outwardly striking and marvellous. The genius of Bach was a mighty power working unseen, buried beneath a simple exterior. Unlike Handel, that other great master of his time with whom he has been so often compared, Bach lived a life of comparative retirement, never travelling beyond the confines of his own country, making no bid for popularity, and to the last remaining unaffected by praise or censure. All his life long he was seeking knowledge and truth, never contenting himself with a belief in his own unaided powers or judgment, but always showing the keenest interest in the progress of his art as evinced by the works of other musicians of his day. One little instance will serve, perhaps, to bring out clearly this marked difference between these two great men: Bach was truly desirous of making Handel's acquaintance, and tried on several occasions to gratify this wish. On the last occasion he travelled to Halle on learning that Handel was revisiting his birthplace from the scene of his triumphs in London, only to find on his arrival that his contemporary had departed for England earlier in the day. Handel, on the other hand, is not known to have expressed the least desire to meet the man whose fame rested upon so solid a foundation of excellence. The one was self-centred, the other wholly centred upon art for art's sake—yet both were great.
It is convenient to speak of Bach's life as having been divided into three stages or periods, each marked off from the rest by the nature of the works to which it gave birth. Thus, the Weimar period is that to which is assigned the major portion of his organ music. The Coethen period, on the other hand, produced few compositions for the organ, but was mainly devoted to instrumental chamber music; whilst to the Leipzig period belongs the production of nearly all his finest Church compositions.
Bach was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. John's Church at Leipzig, but neither stone nor cross exists to mark the spot. Only the register of deaths preserved in the town library remains to tell us that 'A man, aged sixty-seven, M. Johann Sebastian Bach, Musical Director and Singing Master of the St. Thomas School, was carried to his grave in the hearse, July 30, 1750.'
 The word 'fugue' is derived from the Latin fugare, 'to put to flight,' and aptly expresses the manner in which the various parts of a fugue, as they are successively introduced, seem to 'chase the subject, or motive, throughout the piece.'
 For an account of the revival of this great work, exactly one hundred years after its first production, see the story of Mendelssohn.
BACH'S PRINCIPAL COMPOSITIONS
Passion Music (St. John). 1724. Passion Music (St. Matthew), for double choir. 1729. Passion Music (St. Luke). 1734. Mass in B minor, 1732-1738. 4 Short Masses in F, A, G minor, and G. [These consist of settings of the Kyrie and Gloria only, being the parts sung in the Lutheran service.] 4 Sanctuses in C, D, D minor, and G. Magnificat in D. 1723. Funeral Ode. 1727. Christmas Oratorio, in six sections, for performance on successive days. 1734. Easter Oratorio. 1736. 191 Church Cantatas. 3 Wedding Cantatas. 6 Motets for five or eight voices. 22 Secular Cantatas. 371 Chorales for four voices, many of them taken from the works named above. [Of these compositions the Matthew Passion, the John Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, the Magnificat, the Motets, and 25 of the Church Cantatas have been printed with English words.] The Well-Tempered Clavier (48 Preludes and Fugues). } 1722-1744. } Klavier-Uebung, or Clavier Practice, in four parts. } 1731-1742. } Musicalisches Opfer (Musical Offering). 1747. } For clavier The Art of Fugue. 1749. } alone. Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue. } 6 Partitas. } 6 English Suites. } 6 French Suites. } 3 Sonatas for clavier and flute. 6 Sonatas and 1 Suite for clavier and violin. 3 Sonatas for clavier and viol da gamba. 7 Concertos for clavier and orchestra. 1 Concerto for clavier, violin, and flute. 6 Concertos ('Brandenburg Concertos') for several instruments. 2 Concertos for violin and orchestra. 1 Concerto for 2 violins. 3 Concertos for 2 claviers. 2 Concertos for 3 claviers. 3 Sonatas and 3 Partitas for violin alone. 6 Suites for violoncello. 3 Sonatas for flute. 4 Overtures. } 1 Symphony. } For orchestra. 6 Sonatas. } 18 Preludes and Fugues. } 3 Toccatas. } For organ. 113 Preludes. } 24 Chorales. }
In a garret choked with lumber of various kinds, to which the dust of years had imparted the greyish hue of neglect and decay, a little fair-haired boy was seated before a spinet, fingering its yellow keys with a tenderness that betokened his fondness for the instrument. The level rays of the setting sun streaming through the dimmed casement lighted up the child's head with its clustering curls, as he bent over the keyboard. The little spinet was almost dumb, and the voice which had cheered so many lonely hours spent in its companionship was hardly more than a whisper. Yet even so the boy loved to listen to it, for the spinet could speak to him as no living voice could speak; its sweet, faint sounds stirred the heart within him as nothing else in the whole of his childish world had the power to move it, awakening and creating fresh sounds that grew ever stronger as the hours flew by unheeded. To him the greatest joy of existence was to steal away to his garret next the sky and whisper his secrets to the friendly spinet.
George Frederick Handel, as the boy was named, was the son of a surgeon of Halle, Lower Saxony, in which town the child was born on February 23, 1685. Even before he could speak little George had shown a remarkable fondness for music, and the only toys he cared for were such as were capable of producing musical sounds. With this love for music, however, the father showed no sympathy whatever; he regarded the art with contempt, as something beneath the serious notice of one who aspired to be a gentleman, and that his child should have expressed an earnest desire to be taught to play only served to make him angry. He had decided that George was to be a lawyer, and in order that nothing should interfere with the carrying out of this intention he refused to allow the boy to attend school, lest his fondness for music should induce some one to teach him his notes. Poor George was therefore compelled to stifle his longing whilst in his father's presence, and content himself with 'making music' in the seclusion of his own chamber. It may seem strange that Handel's mother should not have interposed in order that her boy should be taught music, but there is no doubt that the elderly surgeon ruled his household with a firm hand, which not even his wife's intercession would have made him relax. Moreover, Dorothea Handel was by nature far too gentle and submissive to seek to turn her husband from his decision. 'Meister Goerge,' as he was styled, had been twice married. Dorothea, his second wife, was much younger than her husband, and possessed a gentle disposition that served to win her a place in the hearts of all who knew her, and that little George Frederick had his mother's sympathy in his love for music we cannot doubt.
Handel was about five years of age when the wistful glances which he bestowed upon other children who were more fortunate than he in being permitted to learn music aroused the active sympathy of a kind friend, who procured for him a dumb spinet—a small harpsichord having its sound deadened by strips of cloth tied round the strings. The instrument was secretly conveyed to a lumber-room in the surgeon's house, where a corner had been cleared for its reception, and thither would Handel delightedly repair at such times as he could do so without attracting notice. Hour after hour would pass whilst thus enrapt, until the shades of evening fell, or the moonbeams creeping across the instrument aroused him from his reverie. Often when the house was hushed in slumber the child would leave his bed, and steal away to the garret in order to commune with his beloved art. Day after day he laboured thus, mastering his difficulties one by one, his love and his genius preventing him from feeling the hardest work a drudgery.
For some time this secret practising continued without arousing suspicion on the part of the other inmates of the house. One night, however, when the child had resorted to his favourite spot, he was suddenly missed by those below, and, as it was known that he had been sent to bed, some fears were felt as to what could have become of him. The servants were summoned, but could give no account of him; the father was fetched from his study, whither he had retired, and a search began. The alarm increased when it was ascertained that the child was in none of the living-rooms of the house, and it was decided that the garrets and lofts must be searched. Calling for a lantern, the surgeon ascended the stairs leading to the lumber-room; it was possible that the boy might have found his way thither on some childish expedition, and there fallen asleep. Great was the father's surprise, on reaching the top-most landing, to hear faint musical sounds proceeding from behind the closed door. Noiselessly retracing his steps, he summoned the rest of the household, and then, ascending the stairs in a body, they paused outside to listen. Sure enough the old garret was full of melodic sounds! Now near, now far off, they seemed to the listeners to be wafted from another world; there was something uncanny about it, and the maids gazed into each other's faces with a scared expression, as the master softly lifted the latch, and, having peeped into the room, beckoned silently to the rest to follow him.
It might have been one of the angel choir itself whom these good people of the under-world had stumbled upon unawares! 'Meister Goerge,' lifting his lantern above his head, peered forward into the darkness, whilst the women clasped their hands in astonishment at the vision presented to their gaze. For there, seated before the spinet, was the white-robed figure of the child, his face half turned towards them, and his eyes, as they caught the light of the lantern, revealing the dreamy, rapt expression of one who is lost to every earthly surrounding.
