Johann Friedrich Fasch

1688 1758

Johann Friedrich Fasch

Composer

Biography

Johann Friedrich Fasch was one of the leading German Baroque composers of the Baroque period and an important contemporary ofJohann Sebastian Bach, who greatly admired his music. Fasch’s use of innovative colours, bold instrumental combinations and his broad harmonic pallet foreshadow the early Classical style and the works ofGluck, Haydn and Mozart.

Fasch was born in Buttelstädt in 1688 to a family of Lutheran clerics and lawyers. He first studied music in Suhl and Weissenfels before embarking upon an education in 1701 as one of Kuhnau’s first students at the Thomasschule, singing in the Thomaskantor. Fasch’s financial problems began early and haunted him throughout his life. He did not have any money for composition lessons, so he diligently studied the music of Telemann on his own.

After completing his studies at the Thomasschule in 1707, Fasch went on to study theology and law at the University of Leipzig. In addition, he founded a semi-professional group, the ‘Second Collegium Musicum’, which he directed. This ensemble is likely to have been the precursor to the ‘Grosse Concert’ of the Gewandhaus concerts in 1743. The group performed regularly around in the city in various venues such as coffee houses, churches and the opera house.

Fasch sought stable employment and applied unsuccessfully for the Cantor position in Chemnitz in 1711. He was, however, able to attract attention around this time with his operas which were performed at the Peter-Paul Fairs in Naumburg in 1711 and 1712.

As with other German opera composers of his day, Fasch wished to travel to Italy to study the operatic music of the Venetian masters, but his financial situation held him back. Instead, he travelled throughout central Germany and visited many different courts and cities before settling in Darmstadt in 1714. There he contactedChristoph Graupner, his former prefect at the Thomasschule. Graupner was currently the Kapellmeister in Darmstadt and believed in Fasch’s abilities and thus offered him several months of free composition lessons. He also received lessons from the concertmaster, Gottfried Grünewald.

After leaving Darmstadt, Fasch travelled around southern Germany, where he performed as a violinist in the orchestra in Bayreuth during the carnival season. Desperate, Fasch accepted an administrative job in Gera in 1715, where G.H. Stölzel was active as Kapellmeister and court organist between 1718 and 1719. Despite not being a court musician, one of Fasch’s musical dramas was performed at the court.

The following period must have ensured a rollercoaster of emotions for the composer. Celebratory events include his first marriage in 1717 and his appointment as organist and town clerk in Greiz, where the family relocated in 1719. This happiness did not last, as tragedy struck with the death of Fasch’s wife and second child. To make matters worse, he was in a dire financial situation as he had not been paid fully or on time for his work.

Starting afresh, Fasch moved to Prague in 1721 where he was appointed composer for Count Wenzel Morzin’s prestigious orchestra. One year later an even better job offer presented itself in the form of Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Zerbst. In 1722 the position of Cantor at the Thomasschule was again vacant, and though Fasch was encouraged to apply again, he declined as he was content with his position and did not wish to teach at his former institution.

In the mid-1720s, Fasch travelled to Dresden, at the expense of the court of Anhalt-Zerbst. While there, he worked with Kapellmeister Johann David Heinichen and virtuoso violinist Johann Georg Pisendel. Fasch studied the musical culture, recruited musicians and composed instrumental and sacred works during his stay. Some of the works inspired by the musical activities in Dresden include settings of the mass ordinary. These settings include many annotations by Heinichen and Pisendel. In addition, Pisendel combined movements of works by Fasch,Handel and Telemann to create fresh sounding orchestral suites.

While Fasch had secured a reputable position at Anhalt-Zerbst, he was unhappy due to religious differences; he was a Pietist and the court Lutheran Orthodox. Fasch applied unsuccessfully to positions at several other courts between 1732 and 1755 and remained employed for an impressive 36 years as Kapellmeister of Anhalt-Zerbst. In addition to his travels to Dresden to study the musical style, Fasch was responsible for composing both instrumental and sacred music, in addition to celebratory works in the form of cantatas and serenatas for birthdays and weddings.

Only about one-third of Fasch’s output has survived, as none of it was published during his lifetime. Works are preserved in Dresden, Berlin, Kaufbeuren, Dessau and Darmstadt. Through his son Carl Friedrich Christian Bach, a harpsichordist at the Prussian court of Frederick the Great, Fasch was connected to C.P.E. Bach. After C.P.E. Bach’s death, a set of church cantatas by Fasch was found in his collection. Of the surviving works, eleven church sonatas and motets, several masses, a Requiem, a Passion and many instrumental works have been preserved in manuscript form.

Fasch composed large-scale works such as a Passion, 14 Masses and four operas. He also composed two Credos, four Psalms, approximately 100 church sonatas and four serenades. His instrumental works include about 60 concertos for one or two soloists in the style/form of Vivaldi, almost 100 overtures and orchestral suites and a number of trio sonatas and symphonies. His chamber music and concertos provide soloist roles to many of the wind instruments including the horn, trumpet, oboe, recorder and bassoon.

While the vocal music of Fasch is no longer popular, his orchestral and chamber music is still widely performed on both modern and authentic instruments. His forward-thinking instrumentation and scoring shows evidence of the upcoming transition from the Baroque to early Classical style.

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