Europe during the 18th Century (1701–1800) experienced dramatic cultural and political changes that helped to shape our modern world. Following the rise of the autocratic state in the 17th Century—led by the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV of France—Europe began to question the ‘divine right of kings’ as The Enlightenment proclaimed the rights of humanity. The ‘Industrial Revolution’ propelled Britain to centre-stage among the world’s great powers, while political unrest climaxed with the American and French Revolutions. Music termed ‘Baroque’ and ‘Classical’ comes from this extraordinary period.
As the Ancien Régime collapsed a daring new cultural impulse arose—Romanticism—whose musical harbinger, Beethoven, would come to personify the ideal of a genius whose tumultuous music would shake the foundations of music. Yet the giant Beethoven revered his 18th-century forebears Bach and Handel (as would Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and the other great Romantics who followed him). So the spirit of the 18th-century Baroque lived on beside and within the new Classical style and the emerging Romantic impulse, and they remain with us to this day as the foundations of the living classical music tradition.
Naxos has an unparalleled range of recordings of music from the 18th Century, including Baroque masterpieces by Bach, Corelli, Handel, Rameau, the Scarlattis, Telemann and Vivaldi, Classical favourites by Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven, as well as delightful rarities by many other composers which await your discovery.
In addition to these recordings of 18th-century music, Naxos has also released a number of albums and books that help to place the great composers in their own cultural and historical contexts:
Johann Sebastian Bach
For many classical music lovers, Johann Sebastian Bach is the greatest composer of them all. A prolific composer in all genres except opera, his extraordinary instrumental, orchestral, vocal and choral music stand testament to his unique ability to build on the traditions of the past, updating them with the exciting new trends in Italian, French and German music of his own time, to forge a seemingly timeless style rich in spirituality and virtuosity. The Naxos Bach Album is an excellent introduction his marvellous music. Visit his biography page for many more great Naxos CDs and digital albums of his music.
Although relatively few compositions by Arcangelo Corelli survive, they were far-reaching in their influence. His four published sets of trio sonatas and his Opus 5 solo violin sonatas were re-published extensively and widely imitated. The set of twelve Concerti grossi was finally published posthumously. The concertos represent a collection of compositions that seem to have been known in Rome at least since the early 1680s.
George Frideric Handel
Handel’s oratorio Messiah is probably this German-born, London-based composer’s best loved work. Naxos has also recorded many of his other odes, oratorios and operas, (including Acis and Galatea 8.553188, Alexander’s Feast 8.572224, L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato 8.557057–58, Athalia 8.554364–65, Deborah 8.554785–87, Hercules 8.557960–62, Israel in Egypt 8.570966–67, Rinaldo 8.660165–67, Saul 8.554361–63), as well as his instrumental and orchestral works. Handel’s music was so popular in England following his death in 1759 that many of his favourite arias and choruses were adapted for use in pastiche works (Gideon 8.557312–13, Nabal 8.555276–77).
Rameau was the leading French composer during the reign of Louis XV, particularly after the death of Couperin in 1733. Born in Dijon, he spent the earlier part of his career principally as organist at Clermont Cathedral. In 1722 or 1723, however, he settled in Paris, publishing further collections of harpsichord pieces and his important Treatise on Harmony, written before his removal to Paris. From 1733 he devoted himself largely to the composition of opera and to his work as an influential theorist.
An important and influential composer, Alessandro Scarlatti, a native of Palermo, made his principal career in Naples, where he was instrumental in the development of 18th-century Neapolitan opera. He wrote more than a hundred operas and some 600 cantatas, a considerable amount of church music, and a smaller number of purely instrumental works. His instrumental music includes keyboard toccatas and concertos as well as concerti grossi, trio sonatas and solo sonatas.
Sixth of the ten children of Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685, sharing his year of birth with Handel and JS Bach. After an early period in Italy he moved to Portugal, and then to Madrid in the service of the Infanta Maria Barbara, after her marriage to the Spanish Infante. He is chiefly known for the large number of highly inventive keyboard sonatas he wrote, mostly for his royal pupil and patron, which Naxos is recording and releasing progressively.