This discovery does not seem to have produced any outburst of anger on the part of the father. Possibly he was touched by the child's devotion, or by his entreaties, and felt unwilling to deprive him of what, after all, he could only regard in the light of an amusement. At any rate, little Handel appears to have continued his practising without interruption. The progress which he made with his studies, however, made him long for an opportunity of hearing others play, and, very naturally, of being allowed to express his musical thoughts upon an instrument capable of responding with a fuller sound, though the fulfilment of this latter wish was more than he dared hope for whilst his father remained obdurate. One day, when Handel was seven years old, his father announced his intention of paying a visit to the castle of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels to see his son—a step-brother of George Frederick—who acted as valet de chambre to the Duke. Handel was most anxious to be allowed to accompany his father, because he had heard that the Duke kept a great company of musicians to perform in his chapel. But the father refused his consent, and the boy turned away with a look of fixed determination in his eyes, which it was well, perhaps, that the elderly surgeon did not perceive. 'I will go,' muttered the boy to himself, as he sought the seclusion of his garret; 'I will go, even if I have to run every inch of the way!'
Handel did not know then that no fewer than forty miles lay between his home and the ducal castle, but having formed his bold resolution he awaited the moment when his father set forth on his journey, and then, running behind the closed carriage, he did his best to keep pace with it. The roads were long and muddy, and although he panted on bravely for a long distance, the child's strength began at last to fail, and, fearing that he would be left behind, he called to the coachman to stop. At the sound of the boy's voice his father thrust his head out of the window, and was about to give vent to his anger at George's disobedience; but a glance at the poor little bedraggled figure in the road, with its pleading face, melted the surgeon's heart. They were at too great a distance from home to turn back, and so Handel was lifted into the carriage and carried to Weissenfels, where he arrived tired and footsore, but supremely happy at having won his point.
Handel had certainly not formed too bright a picture of the musical delights of the Duke's home. The musicians were most friendly towards him, and, as he was by no means shy where his beloved art was concerned, they soon became good friends. His delight was great when he was told that he might try the beautiful organ in the chapel. The organist stood beside him and arranged the stops, whilst the child, with a feeling of coming joy that was almost akin to fear, placed his fingers upon the keys. The next moment his hesitation had vanished, and the sounds were coming in response—one minute low and deep, then mysteriously calling to him from distant corners of the dim galleries, like sweet angel voices which he had the power to summon by the pressure of his fingers. In his lonely garret, fingering his spinet, he had longed for such an opportunity as this, to be enabled to make the great organ-pipes sing to him in whispers, or to thunder back to him in grand, deep chords that would set the whole air vibrating with music. And now the opportunity he craved for had come, and he could speak his musical thoughts into this noble instrument, which had the power to draw from the depths of his soul all that that soul contained. Ah, Handel was glad now that he had persevered and worked so hard at his music. He was glad, too, that he had undertaken that long, toilsome run behind his father's carriage, for it had brought to him the greatest joy of his life.
On several occasions after this the organist came to the chapel on purpose to listen to Handel as the latter played, and he was so struck by the boy's genius that he determined to surprise the Duke by letting Handel play His Highness out of chapel. Accordingly, on the following Sunday, when the service was concluded, the organist lifted Handel on to the organ-stool, and desired him to play. If the young player had needed courage and self-confidence, it must have been at this moment when bidden to perform before the Duke and all his people. But he needed neither, for he instantly forgot all else but the music which he was burning to express, and without a moment's hesitation complied with the organist's request.
