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Here are some thoughts about our upcoming music

   Bach vs Handel

If I had a dollar for every time I heard any version of the following:

“Can you Handel this music?”

“Of course, I can play (sing) it forward and Bach-wards



In addition to the play on name, these 2 giants of the Baroque are often compared, so let us look at their lives

Some Similarities

1, Both were born in 1685, making it easier for us music majors to remember their dates.  Bach died in 1750 and Handel in 1759 (close enough). The Baroque era ended in 1750, but that is another story

2, Both were born in Germany: Handel in Halle, near Leipzig, and Bach in Eisenach, just over 100 miles apart

3, Both were acclaimed keyboardists in their youth (and there was talk of a competition between them)

4, Both had issues with their patrons (bosses).

  A bassoonist attacked Bach with a stick and the church (at Arnstadt) took the bassoonist’s side, so Bach quit. 

  Handel was working for the elector of Hanover (named George), took a year leave to go to England, decided he liked making money and stayed.  However the English needed a king and this George of Hanover was the nearest relative of the royal family, so he became king George I.  Handel, to placate him wrote the water music, which was played on a barge on the River Themes, therefore putting Hasndel back in royal favor.

a few differences

1, Bach came from a musical family, while Handel’s father was a barber

2, Bach married twice: Maria Barbara died after giving birth to 7 children and Anna Magdelana who remained married till he died had 13 more children.  Handel never married (had a number of girl friends so I am told)

3, Bach stayed in Germany writing mostly, but not all, sacred music

Handel went to England, and wrote operas, which were sung in Italian so the audience could not understand them, and therefore they were very popular (go figure)

4, Bach usually worked at churches and as such served as the composer, and music director of the church, and a teacher in church school.

5, Handel became wealthy writing operas (in Italian) and owned his own opera company.  He also went broke when opera in sung in Italian lost popularity in England, and turned to writing oratorios, which some have called operas without staging


PS, both were good at writing counterpoint but Handel’s was different than Bach’s

(I am not touching that one. lets leave that for musicologists)