Georg Philip Telemann
Among the most prolific and most famous Baroque composers, Telemann was born in 1681 and educated at the University of Leipzig, where he founded the Collegium Musicum and was the city council’s preferred candidate for the position of Thomaskantor in 1723, before JS Bach was eventually appointed. Telemann had established himself in Hamburg in 1721 and remained there until his death, when he was succeeded by his godson, CPE Bach, son of JS Bach. In his long career Telemann wrote a great deal of music of all kinds in a style that extends the late Baroque into the age of Haydn.
Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons are probably the most frequently performed and recorded concertos from the Baroque era, with JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Handel’s Organ Concertos and Concerti grossi following close behind. So it may come as a surprise to learn that until the early 20th Century the vast majority of his compositions (including an extraordinary number of cantatas, concertos, operas, sacred works and instrumental sonatas) remained largely unknown to the public. The recent revival of interest in his virtuosic and immediately appealing music is one of the most exciting developments of modern times.
Several of JS Bach’s sons also established themselves as composers, contributing to the development of the new, galant, Rococo style which linked the earlier Baroque to the coming Classical styles.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
The second son of JS Bach by his first wife, Maria Barbara, CPE Bach was recognised as one of the greatest harpsichordists of his time. After study at university, he became harpsichordist to the Crown Prince of Prussia, later Frederick the Great, and left his service in 1767, after the death of his godfather Telemann, whom he succeeded as director of music of the five city churches of Hamburg. He was greatly respected both as a composer and as a friend of some of the most distinguished writers and thinkers of his time. In 1755 he published his influential Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments.
Johann Christian Bach
Johann Christian Bach’s influence on the young Mozart was considerable, and they met both in London and in Paris. He is sometimes known as ‘the London Bach’. JC Bach enjoyed considerable success in the English capital until his music fell victim to changing tastes. However, in recent decades his sparkling, highly entertaining works have once again found favour, and many of his compositions are being rediscovered and recorded.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach
The ninth child and second surviving son of JS Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena, JCF Bach was born in 1732 in Leipzig, where his father had served for the previous ten years as Thomaskantor. Compared with his siblings, little of his music survives and some was, until recently, ascribed to one of his better known brothers.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
The eldest son of JS Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann was born in 1710 in Weimar and was taught by his father, after 1723 when the family moved to Leipzig, becoming a pupil at the Thomasschule. He spent four years at the University of Leipzig, before finding employment as organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden and subsequently, with unhappy results, at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle. He was widely recognised as one of the most distinguished organists of his time and had mastered very thoroughly the lessons taught him by his father.
The 200th anniversary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death in 2009 gave an enormous boost to his already substantial reputation as ‘father’ of the symphony and of the string quartet. Naxos has released several critically-acclaimed boxed sets devoted to his Complete Concertos (8.506019), Masses (8.508009), Oratorios (8.507008), Piano Sonatas (8.501042), String Quartets (8.502400) and Symphonies (8.503400) which showcase Haydn’s amazing ability to delight listeners with his impeccable craftsmanship, wit and sophistication in these types of music.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
‘Whether the angels play only Bach praising God, I am not quite sure. I am sure, however, that en famille [ie. amongst themselves] they play Mozart.’ Karl Barth’s famous remark highlights the sheer enjoyment which Mozart’s music brings to musicians and music lovers alike. Renowned across Europe as a child prodigy and widely recognised during his adult life (and ever since) as a musical genius, Mozart’s music embraced every genre and includes some of the best known and most loved classical masterpieces today.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Beside JS Bach, Beethoven is arguably the best known and most respected of classical composers, the archetypal ‘temperamental, lone genius’. Deaf for much of his composing career (he had to give up performing as his hearing deteriorated), Beethoven was generously supported by the Viennese aristocracy who recognised his immense and uncompromising abilities. While remaining largely within the bounds of the Classical style, his highly personal and profound music nonetheless laid the foundations for the Romantic generation who idolised him.
In association with the publishing firm Artaria, Naxos has recorded the music of many less well known yet highly talented 18th-century composers. These contemporaries of Bach, Haydn and Mozart were often justly renowned in their day, and their music gives much pleasure to today’s listeners as well. Their own considerable merits aside, hearing the works of these ‘forgotten’ composers helps us to place the music of the 18th-century giants in perspective. Here are just a few such albums from Naxos’s 18th-century classics series which await your discovery and enjoyment: