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Dialogue of Cultures
Bach, Mozart, and the 'Musical Midwife'
by Michelle Rasmussen
The sun was shining on Vienna, this Sunday morning in 1782. As the clock on the church tower was approaching 10:00, the 26-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was briskly walking towards the Royal Library, to the residence of Baron van Swieten, the former representative of the court of Vienna in Berlin, now, the chief librarian. He was whistling a theme from the manuscript he held in one hand, a manuscript he had just finished a few minutes before. With his other hand, he was carrying his viola.
The small group of the most promising young musicians in Vienna, whom the Baron invited to his house every Sunday, had now arrived. Mozart placed one of his newly dried manuscript copies on each of the four wooden music stands placed in a semi-circle in front of the marble fireplace. The Baron sat down in his comfortable chair nearby. Mozart, with a twinkle in his eye, unpacked his viola, and he and three of the other young musicians sat down in front of the music stands.
Then, they started to play. But not all at once. First Mozart played, aloneit was the theme he had been whistling. Then, the second violin entered, answering Mozart's viola with the same theme, but this time played a fifth higher. Meanwhile, Mozart continued, playing the last part of the theme again, but this time one note higher than before, which meant that the last note he played, a note not even found in this key, uncomfortably clashed with the note then being played by the second violin, before things settled down when his next note came.
After the end of the second violin's theme, Mozart and the second violinist continued playing a small duet, with each playing the second part of the theme even higher, until the first violinist raised his violin, and started playing the theme, this time, an octave above where Mozart had started. Simultaneously, Mozart's viola and the second violin continued playing variations of this fragment of the theme, which intertwined with the first violinist, and with each other, until, unexpectedly, even before the first violin had finished his theme (at the point where the second part of the theme started), the 'cellist took up the theme in deep resonant tones, while Mozart and the two violinists continued their intertwining themes. When the 'cellist played the last tone of the theme, the Baron smiled, and closed his eyes, listening intensely, and with great joy, to the development of the fugue.
Just before the end, each of the four played the same harmonious theme, but instead of simultaneously, overlapped in such a way that a tense musical storm ensued, before calm was reestablished.
When the last tones had evaporated into the air, leaving evidence of their having sounded only in the hearts and minds of the gathered musicians, the Baron said, "Well Mozart, you have really brought the old Johann Sebastian back to life. And for that, I give you my deepest thanks."
It had been the Baron's idea. He had encouraged Mozart to transcribe three- and four-voice fugues from Johann Sebastian Bach's groundbreaking work for keyboard instrument, the Well-Tempered Clavier. This, then, had been the first performance of Mozart's transcription of Bach's Fugue No. 5 in D Major, from Book II.
Baron van Swieten had scoured Berlin to find manuscripts of Bach and Händel, whose works were virtually unknown in Vienna, and had brought them back with him. He knew that it was by making their music come alive again, it was by learning from, and being inspired by their music, that he could help young musicians become good composers. He was convinced that it was through playing the greatest music of the past, that one could hope to create great music in the future.
The reconstruction above, by this author, is based on some of the known facts surrounding Mozart's transcriptions of several three- and four-voice fugues from Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Mozart transcribed them during the period around 1782-83, when he attended Baron van Swieten's Sunday-morning musical salon, and while a phase-change in his compositional method was occurring. This change was provoked by his encounters with Bach's works, in combination with Joseph Haydn's revolutionary new string quartets (Op. 33), written the year before.
To continue the year 2000 commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the death of Bach (1685-1750), and to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, this article concerning Mozart, and a projected future article on Robert and Clara Schumann, will present evidence of the degree to which these composers who lived after Bach, intensively studied and "re-composed" his works as pedagogical exercises, to deepen their knowledge of polyphony and counterpoint, and then directly made use of Bach's compositional method in composing new works. This evidence will be presented through the words of these composers, and through several of their musical works, not widely known today.
Mozart's Transcriptions of Bach
"I go to the house of Baron Van Suiten [sic] every Sunday at 10 o'clock and nothing is played there but Händel and Bach. I am making a collection of Bach's fugues, those of Sebastian as well as Emanuel and Friedman [sic].Also of Händel's, and I don't have those. I expect that you know that the 'English Bach' is dead? What a loss to the musical world!" Mozart wrote this to his father Leopold on April 10, 1782. In a letter to Leopold on Jan. 4, 1783, he writes that he is still going to Baron Van Swieten's every Sunday, and on Dec. 6, 1783, he begs his father to send him some Bach fugues from Salzburg.
At Baron van Swieten's, the young musicians pour over the Bach and Händel manuscripts the Baron had brought back from Berlin, playing them for each other. (See Box on "The Musical Midwife.")