The Duke and his friends had risen to their feet as Handel began to play, but the former, who was a good musician himself, instantly detected a difference in the playing, and, glancing towards the organ-loft, he was astonished to behold the figure of a child bending over the keys. But as he listened his astonishment became greater, for it was no longer the child's figure that arrested his attention, but the melody which was pouring forth from the instrument. Instead of walking out of the chapel, the Duke remained standing where he had risen, with his gaze riveted upon the child player, and of course the members of the household likewise kept their places. At length, when Handel ceased to play, the Duke turned to those about him with the inquiry: 'Who is that child? Does anybody know his name?' As no one present seemed to know, the organist was sent for to explain matters. After a few words from this official the Duke commanded that Handel should be brought before him. When the boy appeared he patted him on the head, and praised his performance, telling him that he was sure that he would make a good musician. At this point, however, the organist interposed with the remark that he understood that the boy's father had refused to let him follow up his musical studies. 'What!' cried the Duke in astonishment, 'is it possible that he can contemplate anything so foolish and unjust as to stifle the genius of his own son! I cannot believe it. Who is the father? Where does he live?' On being told that the surgeon was staying in the palace, the Duke sent for him, and having told him how much he admired his son's performance, he pointed out to him that he would be doing a great wrong to the child if he persisted in placing any obstacle in the way of his advancement. 'I need hardly say,' concluded the kindly Duke, 'that such action on your part would, in my opinion, be quite unworthy of a member of your own honourable profession.' The father listened with respect to what the Duke had to say, and then (though with obvious reluctance) consented to allow the boy to pursue his studies. 'Come,' said the Duke, as he saw that his point was won, 'that is good, and, believe me, you will never regret it.' He finally turned to little Handel, and, patting him once more on the head, bade him work hard at his music, and then took his leave. The child would have thanked him, but his heart was too full for words, and tears of gratitude started to his eyes as the kindly nobleman turned away. At last the wish of his heart would be fulfilled. Happy was the journey that had so happy an ending for the young musician.
As it was now settled that Handel should devote himself to music, it became necessary to place him with a good teacher. Friederich Zachau, an excellent musician, and the organist of the cathedral at Halle, was chosen to instruct the boy in composition as well as to give him lessons on the organ, harpsichord, violin, and hautboy. Zachau was extremely pleased with his pupil, and, perceiving his extraordinary aptitude and genius, he did his best to bring him on. The organist possessed a large collection of music by composers of different countries, and he showed Handel how one nation differed from another in its style of musical expression, or, to put it another way, how the people of a particular country felt with regard to the art. Zachau also taught him to compare the work of various composers, so that he might recognise the various styles, as well as the faults and excellencies of each. All this time, too, Handel was set work in composition. Before long he was actually composing the regular weekly services for the church, in addition to playing the organ whenever Zachau desired to absent himself—yet at this time Handel could not have been more than eight years old.
It was at the end of three years' hard work that Zachau took his pupil by the hand, and said: 'You must now find another teacher, for I can teach you no more.' Well and faithfully indeed had Zachau discharged his duty toward the pupil for whom, to use his own words, he felt he could never do enough, and grateful must Handel have been for all his care and attention. The parting was sad for both master and pupil, but with both the art which they loved stood before all else, and so Handel was sent to Berlin to pursue his studies.
It is hardly to be wondered at that the people of Berlin should have regarded as a prodigy a child of eleven who was capable of composing music for Church services, as well as of playing the organ and harpsichord in a masterly fashion. There were two well-known musicians living in Berlin at the time, named Ariosti and Buononcini, to whom Handel was of course introduced. The former received the boy very kindly and gave him every encouragement, but Buononcini took a dislike to him from the first, and seems to have done his best to injure the little player's reputation. Under the pretence of testing Handel's powers he composed a most difficult piece for the harpsichord, and, setting it before the child, requested him to play it at sight. The piece bristled with complications, and Buononcini confidently anticipated that Handel would break down over its performance. To his chagrin, however, the boy played it through with perfect ease and correctness, and from that moment Buononcini regarded him as a serious rival. Indeed, Handel's skill in improvising both on the organ and pianoforte created astonishment in all who heard him, and despite Buononcini's hostility he made many friends. The Elector himself was so delighted with his playing that he offered him a post at Court, and even expressed his willingness to send him to Italy to pursue his studies. Handel's father, however, refused his consent to both proposals; no doubt he thought that if the boy developed according to the promise which he showed it would be necessary to keep him free from Court engagements, since it had happened in the case of others that great difficulty had been experienced in breaking away from such connections. The royal patrons of music were most anxious to obtain the services of the best musicians, and naturally were very loath to part with them when once secured. It was therefore determined that Handel should return to Halle, and be placed once more under the care of his old master. As may be imagined, Zachau was delighted to receive his pupil back again, and, with no less joy on his part, Handel set to work with increased energy to master the science of composition.
Whilst Handel was delighting the people of Berlin with his playing, a little boy, who was destined to become one of the greatest of musicians, was injuring his sight by copying out by moonlight the manuscript music which he had taken from his elder brother's cupboard, and helping to support himself by singing in the street, and at weddings and funerals, snatching every moment that could be spared from such work for adding to his knowledge of composition and playing. That little boy was Johann Sebastian Bach.
