By Evangelos Viglis
Securing work as a composer in the Baroque age was as shaky and competitive as in our time. The most notable positions were with the church and the royal courts, both of which kept composers busy and often well compensated. Wealthy households in particular provided an opportunity for composers to create music for numerous occasions.
In the baroque era, music was written to accompany a range of events, from commonplace routines like getting ready for bed, entering a room, and getting dressed, to more formal events and celebrations. Banquet music was composed to accompany a feast, generally played throughout the dinner or in between courses. It was a popular form of music, especially in Germany, and it kept a great deal of composers from going hungry.
Christoph Graupner became Hofkapellmeister (court chapel master) at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1709. He wrote a great deal of music during this period, including sinfonias, operas, overtures and concertos. When the court found itself in financial trouble soon after the start of his employment and the court musician salaries were unpaid, Graupner sought new employment. He applied for the position of Kantor at Leipzig, a position that Telemann had turned down. Graupner, who was bound by contract to the court in Darmstadt, was not released to accept the Kantorship, and went back to his post. He was paid in full eventually and stayed in Darmstadt the rest of his career. The Kantorship in Leipzig was given to J. S. Bach.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, as it happens, was a bit of an outlaw. He was employed by the Bishop of Olomouc, Karl II von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn in Kromeriz around 1668. In the summer of 1670 the Bishop sent Biber to Absam to purchase instruments from the famous luthier, Jacob Stainer. Biber however used the opportunity to go to Salzburg instead, shockingly abandoning his duties and entering employment with the Archbishop of Salzburg, illegally breaking his contract. The Bishop did not press charges on Biber, but was deeply hurt and did not officially or legally release him of his duties until six years later. Biber worked in Salzburg for the rest of his life where he moved up in society and is now known as one of the first innovators of technique for the violin.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s music was a great influence on Biber. He was a virtuoso violinist and served as court composer and musician at the Habsburg court where he became close friends with his patron, Emperor Leopold I. The emperor even raised Schmelzer to the ranks of nobility. Fechtschule (fencing school) is a ballet suite that evokes the dance like movements of fencing and combat, while the final aria Bader, is a salute to the barber-surgeon who arrives at the end of battle to stitch the wounded.
Johann Schein was a versatile composer. He was able to write religious music that was austere and sublime as well as secular music, where he unleashed his artistic temperament. In the preface to Banchetto Musicale he advertises his other sacred works, a trick he repeats in other publications and a creative idea he may have developed while studying law early in his career. He was one of the first German composers to embrace Italian stylistic innovations, such as monody, figured bass and the concertato style. His secular music was festive, incorporating drinking songs, simple tunes and humorous passages. Schein was cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig.
Georg Philipp Telemann was an exceptionally prolific composer. He composed over three thousand compositions and was one of the earliest composers to establish exclusive publication rights for his own work, setting a precedent for regarding music as the intellectual property of the composer. Tafelmusik is not the typical kind of banquet music of this age because Telemann both composed and published it independently of his post. He financed the publication by placing an ad in a newspaper that helped him secure sponsors who paid a high price to have their names published on the title page. Telemann held many important positions throughout Germany, including Leipzig and Frankfurt, settling in Hamburg.
“With the court it is one day here, the next day off to someplace else. There is no difference made between day and night. Today one must perform at church, tomorrow at dinner, the next day at the theater. In comparison to this, things are a little calmer in the cities.” ~ Johann Beer (1665-1700), chamber musician at Weissenfels