Lyndon LaRouche has written about the revolutionary change provoked by Mozart's exposure to two of Bach's greatest works, The Musical Offering and The Art of the Fugue, at Baron van Swieten's musical salon.1 Here, another aspect of his discovery of Bach is added, that of Mozart's encounter with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. At the Baron's suggestion, Mozart transcribed three three-voice fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier for string trio,2 plus Contrapunctus 8 from Bach's Art of the Fugue, with a prelude consisting of a movement from Bach's Organ Sonata No. 3 in C minor; a prelude consisting of a movement from Bach's Organ Sonata No. 2 in C minor, followed by the fugal 3rd movement in C minor from the same sonata; and Fugue No. 8 by W.F. Bach. These six three-part preludes and fugues are known today as K. 404a. Since the preludes that accompany each of Bach's fugues, were not well suited for string instruments, a special string trio prelude was composed for each one, generally considered written by Mozart. As David Shavin wrote in Fidelio, in these preludes, Mozart was "addressing the developmental potentialities of the fugal material that would have occupied Bach's mind. Mozart, in presenting to the assembly his hypothesis as to how Bach's mind worked, fashioned a powerful tool to aid in his own development, and in the development of those around him."3
Mozart's authorship of these preludes has been debated, however, because a manuscript from Mozart's hand has never been found. The musicologist Julian Haylock wrote that these preludes "demonstrated an unerring emotional kinship with the fugues with which they are coupled. These preludes can be studied in relation to Mozart's only other major work for string trio, the great Divertimento in E-flat major, K. 563, from 1788.
In addition to the three-voice fugues, previously mentioned, Mozart transcribed five of Bach's four-voice fugues from the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, known as K. 405, and his manuscript exists. The significance of the four-voice fugues is that Mozart's study of Bach's treatment of four voices, could not but have revolutionized his thoughts concerning string-quartet writing.4
Whereas Mozart's manuscript for the Bach four-voice fugues has no introductions, the Austrian National Library in Vienna has a series of unsigned manuscripts of six four-part fugues of J.S. Bach (including four of those included in Mozart's K. 405), and three of Bach's five-part fugues, all with new introductions. The musicologist Warren Kirkendale writes that members of Baron van Swieten's circle most likely wrote these, and that Mozart possibly wrote all or some of them. Another musicologist, Raymond Mayland, believes that Mozart or Haydn may have been involved in their composition.
Kirkendale concludes that the complete set of three-, four-, and five-part fugues originated from a manuscript that probably belonged to van Swieten.5
Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier'
Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was a revolutionary work. It has been referred to as the "Old Testament" of Classical piano music. (The New Testament being Beethoven's piano sonatas.) Finished in 1722, the full title was, "The Well-Tempered Clavier, or preludes and fugues in all the tones and semitones, both with the major third or 'Ut, Re, Mi' and with the minor third or 'Re, Mi, Fa.' For the use and profit of young musicians who are anxious to learn, as well as for the amusement of those who are already expert in the art." This later became known as Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846-869), and contained 24 preludes and fugues, one for each of the major and minor keys. A second book, Twenty-four New Preludes and Fugues, which repeated the procedure with 24 new compositions, was written between 1740-44 (BWV 870-93).
Bach used this work to explore, in depth, the new musical possibilities that arose as a result of the development of a new system of tuning keyboard instruments, called well-tempering, which could give these fixed-note instruments increased ability to play multi-voiced, or polyphonic music, as if there were different species of human voices singing together, with similar flexibility and irony.
In 1691, the German organist and mathematician Andreas Werckmeister (1645-1706) published a treatise entitled, "Musical Temperament or ... mathematical instruction how to produce ... a well-tempered intonation on the clavier." Bach, Werckmeister, and others who supported the well-tempered system, rejected the previously held idea that musical intervals in the physical universe, had to conform to abstract mathematical proportions. This idea had put a straitjacket on the musical universe, limiting it to only those keys in which "pure" intervals could be played.
The new movement, of which Bach was a leader, created systems in which it would be possible to play music in all keys. The "comma" (the part of the octave that is left over if only mathematically "pure" musical intervals are used) was distributed unequally throughout all of the keys. (Different keys had different-sized intervals, giving each key its own nuance or "color," creating a "musical palette," which is lost in the modern practice of "equal-tempering," where all half-notes have the same value.) It were then possible both to write music in every key, and to modulateto move from one key to any anotherwithin the same piece of music, in a way not possible before.
The musical universe was liberated from a system centered in the key-in-itself, or its closest neighbors, to being a system that was expanded to encompass all of the major and minor keys. In addition, Bach's use of the Lydian interval, previously banned, and other lawfully created dissonances, served as a musical transcendental bridge, to allow musical development to supercede even the 24-key system.6
Musical action was transformed from being limited to change within a few keys, to becoming action based on the unlimited development of musical ideas throughout the entire "24-key-plus" musical universe, where musical development takes advantage of explicit and implicit relations between a whole range of different keys; where the possibilities to create musical change, transformation, paradox, and development are increased to the maximum.
"As any listener to a Bach composition can easily recognize, the position of any note, is an ambiguity, that becomes less ambiguous, as the composition unfolds, and the intervals so generated, and their inversions, are heard with respect to the well-tempered system of bel canto polyphony as a whole. It is the change, with respect to the whole well-tempered system, that determines the notes, not the notes that determine the change."7
Just before Bach, other composers had experimented with writing single pieces which modulated throughout all the keys, or with writing different pieces for all 24 keys. But Bach's musical genius surpassed them. Bach-family biographer, Karl Geiringer, writes that Bach realized that the new system could revolutionize the method of fugal composition. Before, change was only possible by introducing new musical subjects or "counter-subjects," or variations of the theme. Now, change was possible by writing developmental sections, called episodes, which would transport the theme from one key to another, with the establishment of the new key being solidified by the theme being announced in the new key. A greater "oneness" existed than ever before, because the material for the episodes was taken directly from the main theme, or the theme's counterpoint.
