Composers Datebook®

Bach and Handel on a date?

Composers Datebook - Feb. 20, 2024


In 1724, Feb. 20 fell on a Sunday, and at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe, or, in English, Jesus Gathered the 12 to Himself, a church cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach, was performed as part of the Sunday service.

Meanwhile, on Feb. 20 in London that same year, audiences at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket heard the premiere of Giulio Cesare in Egitto or, Julius Caesar in Egypt, a new Italian opera by George Frideric Handel.

How interesting to find Bach in church and Handel in the theater, on the same date — but not, as it turns out, on the same day.

In 1724, Bach’s Germany kept track of time under the Gregorian calendar, but in Handel’s England, the older Julian calendar was still used, and so Handel’s calendar would say Feb. 20 was a Thursday, while Bach’s would say was it was a Sunday. It wasn’t until 1752 that England adopted the same calendar that Germany used — the Gregorian one we still use today.

In the 18th century, apparently, you didn’t need Albert Einstein to remind you that time is a very relative concept!

Music Played in Today's Program

J.S. Bach (1685-1750): Excerpt fr Cantata No. 22; Yo Yo Ma, cello; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra; Ton Koopman, cond. Sony Classical 60680

George Frederic Handel (1685-1757): Excerpt, fr Giulio Cesare; Barbara Schlick, soprano; Concerto Cologne; Rene Jacobs, cond. Harmonia Mundi 90.1458

On This Day


  • 1749 - Baptism of German composer, violinist and famous London impresario Johann Peter Salomon, in Bonn;

  • 1770 - Italian composer and guitarist Ferdinando Carulli, in Naples;

  • 1791 - Austrian composer and pianist Carl Czerny, in Vienna;

  • 1802 - Belgian composer and violinist Charles-Auguste de Bériot, in Louvain;

  • 1911 - American composer Robert McBride, in Tucson, Arizona;

  • 1929 - Japanese composer Toshiro Mayuzumi, in Yokohama;


  • 1961 - Australian-born American composer and pianist Percy Grainger, age 78, in White Plains, N.Y.;


  • 1722 - first concert performance of Handel: “Water Music” (Julian date: Feb. 9);

  • 1724 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 22 ("Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwölfe") and No. 23 ("Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn" performed on Estomihi Sunday as part of Bach's first annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1723/24);

  • 1724 - Handel: opera “Giulio Cesare (Julius Ceasar)” in London at The King’s Theatre in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Mar. 2);

  • 1816 - Rossini: opera, "The Barber of Seville," in Rome at the Teatro Argentina, with the composer conducting;

  • 1827 - Mendelssohn: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" Overture, in Stettin (first public performance), with Carl Loewe conducting;

  • 1877 - Tchaikovsky: ballet “Swan Lake,” in Moscow (Gregorian date: Mar. 4);

  • 1881 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic"), with Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Hans Richter; This was the second (revised) version of Bruckner's original 1874 score;

  • 1897 - Kalinnikov: Symphony No. 1 in g, in Kiev (Julian date: Feb. 8);

  • 1907 - Rimsky-Korsakov: opera “Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh,” in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theater, Blumenfeld conducting (Julian date: Feb. 7);

  • 1910 - Debussy: orchestral suite, "Ibéria," at a Colonne Concert in Paris, conducted by Pierné;

  • 1937 - Prokofiev: "Lt. Kijé" Suite (first public performance)in Paris, with composer conducting; A radio performance of this film music suite was broadcast in Moscow on December 21, 1934;

  • 1942 - Menotti: one-act opera "The Island God," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York;

  • 1943 - Orff: opera "Die Kluge" (The Clever Girl), in Frankfurt at the Städtische Bühnen;

  • 1962 - Henri Lazaroff: Viola Concerto, in Monaco;

  • 2003 - Tan Dun: "The Map," multi-media concerto for cello and orchestra, by the Boston Symphony, with the composer conducting and Yo-Yo Ma the soloist;


  • 1626 - English composer and lutenist John Dowland, age c. 63, is buried in London; This date suggests Dowland most likely died in mid-February, although some older sources improbably cite Jan. 20 as his death date (That was the day Dowland's son assumed his father's post as a royal court musician).

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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®