Saturday, 16 July 2016


“I listen to music when I write. I need the musical background. Classical music. I’m behind the times. I’m still with Baroque music, Gregorian chant, the requiems, and with the quartets of Beethoven and Brahms. That is what I need for the climate, for the surroundings, for the landscape: The music.” - Elie Wiesel

Johann Friedrich Fasch (15 April 1688 – 5 December 1758) was a German violinist and composer. He was born in the town of Buttelstedt, 11 km north of Weimar, the eldest child of schoolmaster Friedrich Georg Fasch and his wife Sophie Wegerig, from Leißling near Weißenfels. After his father’s death in 1700, Fasch lived with his mother’s brother, the clergyman Gottfried Wegerig in Göthewitz, and it was presumably in this way that he came made the acquaintance of the Opera composer Reinhard Keiser.

Fasch was a choirboy in Weissenfels and studied under Johann Kuhnau at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. It was in Leipzig in 1708 that he founded a Collegium Musicum. In 1711 he wrote an opera to be performed at the Peter-Paul Festival in Naumburg, and a second one for the festival in 1712. In 1714, unable to procure aristocratic patronage for a journey to Italy, Fasch instead travelled to Darmstadt to study composition for three months under his former Leipzig prefect Christoph Graupner and Gottfried Grünewald. He then travelled extensively in Germany, becoming a violinist in the orchestra in Bayreuth in 1714, was an amanuensis in Gera till 1719 and from 1719 until 1721 held a court post as organist in Greiz. His next major post was Prague, where he served for two years as Kapellmeister and court composer to Count Morzin.

In 1722, he “reluctantly accepted the position” of court Kapellmeister at Zerbst, a post he held until his death. (The organist Johann Ulich was his assistant.) Also in 1722, he was invited to apply for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig at his alma mater, the St. Thomas School, but he chose to withdraw his name from the competition. The Leipzig opening was eventually filled by Johann Sebastian Bach, who had considerable esteem for Fasch.

His works include cantatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music. None of his music was published in his lifetime, and according to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 2014, “it appears that most of his vocal works (including 9 complete cantata cycles, at least 14 masses and four operas) are lost, while the instrumental works are mostly extant.”  However, his music was widely performed in his day and was held in high regard by contemporaries.

Georg Philipp Telemann performed a cycle of Fasch’s church cantatas in 1733 in Hamburg. An organ work once attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach as BWV 585 is now known to be an arrangement of movements from a Fasch trio sonata; and Bach’s Collegium Musicum in Leipzig (a different group than the one founded by Fasch) performed some of Fasch’s Orchestral Suites (ten of them, according to Hugo Reimann in 1900, based on his examination of copies in the library of the St. Thomas School, which Reimann said were partly in Bach’s hand. Only one of these suites survived World War II; it is in the hand of Bach’s student Carl Gotthelf Gerlach).

In 1900, Reimann asserted that Fasch’s style was an important link between the Baroque and Classical periods, and that he was one of those who “set instrumental music entirely on its feet and displaced fugal writing with modern ‘thematic’ style”. A New Grove’s entry on Fasch states, “Later research has largely confirmed [Reimann’s] assessment.”

Fasch died in Zerbst at the age of 70 on 5 December 1758. He was the father of Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, born on 18 November 1736, like his father a musician of note. The city of Zerbst/Anhalt has been hosting International Festivals since 1983, biennially since 1993. The Thirteenth International Fasch Festival took place in Zerbst/Anhalt on 15–19 April 2015.

Here are some concertos and an ‘Overture’ performed by the English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock at the harpsichord.

Concerto a 8 in D major, FWV L:D1 - 0:00
1. (Allegro); 2. Largo; 3. Allegro
Concerto in C minor, FWV L:c2 - 6:40
1. Allegro; 2. Largo; 3. Allegro
Ouverture in G minor, FWV K:g2 - 15:52
1. Ouverture; 2. Aria: Largo; 3. Jardiniers; 4. Aria: Largo; 5. Aria: Allegro; 6. Gavotte’ 7. Menuet
Concerto in B flat major, FWV L:B1 - 39:00
1. Largo; 2. Un Poco Allegro; 3. Largo; 4. Allegro
Concerto in D major, FWV L:D14 - 50:23
1. Allegro; 2. Largo; 3. Allegro

The illustration is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s, “Landscape with the Flight into Egypt”, 1563.

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