Johann Friedrich Fasch (April 15, 1688–December 5, 1758) was a German violinist and composer, born on April 15, 1688, in Buttelstedt near Weimar, in Thuringia, Germany, the first child of school principal Friedrich Georg Fasch (died 1700) and Sophia Wegerig (or Wegerich), daughter of a Lutheran minister. Soon after Johann’s birth, his father took a position as teacher and Cantor at the Henneberg Secondary School in Schleusingen. In 1691 the Fasch family relocated to Suhl, where Fasch’s father had been appointed principal of the local Secondary School. In 1697, Fasch sang in the soprano (discant) section during performances of sacred music in Suhl. After his father’s death, Fasch was raised by Gottfried Wegerig, one of his mother’s brothers, a chaplain in Teuchern. A relative of Fasch’s family, Andreas Scheele, a chamber musician and tenor soloist at the court of Weissenfels, arranged for Fasch to become a choral scholar there.
Fasch joined the Court Chapel of the Duke of Weissenfels in 1699 as a choir boy, where his teacher was Johann Philipp Krieger, a musician of wide culture well versed in the Venetian, Bolognese, Neapolitan, Florentine and Roman schools, acquainted with the musicians of old Bohemia and a pupil of Pasquini. His influence on young Fasch was of considerable importance. Next, Fasch studied theology, law and music at the famous Thomas-Schule or St. Thomas School in Leipzig from 1701 to 1707, the latter under Johann Kuhnau, and became a member of the Thomaner Choir. Fasch taught himself how to play the violin and keyboard instruments, and composed his first vocal works, setting to music texts by Menantes. Fasch founded a second Collegium Musicum, an orchestral force consisting of secondary school and university students, at the University in that city, the birth of which caused a grave conflict between the young composer and his old master Kuhnau. This seems to have been the ancestor of the ‘Grosse Concert’ and so of the Gewandhaus concerts. He wrote overtures suites for the society modelled after those of Georg Philipp Telemann, and composed three operas commissioned by Duke Moritz Wilhelm of Sachsen-Zeitz for the Peter and Paul Fair in Naumburg and for the Court of Zeitz. Fasch also composed numerous incidental works.
In 1711, Fasch’s application for the position of Cantor at St. Jakobi at Chemnitz was not successful. He requested financial support for a study trip to Italy from the Duke but received a recommendation to the Court of Gotha instead. After finishing his studies in Leipzig, Fasch then traveled a little and visited many cities and courts throughout Germany and Central Europe eager to widen his knowledge, and composed all the while. He undertook a musical study trip through the southern and western parts of Germany, ending up in Kassel, having passed through Zeitz, Gera, Gotha, Eisenach and Mühlhausen. He spent much of spring of 1714 in Kassel, eventually travelling through Marburg, Giessen and Frankfurt-am-Main to Darmstadt where had 14 weeks of complimentary composition with his former St. Thomas’s School prefect, Court Kapellmeister Christoph Graupner and from his concertmaster Gottfried Grünewald.
Upon returning to Saxony Fasch visited his mother in Suhl, before departing for a second trip that took him to the court of Oettingen via Bamberg, Nürnberg and Ansbach. His hopes of going to Italy remained unfulfilled, so he accepted employment as a violinist with the orchestra at Bayreuth in 1714 during the Carnival season, and on that occasion he composed the opera “Die königliche Schäferin Margeris.” In 1715 he accepted a position as an official “secretary and administrative assistant” in Gera. On November 16, 1717, he married Johanna Christiane Laurentius, a minister’s daughter, in Roben near Gera. In 1719 he took a position as town clerk and organist in Greiz, where his father-in-law Georg Michael Laurentius served as archdeacon. In 1720 Fasch’s wife passed away, after giving birth to a son. The following year Fasch left Greiz for personal and professional reasons and accepted a position as “Componist” to Count Morzin in Prague for whom he continued to compose works throughout his career.
In 1722, after leading a wandering life for some years, Fasch received a recommendation from his friend and colleague in Gotha, G. H. Stölzel, and was appointed Kapellmeister at the court of Zerbst, a post he held until his death. The organist Johann Ulich was his assistant. It was in that same year, so tradition has it, that he refused to compete against Johann Sebastian Bach for the post of Cantor at St. Thomas’ of Leipzig. The works of Fasch, in manuscript, are dispersed among numerous libraries throughout Europe. He is credited with at least one Passion setting, a Requiem, 14 Masses, 2 Credo, 4 Psalms, some 100 church cantatas and motets, 4 serenades, 4 Operas, about 60 concertos structured like Antonio Vivaldi’s, about 90 overtures or orchestral suites, plus a quantity of trios, sonatas, symphonies, and chamber music. None of his pieces were printed in his lifetime, and a large number of his vocal works, including the four operas, have been lost. In the collection of music left by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was a whole set of church cantatas by Fasch.
Fasch was held in high regard by his contemporaries. Johann Sebastian Bach made manuscript copies of a number of his pieces and copies of five Suites by Fasch found among Bach’s manuscripts. Though Fasch belongs time-wise firmly in the baroque period, his lifespan closely paralleling that of Bach and Georg Frideric Handel, today he is considered an important link marking the transition from baroque to roccoco or early Classical periods. Fasch died at Zerbst, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, on December 5, 1758 at the age of 70, leaving the legacy of an extremely engaging musician. His daughter Johanna Friedericka arranged his “quiet” funeral. He was the father of Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800), also a musician of note. Fasch’s modern reputation rests on his overtures, symphonies, concertos, and chamber music.
My collection includes the following works by Johann Friedrich Fasch:
Concerto in DM for Trumpet, 2 Oboes, Strings, and Continuo.
Symphony in GM for Strings and Continuo.
Symphony in AM for Strings and Continuo.
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources