Fjordman has posted Part II of “A History of European Music” at Atlas Shrugs. Some excerpts are below:
The organ is one of the oldest instruments still in use in Western music. Its earliest history is so buried in Antiquity that it is difficult to reconstruct, but the first organ we know of was the hydraulis, or water organ, from about 250 BC, created by the innovative Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria, a pioneer in the use of compressed air. It was used for public entertainments and circus games in ancient Rome. The first recorded appearance of an exclusively bellow-fed organ was not until almost 400 years later. By the eighth century AD organs were being built in Christian Europe, and from the tenth century their association with churches had been established. By the seventeenth century all the essential elements of the instrument had been developed. It was during the High Baroque period that the organ reached its greatest popularity and found its greatest composer in Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).
In the eighteenth century for the first time, many of the greatest European composers came from the German-speaking regions of the continent: Handel, the Bach family, Haydn, Mozart and finally Beethoven and Wagner. Britain, in contrast, became a virtual colony for foreign musicians, and largely remained so until the twentieth century. While the Italians and the French were proud and often resisted foreign ideas, German and Austrian composers blended the best from the native tradition with other traditions and created a very successful synthesis. German-speaking Central Europe continued to be divided among hundreds of political entities, from large states such as Austria and Saxony to tiny principalities and independent cities. Some of these local rulers followed Louis XIV’s example from France of displaying their power and wealth through patronage of the arts. Many aristocrats were also enthusiastic amateur performers who often became particularly generous patrons of music.
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Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in the heart of Germany. He probably learned the violin from his father, who was a court and town musician, and later became fascinated with the music of Vivaldi. The Bach family produced a string of talented musicians for many generations, of which J.S. was just the most prominent. Johann Sebastian Bach composed primarily to fulfill the needs of the positions he held, as church organist and concertmaster. His first positions were as a church organist, beginning at Arnstadt in 1703. He worked in different cities, among them Weimar and Leipzig, and tutored students in performance and composition, including several of his own sons. Like other musicians of his time he was the subject of restrictions placed on him by his employers, even restriction of movement.
Although now considered one of the greatest composers in history, Bach was a modest man who regarded himself as a craftsman doing his job to the best of his ability. He gave God credit for his achievements; the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be glory”) were added at the end of many of his scores. His church music was not confined to cantatas but included motets, passions, and Latin service music. His greatest works include the masterpiece The Art of Fugue and the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, still one of the most popular works in the organ repertoire, The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Brandenburg Concertos, to name but a few of the highlights. When he died after a stroke, he left a small estate which was split between his nine surviving children and his wife, who died in poverty ten years later.
Read the rest at Atlas Shrugs.