Bukofzer on Bach and Handel

 | 390 words

From Music in the Baroque Era by Manfred Bukofzer, concluding the comparison between Bach and Handel as the two pinnacles of the baroque:

The polarity of Bach and Handel can in the last analysis be explained as that of the two great individualities of fundamentally different psychological attitudes. Handel belongs to the extrovert, Bach to the introvert type. This typological difference emerges most convincingly in the manner in which both composers reacted to the musical styles of the period. Handel assimilated the various national styles so that they became his second nature. He thus arrived at a complete coordination of national styles enabling him to master each one equally well. Bach, conversely, assimilated the various influences with his own personal style and thus arrived at a fusion of national styles in which the single elements are inseparable. The methods are incommensurable and cannot be weighed against each other, but they explain why Handel’s works center round his operas, written from a world-wide perspective for an international public, and his oratorios, the monuments of his ethical humanism; and why Bach’s works center round his cantatas, written for the local churches of Saxony, and his passions, the monuments of his liturgical severity. In this light, the life of Handel and Bach symbolizes their respective artistic significance: Handel, always bent on success, passed through the international centers of music; Bach, unconcerned about worldly success, began and ended his career within the narrowness of central Germany. Both composers are universal in their appeal. The worldly grand manner of Handel and the spiritual attitude of Bach represent the two essential and at the same time complementary aspects of baroque music which cause the curious paradox that Bach and Handel are equals only where they are incompatible (349).

Dr. Bukofzer’s analysis is certainly correct as it touches on music and history. I think his application of psychological categories is also correct; at least to me, Bach’s music serves more of an intense personal reflection than Handel’s thespianism. In a sense, Handel feels more extraverted than Bach, at least when I listen to and play their music.

Bukofzer, Manfred F. Music in the Baroque Era, from Monteverdi to Bach. New York: W.W. Norton, 1947.