Composers Datebook®

Bach and Mattheson

Composers Datebook for June 17, 2016


Back in 1714, today’s date fell on a Sunday, and, if you had happened to be attending a church service at the German Court of the Duke of Weimar, you might have heard some new music by the Duke’s court composer and organist, Johann Sebastian Bach.

It’s possible that Bach’s Cantata No. 21 received its first performance that day: its first part before the sermon, its second part right afterwards. The opening text, which Bach sets as a fugue, begins “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis” or, in English, I had much affliction.”

Now even in Bach’s day, composers were afflicted with critics. In 1725, a then-famous composer—and critic—Johann Mattheson took Bach to task for the way in which he had set his text by quoting exactly what is being sung:

"I, I, I, I had much affliction, I had much affliction, in my heart, in my heart. I had much affliction, in my heart…” etc… Mattheson’s point, apparently, was that vocal music should not stutter, but flow gracefully in the “gallant” style that was becoming more fashionable and trendy back then.

Even so, Mattheson knew that Bach was the real deal, and earlier had praised Bach in print for church and keyboard music so well written that (quote), “we must certainly rate this man highly.”

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach Cantata No. 21 (Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis) t.b.a.

On This Day


  • 1818 - French opera composer Charles Gounod, in Paris;

  • 1882 - Russian-born American composer Igor Stravinsky, in Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov), near St. Petersburg (Julian date: June 5); In the 19th century, the Julian calendar lagged behind the Gregorian by 12 days, and in the 20th by 13 days; For most of his life in Europe and America, Stravinsky chose to observe his birthday on June 18, but "officially" it was celebrated on June 17;

  • 1916 - Finnish composer Einar (Sven) Englund, in Ljugard, Gotland (Sweden);


  • 1983 - American composer Peter Mennin, age 60, in New York;


  • 1903 - Victor Herbert: operetta, "Babes In Toyland," in Chicago;

  • 1908 - Stravinsky: "Fireworks," for the marriage of Rimsky-Korsakov's daughter to Maxmillian Steinberg (Julian date: June 4);

  • 1944 - Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 94a (transcription of the Flute Sonata, Op. 94), in Moscow, by violinist David Oistrakh and pianist Lev Oborin;

  • 1957 - Stravinsky: ballet score "Agon," at a 75th birthday concert for Stravinsky in Los Angeles conducted by Robert Craft; The first ballet performance of "Agon" occurred at the New York City Ballet on December 1, 1957, choreographed by Georges Balanchine;

  • 1959 - Barber: "A Hand of Bridge," at Festival of Two Worlds in Spoletto, Italy;

  • 1983 - Bernstein: opera "A Quiet Place" (first version), by Houston Grand Opera, John DeMain conducting; A revised version of this opera premiered at La Scala in Milan, Italy, on June 19, 1984, conducted by John Mauceri;

  • 1988 - Elliott Carter: Oboe Concerto, in Zurich, by the Zurich Collegium Musicum conducted by John Carewe, with Heinz Holliger as soloist;


  • 1733 - Performances by J.S. Bach's "Collegium Musicum" in Leipzig resume after a period of mourning for Elector Friedrich August I;

  • 1914 - Finnish composer Jean Sibelius awarded honorary degree by Yale University.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®