About this time Handel formed a friendship with a young student named Telemann, who was studying law at Leipzig. Curiously enough, Telemann's history up to this point bore a close resemblance to that of Handel. From a child he had been passionately devoted to music, but it was his parents' wish that he should study law, and now, in obedience to his mother's desire, he had come to Leipzig University. The love of music, however, was strong within him, and the meeting with Handel seems to have fired his passion anew. Yet he resolutely set his face against the temptation to stray from the path laid down for him, and to strengthen his resistance he put all his manuscript compositions in the fire—all save one, which lay forgotten in an old desk. It happened that a friend lighted upon this solitary manuscript by accident, and recognising its beauty showed it to the Church authorities of Leipzig. They in turn were so delighted with it that they immediately offered the composer the post of organist at the Neukirche, at the same time sending him a sum of money for the manuscript, and requesting him to compose regularly for the Church. At this juncture Telemann abandoned the struggle against his love for the art, and to his mother, who was supplying him with the means of living, he wrote, saying that he could no longer hold out against what he felt to be his true sphere of work, and mentioning that he had already begun to receive remuneration for the compositions. At the same time he returned the money which she had sent towards his education, and begged her not to think too hardly of him. The fact that his talent for music could produce money seems to have melted the mother's heart, for she instantly wrote to her son, and not only returned the money he had sent, but gave him her blessing into the bargain.
From this point Handel and Telemann became fast friends, and worked together at their musical studies, and it is interesting to record that the latter afterwards became one of the most celebrated German composers of his day. So numerous were his compositions, in fact, that it is told that he could not reckon them, and perhaps no other composer ever possessed such a facility in composition, especially in Church music. When reminded of his extraordinary talent, however, he used to say laughingly that a good composer ought to be able to set a placard to music.
The death of Handel's father, which took place at this period, left his mother with very small means, and Handel at once determined that he must work for his own living, so as not to deprive his mother of any portion of her limited income, to which, indeed, he hoped to make some addition ere long. But for the present, it was necessary that his education should be completed in accordance with his father's injunction, and so Handel continued to attend the University classes in classics. From this time he acted as deputy organist at the Cathedral and Castle of Halle, and a few years later, when the post fell vacant, he was duly appointed organist, with a salary of L7 10s. a year and free lodging. The duties were many, and included attendance on Sundays, festivals, and extra occasions, the care of the organ, and obedience to the priests and elders of the church. The organ was of the old-fashioned kind, in which the bellows were worked by the feet of the blower, who for this reason was called a 'bellows-treader' (Baelgentreter). Handel was now seventeen, and longing for greater things; but he could not expect to earn much in so small a town as Halle, and so, in January, 1703, he said good-bye to his mother and his old friend Zachau, and set out for Hamburg to seek his fortune.
His first engagement at Hamburg was a very small one. The Opera House orchestra needed a ripieno (supplementary violin), and Handel accepted the post. What reason he had for letting it be understood that he possessed only a slight skill in playing is not shown, for to play ripieno meant that he was expected simply to help out the orchestra when additional harmonies were required, and to give support to the solo parts. As may be imagined, this must have seemed very easy work to Handel, nor was it long before he found an opportunity of showing what he was capable of doing. At that time it was the custom for the conductor to preside at the harpsichord, where, with the score of the piece before him, he kept a check upon the players, and, where necessary, beat the time. One day the conductor was absent through some accidental cause, and no arrangement had been made to fill his place. Handel thereupon without a word stepped up and took his seat at the instrument, and conducted so ably as to excite the astonishment of the other performers. Having thus revealed his powers, he was thereafter permanently established in the post.