Bach continued to develop his fugal compositional method, later creating such masterpieces of creativity as the Musical Offering, and the Art of the Fugue.
The Importance of Studying Fugues
"This volume of fugues [The Well-Tempered Clavier] was always lying open on [Mozart's] pianoforte," recalled Mozart's pupil Thomas Attwood.
In the process of writing the transcriptions for stringed instruments of Bach's three- and four-voice fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Mozart had to separate out each of the voices, and regard them as individual, sovereign voices, in and of themselves, and see how they formed a unity with each other through musical dialogue. By doing so, Mozart gained greater insight into Bach's method of composition, akin to "reliving" his creative thought processes.
Recall my reconstruction of a morning session at Baron van Swieten's above. In a fugue, each voice enters by playing the theme, or a slight variation of the theme, and then paradoxically proceeds to unfold its voice in an independent manner, yet in dialogue with the other voices. Through studying Bach's fugues, Mozart could study Bach's method of composing several equally important, independent voices, which were created to be played together to form a beautiful whole.
Music that has more than one voice is called "polyphony"from the Greek for "many voices." The art of combining the many voices in a beautiful manner is called "counterpoint," from "point against point." This refers to the art of composing a second voice, to be played together with a given first voice. (Setting one "point," or note, of a second voice, to one "point," or note of a given first voice.) For example, adding one, or more, counterpoint voice(s), to a well-known Psalm melody.
When writing counterpoint, the composer strives to enable each voice to be a coherent, melodic voice, in and of itself. However, through natural development of each of the voices, including the use of the inversion of musical intervals or themes, they come into conflict with each other, creating what are called dissonances, or musical intervals that are uncomfortable, which create tension, and demand to be resolved.8 This creates an impetus for paradox, surprise, development, and change in the music. The art of counterpoint developed over centuries, and reached its highest point with Bach's music.
Posterity was given an insight into Bach's ability to see the development potential of a given theme, from the following story told by one of Bach's sons. Bach's son was sitting next to him at a concert where a fugue was being performed. Just after the first presentation of the theme, Bach whispered to his son, predicting exactly which fugal techniques the composer would use to develop the theme. When, as predicted, the music developed exactly as Bach said it would, he nudged his son and said the equivalent of, "I told you so!"9
In other words, Bach could immediately see the pregnant developmental possibilities of a given themefor example, which fugal development methods were appropriate: counterposing the theme to other voices playing the same theme, but starting at different times; maybe to the same theme played twice as long, or twice as fast; or to a changed theme, or part of the theme, maybe even upside down (inverted); or against one or more different musical ideas.
It also worked the other way around. A composer like Bach would choose an appropriate fugal theme based, firstly, on what type of musical development he had decided to achieve, and, secondly, on what type of fugal treatment could cause that result. The chosen theme would then be designed to be developed in that way.
Laurence Dreyfus, whose viol quartet recorded Mozart's transcriptions of Bach's four-voice fugues, wrote that one can see in the Bach fugues, "all kinds of foreshadowings of what later become staples of part-writing in Mozart's late string quartets." Referring to the fact that Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms were great pianists and well-versed in Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Dreyfus posed the irony that "the language of Bach's four-voice fugues, perhaps even more than the canonic repertory of string quartets themselves, should profoundly inform so much of their polyphonic thinking."
Mozart's act of transcribing Bach's fugues, enabled Bach, who died earlier in the same decade in which Mozart was born, to become Mozart's teacherfrom his grave!
Mozart's string transcriptions also give performers and listeners greater ability to distinguish the separate voices, and follow their interplay, because of the unique "colors" and registration of the different string instruments. (This author has also experimented with having a vocal trio, comprised of three different types of singing voices, sing sections of one of Bach's three-part fugues, Fugue No. 8, Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, during a class on polyphony and counterpoint.)
The Mozart-Haydn Dialogue
Mozart's four-voice fugues based on Bach were written six months after the publication of Haydn's revolutionary Op. 33 in 1781. Haydn's breakthrough in writing his Op. 33 string quartets, which he called "auf eine ganz neue, besondere Art" (in an entirely new and special manner), was based on two musical discoveries. The first was his steps in the development of the kind of independence and equal standing of the different voices which characterized Bach's fugues, for the four voices of a string quartethow to write string quartets which are not limited to the first violin playing the melody, and the three other instruments playing more or less an "um-pa-pa" accompaniment. The second was the concept Prof. Norbert Brainin, the former first violinist of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, has termed "Motivführung"a unity of the composition, achieved through the creative development of a musical motivic element presented at the very beginning, through playing with the potential variations and oppositions (inversions or negations) of that motivic element. Development was not limited to the "development" sections, but continued throughout the work.
In response to Haydn, Mozart would write his six "Haydn Quartets" from December 1782 to January 1785 (K. 387, 421, 428, 458, 464, 465). In these quartets, Mozart took what he had learned from his study of Bach, and from Haydn's breakthroughs, and continued the musical revolution at an even higher level.
