The Musical Enlightenment


The ideas of Rene Descartes had a profound influence upon the men who followed him. Every branch of knowledge and of art was re-examined and reformulated in the light of reason and in the spirit of scientific method.


One of his followers insisted that the end of music was to move the passions and to attain this goal, composers must study the principles of composition in a scientific way. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the art of creating music had become almost entirely rationalized. It came to its richest fruition in the works of Bach and Handel. The two men showed the world Baroque musical architecture at its imposing best. The general basis of the work of both was counterpoint, devised with great harmonic mastery, resting upon physical laws. Bach and Handel represented a trend towards greater regularity of style in the clearly defined types and forms, in a series of standardized formulas, such as the suite, the sonata, the rondo, the opera, the oratorio, the cantata, the concerto, characterized chiefly by highly elaborate melodies and contrasting effects.


The Heir to a long-standing German family tradition of musical service in the church, Bach early in his career made known his goal of creating a “well-regulated church music to the honor of God”. In his pursuit of this goal he absorbed all the various contemporary musical techniques of expressing the passion in order to apply them to the most profound elements of the Lutheran tradition. By employing all the styles of sacred and secular music, Bach created a synthetic art which summarized all the developments of the Baroque era. More conspicuously than any other composer of his day, he also suggested musical techniques, devices and methods, which, with the coming of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, were soon to open up new horizons for music and pave the way for its further development during the next century. In Bach one can see the spirit of the Age of Reason. One cannot imagine what the history of music would have been had Bach never lived, for his rational influence was immeasurable. It was not an overstatement when Schumann(1810-1856) said, “Music owes as much to Bach as Christianity does to its Founder”.


Major Works:


6 Brandenburg Concertos

Violin Concerto in E major

Double Violin Concerto in D minor

Mass in B minor

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