Fux exemplifies the development of late Baroque style at the imperial court in Vienna. He matured late as a composer, to judge by his description of himself as a ‘new author of sacred music’ in the dedication to the Missa SS Trinitatis. His activities as a composer of secular and sacred dramatic works, moreover, would appear to date only from 1700 and 1702 respectively. Few works can be dated from before his appointment at the Viennese court, and his numerous mass and vesper settings, litanies and other liturgical pieces reflect the integrated function of church music as an expression of Habsburg ideology (see Riedel, A1977). Even the secular dramatic texts which he set were explicitly indebted to the imperial credo of a ‘holy’ and ‘Roman’ empire. The conjunction of Counter-Reformation zeal and princely absolutism which endured in Vienna throughout Fux's lifetime both delimited and inspired his musical style. He belonged to that generation of composers which redeemed the technical and formal stagnation of the Hofmusikkapelle under the aging Draghi, and he successfully reconciled the deeply authoritarian tenor of the court itself with the expressive freedom of modern idioms and techniques. His own undoubted conservatism, reflected in the progressive thrust of the Gradusfrom Palestrina to ‘stylo recitativo’, enabled him to evolve a technique answerable to the doctrinaire poetics of Habsburg Vienna.
Fux's masses are for the most part concertante works: some 90 settings of the Ordinary are known, of which only two, the Missa Quadragesimalis and the Missa di San Carlo (Canonica) are wholly in the stylus antiquus which Fux recommended in the Gradus as the true source of liturgical music. Other masses, including the Missa Vicissitudinis, effectively belong to this category, in so far as their prevailing style is that of antico counterpoint, though with instrumental doubling. The Missa di San Carlo, by which Fux earned a one-sided reputation for Palestrinian pastiche in the 19th century, is nevertheless a contrapuntal tour de force, in which all 14 sections explore different combinations and resolutions of canonic technique.
Although the chronology of Fux's concertante masses is largely unknown, certain works show the composer's consolidation of modern, italianate techniques, especially after 1700. Thus an early work such as the Missa SS Trinitatis, with its predominantly ‘colossal Baroque’ textures (double choirs fortified by strings, trombones and continuo) may usefully be contrasted with later works such as the Missa Purificationis, the Missa Corporis Christi (1713) and the Missa Pro gratiarum actione (?1716). In each of these Fux's instrumental scoring is partly colla parte and partly independent, and in each a remarkable conspectus of vocal and instrumental styles is present, ranging from tutti passages which articulate the text in massively scored homophony to vocally developed trio sonata textures in which vocal soloists partake of instrumentally generated counterpoint. In certain sections, as in the Benedictus from the Missa Purificationis, the motto technique of the solo vocal writing and the independent density of the violin counterpoint are strongly suggestive of the secular cantata. In the Missa Pro gratiarum actione Fux restricts himself to this trio-sonata texture throughout (with two trombones doubling the alto and tenor in the ripieno sections), with the result that his habitually formal and motivic counterpoint (as in the first ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Christe’) is all the more transparent. Paired imitation, inversion, invertible counterpoint and fugal points are frequently deployed. None of these techniques, however, unbalances the integration of contemporary styles. In the large festive and solemn masses trumpet scoring brilliantly enhances the usual complement of softer winds and strings.
Fux's Requiem Mass, I/ii, 7 (k51–3), must be regarded as one of the greatest settings of the Office of the Dead in the first half of the 18th century. Written for the funeral of Eleonora Margaretha Theresia (widow of Leopold I) in 1720, the work was repeated in whole or in part on at least nine occasions between 1729 and 1743. Scored for five vocal parts, two cornetts, two trombones, strings and continuo, the Requiem virtually comprises an anthology of Fux's manipulation of high Baroque style, notwithstanding the absence of formal da capo structures. The concertino–ripieno contrast which is essential to Fux's conception of texture combines in this work with a madrigalian intensity of expression that self-evidently befits the nature of the text. Fux's reliance on counterpoint is here mediated by a sharply distinctive melodic profile, a freedom of chromatic movement in the harmony and a rhythmically flexible structure. The opening ‘Requiem’, the ‘Tuba mirum’ and the ‘Confutatis maledictis’ fugue are sufficient to establish the work as a masterpiece.
Fux's other large-scale liturgical works consist of about 80 compositions for Vespers, among them settings of Laudate Dominum and the Magnificat. Of the published settings, two, I/iv (k95) and the separate Laudate Dominum I/iv (single items), 27 (k91), are in free a cappella style (i.e. in four equal vocal parts doubled by wind and string instruments). The remaining works belong to the stylus mixtus as it was defined by Fux in the Gradus, namely a concertante interplay of vocal and instrumental textures. The court copies of these works show that some of them were performed as many as 13 times between 1726 and 1740. Gleissner (C1982) has suggested that Fux's scoring, vocal disposition and textural contrast (as between ripieno homophony and virtuoso solo counterpoint) was determined to an extent by the feast days to which his settings were attached. The Laudate Dominum, I/iv (single items), 26 (e29), opens with a Gregorian cantus firmus in the tenor which is embellished with circular counterpoint in the other vocal parts; the Magnificat I/iv (single items), 42 (k98) (which may have been first performed on 11 June 1727) explores a variety of monumental textures and smaller episodes in which the vocal soloist is deployed against an obbligato trumpet or is juxtaposed with the full ensemble. The rapid changes of texture by which Fux habitually responded to these texts is also characteristic of his oratorio choruses (choral madrigals).