Listen to the fugue-like finale from the first of his "Haydn Quartets" K. 387, the string quartet Mozart wrote in December 1782, while he was attending Baron van Swieten's salon, for a taste of Mozart's earliest attempt to learn from both of these masters, and go further. The last three quartets embodied even more contrapuntal writing than the earlier ones. Listen especially to the first, second, and last movements of the fifth "Haydn Quartet," String Quartet in A Major, No. 18, K. 464, written in 1785, for Mozart's use of chromaticism and contrapuntal development. The last movement, which is based on a chromatically transformed version of the theme of first movement, has been called the "contrapuntal ne plus ultra" of Mozart's Haydn quartets.
After hearing the last three of these quartets performed, Haydn said to Mozart's father Leopold, "Before God, and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what it more, the most profound knowledge of composition." Haydn's earlier string quartets had also had an impact on the young Mozart. Before Op. 33, Haydn's string quartets with fugal finales had become a model for Mozart's early string quartets of 1772-73.
Musicologist Alfred Einstein, in the chapter on counterpoint in his book on Mozart,10 stressed that it was the development section of Haydn's "Dialogue Quartets," Op. 33 String Quartets, which helped Mozart to take what he had learned from Bach's counterpoint, and make it into something new and Mozartian. Haydn's new works helped Mozart to learn to play with counterpoint and polyphony.
It is reported that, in 1784, Mozart and Haydn actually played string quartets together in a "composers quartet," with Haydn playing first violin, and Mozart playing viola, together with two other musicians, (Vanhal on 'cello and Baron Dittersdorf on second violin.)
The string quartet-centered musical revolution started by Haydn and Mozart was brought to a pinnacle by Beethoven. As Norbert Brainin has stated, the high point of string-quartet writing was found in Beethoven's late string quartets, because the independence of each of the four voices is the greatest (yet they create the most beautiful whole).
There is a similar concept in Schiller's work entitled Kallias, or On the Beautiful. There, Schiller states that a landscape painting is beautifully composed, when all parts play into one another as a whole, yet, each part seems to be acting out of its own free will. A tree bends down of its own weight, and thereby lets the mountain behind it be seen.
Mozart's Own Fugal Writing
On April 20, 1782, just a few days after the above-mentioned letter in which Mozart told his father that he was collecting fugues by Bach, he wrote the following letter to his sister and fellow-musician, Maria-Anna, called Nannerl. Included was Mozart's "Fantasy and Fugue" (K. 394). He wrote,
"I composed the fugue first and wrote it down while I was thinking out the prelude. I only hope that you will be able to read it, for it is written so very small; and I hope further that you will like it. Another time I shall send you something better for the clavier. My dear Constanze [whom Mozart would marry in August] is really the cause of this fugue's coming into the world. Baron van Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, gave me all the works of Händel and Sebastian Bach to take home with me (after I had played them to him). When Constanze heard the fugues, she absolutely fell in love with them. Now she will listen to nothing but fugues, and particularly (in this kind of composition) the works of Händel and Bach.
"Well, as she has often heard me play fugues out of my head, she asked me if I had ever written any down, and when I said I had not, she scolded me roundly for not recording some of my compositions in this most artistically beautiful of all musical forms and never ceased to entreat me until I wrote down a fugue for her. So this is its origin.
"I have purposely written above it, Andante Maestoso, as it must not be played too fast. For if a fugue is not played slowly, the ear cannot clearly distinguish the theme when it comes in, and consequently, the effect is entirely missed. When I get the time and opportunity, I will make another five [fugues] and deliver them to Baron van Suiten; because I have to say, he really owns, while admittedly very small in quantity, but in regard to quality, a very great treasure of good music.
"And therefore, I ask you to promise me not to take back your promise, and let no man see them. Learn them by heart and play them. A fugue is not so easy to play after only hearing it.If father has not yet had the works of Eberlin copied, then I would be very pleasedI have gotten hold of them andbecause I could no longer remember that, with a closer look, they are of too low a quality, and truthfully, do not deserve a place between Händel and Bach...."
Here we can catch the first glimpse of the effect that studying Bach's and Händel's fugues had on stimulating Mozart's own creativity, and also the effect that Mozart's wife, the soprano Constanze's love for the fugue had on encouraging Mozart to develop his creativity through this art.11
After 1783 or 1784, Mozart stopped writing fugues as musical exercises.
In addition to the "Haydn Quartets" mentioned above, the inspiration Mozart derived from studying Bach's fugal methods can be seen in the following works, among others, written during and after the 1782 period: K. Anh. 33 and 40 (383b), Fugue in F major; K. Anh. 39 (383d), Fugue in C minor, probably from 1783; K. 154 (385k), Fugue in G minor, probably from 1782; K. Anh. 39a (626b/27), Fugue in C minor, probably from the end of the 1780s; K. Anh. C 27.10, Fugue in E major; and K. Deest, Fugue in D minor.
Einstein notes that the many unfinished fugues were not unfinished masterpieces, which were a shame to have been left undone, and were just waiting for a student to finish. Rather, he most probably dropped them, because he found them lacking in developmental potential. Most were left off during the developmental section, or just before.
* Prelude (fantasy) and Fugue in C, K. 394 (383a)
* Fugues K. 401 and 443
* C Minor Fugue for two pianos, K. 426 from 1783 (later transcribed by Mozart for a string quartet).
