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Johann Joseph Fux and Musica Imperiale

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Johann Joseph Fux (c. 1660 –February 13, 1741) was an Austrian composer, one of the most successful of his time, music theorist, and pedagogue of the late Baroque era who is most famous as the author of Gradus ad Parnassum, a treatise on counterpoint, which has become the single most influential book on the Palestrinian style of Renaissance polyphony, as almost all modern courses on Renaissance counterpoint, a mainstay of college music curricula, are indebted in some degree to this work by Fux.  Fux was born around 1660 to a peasant family in Hirtenfeld, Styria, Austria. Relatively little is known about his early life, but it is likely that he went to nearby Graz for music lessons. In 1680 he was accepted at the Jesuit university there, where his musical talent became apparent. From 1685 until 1688 he served as organist at St. Moritz in Ingolstadt. Sometime during this period he must have made a trip to Italy, as evidenced by the strong influence of Corelli and Bolognese composers on his work of the time.

By the 1690s Fux was in Vienna, and was organist at the Schottenkirche in Vienna in 1696. Also in 1696 he got married.  Two years later, he attracted the attention of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I with some masses he composed; the emperor was sufficiently impressed by them to assist him with his career after this point. In 1698, Leopold hired him as court composer.  Fux traveled again to Italy, studying in Rome in 1700; it may have been here that he acquired the veneration for Palestrina which was so consequential for music pedagogy.  Fux served Leopold I until the emperor’s death, and two more Habsburg emperors after that, Joseph I, and Charles VI, both of whom continued to employ him in high positions in the court. In addition, he held the posts of deputy kapellmeister (1705–12), kapellmeister (1712–15), and court kapellmeister (1715–41) at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.   Fux was famous as a composer throughout this period, his fame being eclipsed only later in the 18th century as the Baroque style died out. Although his music only recently regained favor, his mastery of counterpoint influenced countless composers through his treatise Gradus ad Parnassum (1725).

The Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps or Ascent to Mount Parnassus) is a theoretical and pedagogical work written by Fux in Latin.  Fux dedicated it to Emperor Charles VI.  The work is divided into two major parts. In the first part, Fux presents a summary of the theory on Musica Speculativa, or the analysis of intervals as proportions between numbers.  The second part, on Musica Pratica, is the section of this treatise where the author presents his instruction on counterpoint, fugue, double counterpoint, a brief essay on musical taste, and his ideas on composing sacred music, writing in the a cappella and in the recitativo style. He also states that theory without practice is useless. Thus, his book stresses practice over theory.  While Gradus ad Parnassum is famous as the origin of the term “species counterpoint,” Fux was not the first one to invent the idea.  However, he presented the idea with a clarity and focus which made it famous as a teaching method.

Fux was a prolific composer of vocal and instrumental music. His works include 19 operas (Julo Ascanio, re d’Alba, 1708; Orfeo ed Euridice, 1715; Angelica, vinditrice di Alkina, 1723 – an example of the Colossal Baroque style), of which Costanza e fortezza (1723) is notable.  His instrumental pieces include 29 partitas collected in his Concentus musico-instrumentalis, 1701).    Fux also composed church music, including about 80 masses (Missa canonica, Missa Christi Corporis, Requiem K 51–53, Magnificat K 98, De Profundis), of which the Missa canonica, (1708), written in canon throughout, is particularly admired; and 10 oratorios (e.g., Il Fonte della Salute).  For the clavier, Fux composed five Partitas, a 20-minute Capriccio, a Ciaccona, an Harpeggio Prelude and Fugue, an Aria Passaggiata, and a set of twelve Minuets.  Fux frequently worked with theatrical engineer Giuseppe Galli Bibiena and poet and librettist Pietro Pariati.  He died on Feb. 13, 1741, in Vienna, Austria.

The following works by Johann Joseph Fux are contained in my CD collection:

Concerto, “Le Dolcezze e l’Amerezze Della Notte, E. 112.

Intrada in CM, E. 62.

Overture in dm, N. 4.

Rondeau, E. 111.

Suite in CM, N. 83.

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