Handel had not been long in Hamburg before he made the acquaintance of a most remarkable man named Mattheson. In addition to being an exceedingly clever musician and composer, Mattheson was a good linguist and a writer on a variety of musical subjects. He had formed a resolve to write a book for every year of his life, and he accomplished more than this, for he lived to be eighty-three years of age, and at the time of his death he had published no fewer than eighty-eight volumes. Despite the vanity which formed so large a part of his character, Handel could not fail to be attracted by so accomplished a man, and their acquaintance soon ripened into a friendship which lasted for many years. Shortly after they became known to each other the post of organist in the church of Luebeck fell vacant, and Handel and his friend determined to compete for it. Accordingly, they set out together in the coach, with the evident intention of enjoying themselves. They had a poulterer as fellow-traveller, who seems to have been quite of the same opinion, and as they journeyed to Luebeck they told stories, composed 'double fugues,' (which it is to be hoped the poulterer appreciated), and altogether had a very merry time. On reaching their destination they paid a round of visits to the organs and harpsichords in the town, trying them all in succession, and it was then arranged between them that Handel should compete only on the organ and Mattheson on the harpsichord. Matters, however, were not destined to be carried to the point of actual trial, for they suddenly discovered that the successful competitor would be required to wed the daughter of the retiring organist, and as neither musician contemplated taking so serious a step, they promptly retreated to Hamburg without even seeking an audience of the would-be bride!
The self-will and determination which marked the character of Handel as a child clung to him through life, and not even the closest ties of friendship prevented his obstinate temper from asserting itself whenever occasion arose. Handel's temper, opposed to Mattheson's vanity, gave rise to a quarrel between the two friends which might have been attended by very serious consequences. Mattheson had written an opera called 'Cleopatra,' in which he himself took the part of Antony, and it had been his custom after the death of this character to take his place at the harpsichord and conduct the rest of the opera. This had been the arrangement with the former conductor, and Mattheson did not doubt that it would be adhered to when Handel presided at the pianoforte. But Mattheson had clearly reckoned without his host, for when the actor-composer, having departed this life on the stage, suddenly reappeared through the orchestra door and walked up to Handel's side with the request that the latter would yield his place to him, he was met by a flat refusal on the part of the conductor in possession. Possibly Handel may have been struck by the absurdity of a personage whose decease had only a few moments before been witnessed by the audience desiring to reassume his mortal dress in the orchestra. Mattheson's vanity, on the other hand, was no doubt deeply injured by his being made to look foolish, and he left the theatre in a rage.
At the conclusion of the piece Handel found his friend awaiting him at the entrance. An altercation took place, and it is said that Mattheson went so far as to box Handel's ears. A public insult such as this could only be wiped out by a resort to swords, and the belligerents at once adjourned to the market-place, where, surrounded by a ring of curious onlookers, they drew their weapons. After several angry thrusts on either side, the point of Mattheson's sword actually touched his adversary's breast, but, fortunately, was turned aside by a large metal button which Handel wore on his coat. The consciousness of how narrowly he had missed injuring, if not actually killing, his friend brought Mattheson suddenly to his senses, and, the bystanders at this juncture interposing between them, the duellists shook hands, and thenceforth, it is said, became better friends than ever.
The life at Hamburg was a very busy one—full of teaching, study, and composition. With the growth of his fame the number of his pupils increased, and Handel was enabled not only to be independent of his mother's help, but even to send her money from time to time. He now began to practise a habit which remained with him always—that of saving money whenever he could. Unlike most students of his age, he was impressed by the fact that, in order to produce with success works which were essentially works of art, one should be to some extent independent. It was during these student days that he composed his first opera, 'Almira, Queen of Castile,' which was produced in Hamburg on January 8, 1705. Its success induced him to follow it up with others, and then, in the following year, he set out for Italy. It was a journey he had been looking forward to during these years of hard work—ever since the time, in fact, when the Elector's offer had been refused by his father. Now he could go with the feeling that he was a composer of some note, confident that his works would at least obtain a hearing from the Italians. But this tour was not undertaken with the idea of making a holiday: it was to be a time of hard, continuous work as regards both operas and sacred music, by which his fame as a composer was to be greatly enhanced.
At Florence, where he stayed for some time, he composed the opera 'Rodrigo,' which was received with great applause. The Grand Duke was so delighted with it that he presented Handel on the first performance with fifty pounds and a service of plate. At Venice he brought out another opera, 'Agrippina,' the success of which was even greater than any previously produced. The audience were most enthusiastic, rising from their seats and waving their arms, whilst cries of 'Viva il caro Sassone!' (Long live the dear Saxon) resounded through the house. That a German composer should thus have taken Italian audiences by storm is an indication of the power which Handel wielded through his music, especially when we consider the rivalry which existed between the two countries in regard to the art. At the same time it must be remembered that the works of Handel which were performed in Italy were composed under Italian skies, after close study of the productions and methods of the masters of Italian opera, and when the composer himself was imbued with what he had observed of the tastes and customs of the people. The quality of his works, however, must have served to convince the Italians of the strength which the sister country was capable of putting forth in support of her claim to be regarded as a home of musical art.
Whilst on this tour Handel was present at a masked ball when Scarlatti, the celebrated Italian performer, aroused great applause by his playing on the harpsichord. Handel, whose identity was unknown to both Scarlatti and the audience, was next invited to play, and excited so much astonishment by his performance that Scarlatti, who had been listening intently, exclaimed aloud, 'It is either the famous Saxon himself, or the devil!' Later on, at Rome, the two performers competed in a friendly manner on the organ and pianoforte, and though it was undecided as to which should have the palm for the latter instrument, Scarlatti himself admitted Handel's superiority on the organ, and ever afterwards, when people praised him for his playing, he would tell them how Handel played, and at the same time cross himself in token of his great reverence for his gifted rival.
In Rome itself Handel's interest was deeply aroused, and he returned for a second visit to the city in 1709. It was here that he composed and produced his first oratorio, the 'Resurrection,' which added to his fame as a writer of sacred music. During this second visit he witnessed the arrival of the Pifferari, a band of shepherd-fifers, who each year left their flocks on the Calabrian hills, and journeyed to Rome to celebrate the birth of Christ by singing and playing an ancient chant in memory of the shepherds of Bethlehem. Handel must have retained this simple melody in his mind, for many years later he introduced a version of it into his great oratorio, the 'Messiah,' where, under the title of the 'Pastoral Symphony,' it accompanies the scene of 'the shepherds abiding in the field.'
The following year Handel returned to Germany, and went to Hanover, where he was most kindly received by the Elector (afterwards King George I. of England). The post of Capellmeister, with a salary of about L300, was offered and accepted, but Handel had a further favour to prefer. He had for long cherished a desire to visit England, whither the noise of his fame had already extended, and whence he had received many pressing invitations. His request for leave of absence for this purpose was at once granted by his royal master, but ere Handel could turn his steps to these shores a stronger claim upon him remained to be satisfied: this was to visit his mother and his old master, Zachau. We may imagine the meeting—the mother proud of her son, Zachau equally proud of his pupil. How glad the hearts of both must have been to welcome back one who had so abundantly justified their confidence in his powers! Short as the time had been, the young musician had accomplished a great work for his country, for his compositions had sufficed to show the Italians the height to which the music of Germany had risen. It now remained for him to bring the English under his subjection, and of his success in this direction he had little fear. When the autumn came Handel took leave of his dear ones, and, with the sorrow of parting tempered by joyful anticipations, he set sail for England.
Italian opera had of late become the fashion in the musical world of London, but so much dissatisfaction had been aroused by the manner in which it was produced that it needed all the genius and power of such a master as Handel had shown himself to be to restore it to popular favour. We have, therefore, to think of Handel coming to London, with the fame of his Italian tour clinging to him, to a people longing for music which they could appreciate. That fame had paved the way for a cordial reception; he must next show them what he could do. In the February following his arrival Handel produced his opera 'Rinaldo' at the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, having expended just a fortnight in composing and completing it! The opera was a triumphant success. For fifteen nights in succession (a long run in those days) the house was crowded with an enthusiastic audience, and the charming airs which were first uttered within the walls of the Haymarket Theatre were afterwards wafted to the furthest corners of the three kingdoms. Even to-day, when many of us hear for the first time the airs 'Lascia ch'io pianga' and 'Cara sposa,' we seem to fall at once under the spell of their charm; and can we not imagine the effect which these beautiful songs produced upon the Londoners of nearly two centuries ago, as they were voiced by the great singer Nicolini? We have mentioned but two of the airs which have ever remained popular, but the opera abounded in graceful melodies that could not fail to captivate the ear of a people who had been languishing for the sunshine.
It is interesting to recall the manner in which the opera was put upon the stage in those days. Every effort seems to have been made to render the scenes as realistic as possible, though occasionally this straining after effect was carried to an excess that excited ridicule. Thus, in the scene for Act II of 'Rinaldo,' representing the garden of Armida, the stage was filled with living birds, which were let loose from cages. As the opera was produced in the winter months, the only birds available were sparrows—a fact which gave rise to sarcastic comments in the papers. The practice, however, might have been justly condemned on account of its cruelty.
Handel was now firmly established in the favour of English music-lovers. They had expected great things of him, and they were not disappointed. There was a body of true musicians in London at that time to whom the presence of the composer must have given special delight. Regular concerts, where amateur musicians could meet for the purpose of playing and hearing the best music, were unknown, and it was left to the enterprising zeal of one humble individual to originate the idea of the regular weekly concerts in London which later on became so widely known and appreciated. In a small shop near Clerkenwell Green lived a small-coal dealer named Thomas Britton. In those days 'small-coal,' or charcoal, was extensively used amongst the poorer classes, and regularly each morning Britton would shoulder his large sack of the fuel and go his round through the streets, disposing of his burden in pennyworths to the inhabitants. When the round was finished he returned home, changed his clothes, forgot that he was a small-coal man, and became a musician. Nor were there wanting many belonging to far higher stations in life who were ready to testify to the deep love for the art which distinguished the small-coal dealer. In a long, low-pitched room above the shop, which had originally formed part of a stable, Britton had collected a large number of musical instruments of various kinds, as well as the scores of some of the best music of the day. To this humble apartment would repair numbers of amateur and professional musicians belonging to all ranks of society, from the highest to the lowest. No one paid for admission, and the sole qualification expected of the visitor was that he or she should be a lover of the art. Thus, at the weekly gatherings in the small-coal man's loft, might have been seen peers of the realm, poets and artists, singers and performers, both known and unknown, mingling freely together, drinking coffee provided by the host at one penny per dish, and settling themselves down to enjoy the best chamber music of the day. Handel was not long in finding his way thither, and he became a regular attendant, always presiding at the harpsichord. The fame of Britton's assemblies grew apace, and led eventually to the establishment of regular weekly chamber concerts in London.
This first visit to England seems to have implanted in Handel a sincere affection for the country and its people, and although he returned to Hanover and took up his duties again at Court, he felt convinced that London was the centre in which his genius could have its fullest play. It was not long, therefore, before he obtained fresh leave of absence to visit England, giving in return a promise to present himself at his post within a 'reasonable' time. How he carried out this promise we shall see from what follows. London was only too glad to see him again, and his acquaintances became more numerous than ever. Lord Burlington invited him to stay at his seat, Burlington House (now the Royal Academy), in Piccadilly, where the only duty expected of him in return for the comforts of a luxurious home and the society of the great was that he should conduct the Earl's chamber concerts. It is difficult to realise that Burlington House stood then in the midst of fields, whilst Piccadilly itself was considered to be so far from town that surprise was felt that Lord Burlington should have removed himself to such a distance from the centre of life and fashion. The loneliness of Piccadilly at that period may be surmised from the fact that it was not safe to traverse the thoroughfare after nightfall unless protected by an escort strong enough to repell the attacks of highwaymen who haunted the neighbourhood.
The time passed so quickly amidst the pleasures of society and the unceasing devotion to composition that Handel himself probably failed to realise that he was gratuitously extending his leave of absence beyond all 'reasonable' bounds. His fame had made great progress all this while, and when the wars in Flanders at length came to an end with the signing of the peace of Utrecht, he was called upon to compose the Te Deum and Jubilate, which were performed at the Thanksgiving Service held at St. Paul's, and attended by the Queen in state. To signalise this great event, as well as to mark the royal favour in which the composer was held, Queen Anne awarded Handel a life pension of L200. It is small wonder, then, that he should have been slow to sever, even for a time, his connection with the world of London. Amongst his numerous acquaintance of this time was a certain Dr. Greene, a musician of some ability, but more perseverance, whose attentions to the composer were so persistent as to partake of the nature of persecution. Handel was never the man to cultivate an acquaintance for which he had no liking, and it was a part of his character to make no effort to conceal his dislikes either for persons or things. When, therefore, Dr. Greene sent him a manuscript anthem of his own to look over, Handel put it on one side and forgot it. Some time afterwards Dr. Greene went to take coffee with the great man, and having waited vainly for some reference to his manuscript until his patience was exhausted, he burst out with: 'Well, Mr. Handel, and what do you think of my anthem?' 'Your antum?' cried Handel in his broken English. 'Ah, yes, I do recollect, I did tink dat it vanted air,' 'Air!' exclaimed the astonished and indignant composer. 'Yes, air,' responded Handel, 'and so I did hang it out of de vindow.'