* Mozart's C Minor Mass, K. 427 (417a), unfinished
Mozart worked on his C Minor Mass during the period he was attending Baron van Swieten's salon in 1782-83. He had originally planned to perform it in Salzburg, the city of his birth, after his marriage to Constanze, but he did not finish it. The uncompleted mass was performed in October 1783, with Constanze as a soprano soloist.
The conductor of the Mozartverein, Kappelmeister Alois Schmitt, in the tradition of Mozart's pupil Süssmayr's work to complete Mozart's Requiem, edited and completed the Mass in C Minor, completing the instrumentation from sketches, and adding sections from other Mozart masses to fill in the missing parts.
Schmitt explicitly acknowledged Bach and Händel's influence on the composition of this work, and names Mozart's transcriptions of Bach's fugues in the preface to the first edition:
"Thanks to the Sunday concerts at Baron van Swieten's home, Mozart had become quite well acquainted with the past masters Bach and Händel. He arranged ten fugues by Bach for string instruments and instrumented several oratorios by Händel for Baron van Swieten...." After commenting on Händel's influence, Schmitt continued, "On the other hand, the quartet Benedictus is more in the spirit of Bach. The austere sweetness, the masterful polyphony of this piece give it a unique flavour found nowhere else in Mozart literature."
Bach's influence is also evident in:
* The "Cum Sancto Spiritu" section, and the double fugue "Hosana."
* The Jupiter Symphony, No. 41, K. 551, with the great contrapuntal finale written in "invertible" counterpoint.
* Suite in C major, incomplete, K. 399
* Sonata for piano and violin in A major-minor, with an unfinished fugal finale (K. 402)
* Piano sonata K. 309
* Fantasia for piano in D minor (K. 397)
* Piano Sonata K. 475
* "the contrapuntal flavor of the later (piano) sonatas"
* canons, some with very naughty texts (K.229-231, 233, 234, 347, 348)
* F minor Fantasia for mechanical organ, K. 608
* The Bach chorale with counterpoint sung by the armed men in Act II, Scene 28 of The Magic Flute
* The Requiem
Mozart's Compositional Method
Alfred Einstein wrote that Mozart's father, Leopold, called the developmental unity, the progression of musical thought, "il filo," the thread. It was that "filo," which Mozart followed, which is so dependent on the "right" beginning, that the beginning must be at a high enough level, because everything else develops out of that "kernel." It is the "filo" that Mozart had in his mind before he started writing notes down. He would write "the whole" down first, for vocal music, the first violin, the singing voices and the bass line all the way through, adding the middle instrumental voices later. As for chamber music, or a symphony, he would write down the leading voices first, hopping from instrument to instrument, depending on which one took the lead, and would add the other parts afterwards.
However, for certain complex contrapuntal sections, Mozart would first work out the details, before writing out the whole partitur, for example, the Allegro section of the Prague Symphony, the manuscript of which had been located shortly before Einstein wrote his book.
More on Bach's Influence on Mozart
Baron van Swieten's Viennese salon was not the first encounter Mozart had with the Bach family. In 1762, when Mozart was a child of six, J.S. Bach's son, Johann Christian, befriended him in London, where the Mozart family lived for several years. The symphonies that the child prodigy Mozart composed there were largely modelled on Johann Christian Bach's, and especially Mozart's earliest piano concertos, written after he returned to Salzburg.
The last movement of Mozart's D major Concerto (K. 40) was taken from Philipp Emanuel Bach. The question is, which, if any, of Johann Sebastian's works were known by Mozart during this period.
Also, after the 1782 Baron van Swieten period, Mozart became quite excited, after listening to J.S. Bach's choral works, first as they were performed, and then, in his mind, as he studied the scores. Mozart visited Leipzig in 1789, where he went to the St. Thomas Church, where Bach had been cantor, to play the organ. The new cantor, who had been Bach's student, Johann Friedrich Doles, was in attendance. An eyewitness wrote, "Mozart played without previous announcement and without compensation on the organ of the church of St. Thomas. He played beautifully and artistically before a large audience for about an hour.... Doles was utterly delighted with his playing and thought that old Sebastian Bach ... had been resurrected. With good taste and with the greatest ease Mozart employed all the arts of harmony and gloriously improvised upon the themes, among others of the chorale 'Jesu, meine Zuversicht'...."
"At the instigation of Doles, the cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig, the choir surprised Mozart by performing the motet for double choir, 'Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,' by the patriarch of German music, Sebastian Bach. As soon as the choir had sung a few bars, Mozart started; after a few more he exclaimed: 'What is that?' And now his whole soul seemed to be centered in his ears. When the song was ended, he cried out with delight: 'Now, here is something one can learn from!'
"He was informed that this school, where Sebastian Bach had once been cantor, possessed a complete collection of his motets, which were preserved as if they were a saint's relics. 'That is right, that is fine,' he exclaimed. 'Let me see them' There was, however, no complete score of these songs. He therefore took the separate parts, and then, what a pleasure it was for the quiet observer to see how eagerly Mozart sat down, the parts all around him, held in both hands, on his knees, on the nearest chairs. Forgetting everything else, he did not stand up again until he had looked through all the music of Sebastian Bach. He asked for copies...."