A more satisfying formal structure underlies many of the smaller motet settings that Fux provided for the offertory and other elements of the Proper. The offertory motet Estote fortes I/vii, 41 (k159) adheres to a rondeau-like design (ABACA) which contrasts high Baroque monumentalism in the A sections with recitative and aria-like sections. These smaller motets and antiphons, such as Alma Redemptoris mater I/ix, 17 (k186) for soprano, alto trombone, strings and continuo, project Fux's mastery of the Neapolitan and Venetian chamber style, so that the alternation of recitative and aria and a reliance on obbligato textures advance a virtually operatic (and unmistakably secular) technique. The prominence of obbligato textures throughout Fux's liturgical music is matched by his trio sonatas, intended for performance during the gradual of the Mass. Although deeply indebted to the Corellian model, many of them incline to a three-part structure (Adagio–Allegro–Adagio).
Fux's operas and oratorios are also definitive expressions of the Austro-Italian Baroque in its final manifestation under Charles VI. His liturgical music reinforced – and was in turn reinforced by – the singular complexity and symbolic importance of the church service in Vienna. Likewise, his operas and oratorios derive from a pervasive conception of Reichsstil (‘dynastic style’) which dominated Viennese art and architecture throughout his lifetime. Fux's 22 secular dramatic works, all but six of which are either one-act operas or serenatas, were written between 1700 and 1731. His particular responsibility between 1708 and 1726 was the setting of mythological and ancient historical texts in celebration of the namedays and birthdays of members of the imperial family, chiefly the emperor and empress. Whereas his deputy, Caldara, and the court composer F.B. Conti were usually assigned the larger three-act feste teatrali by which important occasions of state were marked, Fux's demanding commitments to liturgical music entailed a correspondingly smaller role in the production of secular drama. He nevertheless produced a long sequence of operatic works which are notable for his association with the court poet Pietro Pariati.
Although the early operas show traits characteristic of the late 17th century – as in the use of arioso passages in recitatives – Fux's style is principally a synthesis of his own predilection for contrapuntal textures, a vivid mastery of vocal and instrumental rhetoric and italianate ornamentation, and a colourful use of obbligato scoring. Introductory sinfonias depend on French and Italian models, choral numbers are usually brief and homophonic (even in the larger operas), and accompagnato recitatives and vocal ensembles are sparingly deployed. As with his Italian contemporaries, it is Fux's manipulation of the da capo aria that represents his keenest sense of dramma per musica: his scoring, texture and motivic-thematic integration allow an individual style to arise whereby the idealized passions of the Affektenlehre attain dramatic life.
His solo numbers comprise continuo arias (usually with an orchestral ritornello attached to the end of the A section), full orchestral arias with four-part string textures, and obbligato pieces. These last are variously scored for chalumeau, bassoons (in pairs), trumpet (‘clarino’ and ‘tromba’), cembalo, violin, viola d'amore, viola da gamba, oboe, flute, mandolin and horns (corni da caccia), with or without strings. The absence of cornetts – so common in his church music – is a striking feature. The compositional techniques which these arias exemplify can scarcely be indicated here except to observe that Fux explores a gamut of homophonic and contrapuntal textures which brilliantly overcome the static conception of formal structure implicit in the da capo aria itself. His vocal writing is persistently related to the motivic curve of his ritornello sections, a trait which obtains with even greater force in the sacred dramatic works.
Fux's oratorios, which overlap in chronology with the operas, are without question among the finest examples of the genre in Italy and Austria in the first half of the 18th century. The ten wholly extant works may be divided into biblical, allegorical and sepolcro oratorios, but most of the musical features which distinguish the Viennese sepolcro from the Italian oratorio volgare in the 17th century no longer obtain. Instead, Fux's sepolcro settings may be regarded as locally defined Passion oratorios. The texts for five of these are by Pariati, who also wrote the librettos for at least two of Fux's biblical dramas. Their scoring differs from that of the operas in that a smaller range of obbligato instruments is used (they include the trombone). Fux's choral writing is also far more elaborate: each oratorio features at least two large-scale movements, conventionally located at the end of the first and second parts, which explore word-painting familiar from his liturgical music. The recitative–da capo aria sequences which dominate these oratorios are self-evidently dependent on operatic precedents, but in Fux's case it can be argued that the moral, sexual and politico-religious dramas which these sequences convey carry a greater sense of immediacy and conviction than transpires in his secular dramatic works. La fede sacrilega nella morte del precursor S Giovanni Battista (1714) and his final sepolcro setting, La deposizione dalla Croce di Gesù Cristo Salvator nostro (1728), are especially potent manifestations of Baroque musical drama.
Mattheson, who in Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739) praised Fux's choral technique, fugal writing and command of Italian vocal style, also recognized his mastery of instrumental music. The Concentus musico-instrumentalis is a cycle of seven partitas variously scored for wind, brass and string instruments. Published in 1701 as Fux's op.1, the cycle was dedicated to Joseph (as King of Rome). Its cosmopolitan admixture of French, Italian and German movements and its festive demeanour are also to be found in the composer's keyboard suites, which are for the most part heavily ornamented and treble-dominated.