Baron Gottfried van Swieten (1733-1803), though not a professional musician, may be the music-lover who had the greatest impact on the development of Western Classical music. His great love for, and promotion of the music of Bach and Händel, who lived a generation before him, and his decisive influence on three of the greatest Classical musicians of his, or any time, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, grants Baron van Swieten a special place in musical history.
What was the background of this musical midwife who helped to provoke such a profound revelation in Mozart?
Baron Gottfried van Swieten, born in the Netherlands, was the eldest son of Dr. Gerhard van Swieten (1700-72). Dr. Van Swieten was summoned to Vienna to become the personal physician of the Empress of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, Maria Theresa, in 1745, and held several other posts, including director of the court library. Though employed by the Empire, he openly admired Benjamin Franklin, and called himself a "small republican."
His son, Gottfried van Swieten, educated at the Jesuit "Theresianum," became a diplomat, representing the court of Vienna in Brussels (1755-7), Paris (1760-63), Warsaw (1763-64), England (1768-69), and as Ambassador Extraordinary at the Prussian court in Berlin, from 1770 to 1777, where he was the liaison between Vienna's Chancellor Count Kaunitz, and Frederick the Great. (His superior in Brussels said that his only criticism was that "music takes up the best part of his time.")12
Early in life, the Baron composed at least three comic operas, and 10-12 symphonies. (His collaborator Haydn, though, later characterized them as being "as stiff as he is.")
One researcher reports that the Baron first became enchanted with Baroque music while living in England.
Baron van Swieten wrote that none other than the King of Prussia, Frederick the Great, introduced him to the music of Bach, in Berlin. In a confidential letter to Count Kaunitz on July 26, 1774, the Baron wrote, "Among other things, he [the King] spoke about music and about a great organ player by the name of Bach [J.S. Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach], who had just given a concert in Berlin. This artist is equipped with a talent which supercedes everything which I have heard or can imagine in the direction of in-depth harmonic abilities and power in his playing, while they, who have known his father, do not find that he can measure up to him. The King is of that opinion, and to prove it, with a loud voice, he sang a chromatic fugal theme, which he had given to the old Bach, who, on the spot, made a fugue with four voices, thereafter with five voices, and at the end, one with eight obbligato voices." The King referred here to J.S. Bach's visit in May 1747, which led to the composition of his great work, The Musical Offering.13
During the Baron's stay in Berlin (1770-77), he attended the musical salons held by Fredrick the Great's sister, Princess Anna Amelia of Prussia (1723-87), where J.S. Bach and Händel were the favorite composers. He was to love and promote the music of these two composers for the rest of his life. Van Swieten even studied composition with a student of J.S. Bach, Princess Anna Amelia's musical advisor, Kappelmeister Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-83), an important musical theoretician.
The Baron was also in contact with other students of Bach. Van Swieten visited one of Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel, in Hamburg in 1774, the same year he first heard about him from the King. He corresponded with C.P.E., and bought some of J.S. Bach's manuscripts from him, including copies of fugues, many years before they were printed. He also commissioned six string symphonies (W. 182) from him, and C.P.E. Bach dedicated his third set of Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber (W. 57) to Van Swieten. The Baron knew Bach student Johann Friederich Agricola, the Prussian court's composer and author. Another of Bach's sons, Wilhelm Friedmann, who moved to Berlin in 1774, also made a great impression on van Swieten.
The Baron brought several of J.S. Bach's printed works to Vienna, including The Art of the Fugue, and also manuscripts of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the "Organ Trios," and possibly some of the "Preludes and Fugues for Organ." In addition to piano and organ works by Bach, the Baron also had several of Bach's motets and his larger choral works.
Upon his return to Vienna, he succeeded his father as director of the court library, and was appointed president of the Education and Censorship Commission in 1782. The Baron was supportive of the reform ideas of Emperor Joseph II, Maria Theresa's son, who succeeded her.
The Mozarts first met the Baron during their trip to Vienna in 1767-68. During the negotiations surrounding the composition and production of Mozart's opera La Finta Semplice, Wolfgang responded to criticism that the opera was "unsingable," by playing the whole opera on Baron van Swieten's piano, to a group of music lovers who were "greatly moved." Later, in 1781, the Baron heard Mozart's opera Idomeneo, as well as Mozart giving a concert, where he played a Concerto (K. 365) and a Sonata for Two Pianos (K. 448).
The Baron's importance for the promotion of J.S. Bach's works is evidenced by the fact that the first Bach biography, written by Johann Nikolaus Forkel, was dedicated to him.
At van Swieten's salon, in addition to pedagogical investigations of instrumental works, they also sang together, with van Swieten singing soprano, Mozart singing alto, simultaneously playing the piano, while two other musicians sang tenor and bass.
During the 1780s, Van Swieten formed a group of noblemen interested in "old music," called the Gesellschaft der Associierten, which arranged concerts in the Royal Library, or their palaces, of works of C.P.E. Bach, and oratorios of Händel. Mozart became the director of these concerts in 1787, conducting an orchestra of 86 musicians. Mozart wrote new arrangements of Händel's Messiah, "Acis and Galatea," "Alexander's Feast," and the "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" for the concerts. There is current research regarding a manuscript, previously unknown, of an arrangement of Händel's Judas Maccabaeus, attributed on the title page to Mozart, recently found in Halifax, England. He also wrote wind instrument arrangements of some of Händel's works.
New arrangements were made because neither the Royal Library, nor the palaces had organs, which were a part of Händel's instrumentation, and due to the changed instrumentation practice of the time, which included adding clarinets and trombones. In a letter from the Baron to Mozart, of questioned authenticity, regarding Mozart's idea of arranging the aria "If God Be for Us" from the Messiah, he is said to have written, "He who can clothe Händel so solemnly and so tastefully that he pleases the modish fop on the one hand and on the other still shows himself in his sublimity, has felt his worth, has understood him, has penetrated to the well-spring of his expression, from which he can and will draw confidently. That is how I view what you have accomplished...." The Baron himself conducted a performance of Mozart's arrangement of Händel's "Acis and Galatea" at the home of Count Esterházy.
C.P.E. Bach's Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Christi was also performed under Mozart's baton.
During the last decade of Mozart's life, the Baron, to a certain extent, helped Mozart financially, including commissioning the Händel arrangements, and when Mozart became disillusioned with the musical tastes at Court, Mozart wrote that van Swieten was among the group of Vienna's music lovers who asked him to stay. In 1789, Mozart wrote that after two weeks of circulation, the only name on a subscription list to support Mozart's concerts, was that of the Baron.
On the very day that Mozart died, Dec. 5, 1791, the Baron was dismissed by the Emperor Leopold II, who opposed Joseph II's reform policy. According to musicologist E. Olleson, "The death of Joseph II, in January 1790, strengthened the hand of those who opposed the educational reforms [his and van Swieten's, head of Joseph II's Education and Censorship Commission], and a bitter struggle developed, lasting almost two years...."
Another source wrote that the Baron fell, most probably, because of his association with the Masonic-linked Illuminati lodge. It is possible that he first came into contact with the Illuminati in Berlin, but in any case, he was listed as a member of the lodge in Prague. The Baron's loyalty to the Crown seems to have come into question, when a tutor he had arranged for the Crown Prince, Johann Baptist von Schloissnigg, was accused and investigated for being a member of the Illuminati, with rumors flying that the Baron was part of a conspiracy. The affair "climax[ed] in the hours after Mozart's demise." Further investigation is needed, given the questions surrounding Mozart's death, of the fact that his sponsor, Baron van Swieten was swept from power on the very day Mozart died, amidst charges of political conspiracy. (Mozart, himself, was a member of the pro-American Revolution faction of the Masons.)
After Mozart's untimely death, two months short of his 36th birthday, van Swieten arranged the first performance in Vienna of Mozart's Requiem, to benefit Mozart's wife, Constanze. He also supported Mozart's son, until Constanze remarried, including paying for his schooling in Prague.
Baron van Swieten also had a profound influence on two other musical geniuses, Haydn and Beethoven.
While stationed in Berlin, the Baron championed Haydn's works, but his greatest impact on Haydn's music was helping to cause the composition of three of Haydn's great oratorios. Van Swieten had paid for Haydn's second trip to London, where he became enthusiastic about the Händelian oratorio tradition still alive there. Afterwards, the Baron encouraged Haydn to write his own oratorios, The Seven Words, The Creation(1798), and The Seasons (1801), and it was actually the Baron himself, who wrote the German librettos for them. Van Swieten played an increasingly important role in the preparation of the three libretti.
Regarding The Seven Words, he arranged Josef Friebert's text to Haydn's taste, with relatively small changes. The background to The Creation is more interesting. One source wrote that Haydn brought an anonymous English libretto back with him from England, based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, which was said to have been written for Händel. Van Swieten wrote, rather than simply translated, a German libretto from this, but closely followed the plan in the English libretto.
The entire conception for The Seasons libretto was the Baron's, based on an English poem by James Thomson. He also wrote suggestions in the margin of the librettos for The Creation and The Seasons about how the text might be set to music, especially the descriptive passages. (On a humorous note, Haydn later eliminated a passage in The Seasons that imitated the croaking of frogs, saying that van Swieten had forced him to write it.)
One can say that van Swieten caused The Seasons to be written. A tired Haydn was close to 70 years old when van Swieten wrote the libretto, proposed the musical plan for the work, and pressured him to agree to compose the piece, which took Haydn three years, with constant encouragement (or pressure) from the Baron. This year marks the 200th anniversary of The Seasons premier in 1801, at a concert financed by Baron van Swieten and his friends.
Van Swieten collaborated with Haydn in the production of the vocal editions of the three oratorios. The Gesellschaft der Associierten, established by the Baron, arranged the financing, and the first performances of all three works.
Beethoven was already fully acquainted with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier before meeting the Baron. At the same time that the 27-year-old Mozart was being introduced to many of Bach's works at the Baron's musical salon in Vienna, in Bonn, the 11-year-old Beethoven was playing most of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, according to the written statement, dated March 1783, by his teacher Christian Gottlob Neefe.
In 1787, at the age of 16, Beethoven visited Vienna for the first time, impressing Mozart with his improvisational abilities, and receiving a few music theory lessons from him. Professor Jahn, a biographer of Mozart, relates the story of the first meeting between Beethoven and Mozart. Beethoven "was taken to Mozart and at that musician's request played something for him which he, taking it for granted that it was a show-piece prepared for the occasion, praised in a rather cool manner. Beethoven observing this, begged Mozart to give him a theme for improvisation. He always played admirably when excited and now he was inspired, too, by the presence of the master whom he reverenced greatly; he played in such a style that Mozart, whose attention and interest grew more and more, finally went silently to some friends to were sitting in an adjoining room, and said, vivaciously, 'Keep your eyes on him; some day he will give the world something to talk about.' "14
In 1792, a year after Mozart's death, Beethoven moved to Vienna, for the purpose of studying with Haydn. Mozart's death had left Vienna without a truly great pianist, until the arrival of Beethoven. Beethoven's leading biographer, Thayer, states that all contemporary authorities attested to Beethoven's success on his arrival in Vienna, attributing it to "his playing of Bach's preludes and fugues especially," as well as his sight-reading and improvisational capabilities.
To repeat, it was especially Beethoven's ability to play Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier magnificently, in a Vienna that Baron van Swieten had brought to love Bach, which opened all doors for him, and which drew him into the Baron's musical circle. Beethoven's close friend Schidler stated that after musical performances in his house, the Baron "detained Beethoven and persuaded him to add a few fugues by Sebastian Bach as an evening blessing."15
It just might have been the case that the elderly Baron sat in the same imagined chair as above, with his eyes closed, while Mozart's successor, Beethoven, serenaded him with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.
Baron van Swieten encouraged Beethoven to study counterpoint, and often asked about his progress. Beethoven, like Mozart, also transcribed two of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier fugues for string quartet for study purposes, that in B flat minor, and an incomplete version of the fugue in B minor, both from Book I.
Beethoven had great respect for Bach, later asking his publisher for all of Bach's works, calling him the "Urvater der Harmonie," the "patriarch of musical harmony." On another occasion, Beethoven said, "Bach sollte nicht Bach, sondern Meer heissen" (Bach should not be called Bach (brook), but Meer (ocean), because of his infinite and inexhaustible wealth of combinations and harmonies." Beethoven copied out and highlighted a quote about Bach's music, from Forkel's biography of Bach, which included, "Only the connoisseur who can surmise the inner organization and feel it and penetrate to the intention of the artist, which does nothing needlessly, is privileged to judge here; indeed the judgment of a musical connoisseur can scarcely be better tested than by seeing how rightly he has learned the works of Bach."
Baron van Swieten also had a literary influence on Beethoven, introducing him to Shakespeare and discussing Homer with him.
The Baron's importance for Beethoven is evidenced by the fact that, in 1800, Beethoven dedicated his first symphony to him.
Let the story of Baron Gottfried van Swieten conclude with the obituary about him printed in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1803:
"In him, music loses a significant Maecenas, and the world an upright and loyal man.... Swieten was an adherent of no school or sect, every true talent he welcomed; nevertheless, his favorites were Händel, Sebastian Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, with whom he occupied himself almost daily. Would that a man of high station may soon come forward, who will so actively espouse the cause of music as did Swieten!"
1. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. "Mozart's 1782-1786 Revolution in Music," Fidelio, Winter 1992, Vol. I, No. 4.
2. From Book 1: Fugue No. 8 in D sharp minor; from Book 2: No. 13 in F sharp, BWV 882 and No. 14 in F sharp minor, BWV 883.
4. To hear the four-voice fugues, played by Laurence Dreyfus's early music viol consort group Phantasm, on the Internet: www.gmn.com/classical/worknotes.asp.?wid=15. There are also available recordings played by modern string quartets.
5. The manuscripts are part of the "Kaisersammlung," the music collection of Emperor Franz II, the son of Emperor Joseph II.
6. Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., "Politics as Art,"
7. Bruce Director, "Riemann for Anti-Dummies," Part 9, New Federalist, Vol. 15, No. 11 May 28, 2001.
9. Karl Geiringer, The Bach Family, Seven Generations of Creative Genius, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1954.
10. Alfred Einstein, Mozart: His Character, His Work, Oxford, 1962.
11. Constanze also participated in Mozart's musical life in other ways. Mozart wrote works for four-handed piano, and for piano and violin, which they played together. Mozart gave Constanza an intimate knowledge of whatever he was working on, including having her sing all of his operas.
12. Edward Olleson, "Gottfried van Swieten, Patron of Haydn and Mozart," Proceedings of The Royal Musical Association 89, April 23, 1963, p. 64, cited in John W. Campbell, "Mozart and the Baron: Musical Patronage at Work," The Choral Journal, May 1995.
13. David Shavin, "Thinking through Singing'The Strategic Significance of J.S. Bach's A Musical Offering, Fidelio, Vol. IX, No. 4, Winter 2000. Shavin also corrects the Baron's information regarding Bach's fugal elaboration of the King's theme.
14. Alexander Wheelock Thayer, Life of Beethoven, Elliot Forbes, editor, Vols. 1 and 2, Princeton, 1967.
15. Thayer, ibid, p. 161.
For Further Reading--- See FIDELIO page
The Mozart Compendium, A Guide to Mozart's Life and Music, ed. by H. C. Robbins Landon, Thamse & Hudson, 1990 p. 337, and DK Mozart book, p. 109.The Letters of Mozart and His Family, Emily Anderson, ed., London, Macmillan, 1938.
H. C. Robbins Landon, Mozart, The Golden Years 1781-1791, Gyldendal, 1989, trans. 1991.
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