(b Buttelstädt, nr Weimar, 15 April 1688; d Zerbst, 5 Dec 1758). German composer and Kapellmeister. He was one of the most significant German contemporaries of Bach, and his orchestral works are characteristic of the transition from the late Baroque style to the Classicism of Haydn and Mozart.
Fasch was descended from a line of Lutheran Kantors and theologians. His earliest musical studies were as a boy soprano in Suhl and Weissenfels, and at 13 he was enlisted by J.P. Kuhnau for the Leipzig Thomasschule; his first compositions followed the style of his friend Telemann. While a student at the University of Leipzig he founded a collegium musicum which rivalled the eminence of the Thomasschule in the city's musical life. In this cosmopolitan city he encountered the concertos of Vivaldi, which greatly influenced his whole generation. Although he had no regular instruction in composition, he soon became so well known as a composer that his sovereign Duke Moritz Wilhelm of Saxe-Zeitz commissioned him to write operas for the Naumburg Peter-Paul festivals in 1711 and 1712.
For purposes of study Fasch undertook a long journey through several courts and cities, eventually arriving at Darmstadt, where he studied composition with Graupner and Grünewald. He then held several positions, including those of violinist in Bayreuth (1714), court secretary and organist in Greiz (until 1721) and Kapellmeister to the Bohemian Count Wenzel Morzin in Prague, whose accomplished chapel orchestra earned Vivaldi’s praise. In 1722 Fasch reluctantly accepted the position of court Kapellmeister in Zerbst. In the same year he was twice invited to apply for the position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, but withdrew from the competition shortly after Telemann did so, deciding that it was too soon to leave Zerbst. In 1727 Fasch spent some time at the Saxon court in Dresden, where his friends Pisendel and Heinichen were in charge of orchestral music and the Catholic chapel respectively. Heinichen's death in 1729 is a terminus ante quem for several of Fasch's surviving liturgical pieces, which were performed by the chapel choir under Heinichen, who noted the duration of pieces on the manuscripts (as well as rewriting sections, which Pfeiffer has taken as an indication that the Dresden experience was another learning venture).
Surviving correspondence, particularly with Nikolaus Ludwig, Reichsgraf von Zinzendorf, head of the Pietist Brotherhood in Herrnhut, reveals Fasch's unhappiness in strictly Lutheran Zerbst. Only one further application for a formal position is recorded (Freiberg, 1755), but it was unsuccessful, and Fasch remained at Zerbst for the rest of his life. During his 36 years there Fasch was primarily occupied with the composition of church cantatas and festival music for the count. His fame as a composer spread far beyond Saxony: his works were familiar to numerous courts and city churches, from Hamburg (where in 1733 Telemann performed a cycle of his church cantatas) to as far afield as Prague and Vienna. He enjoyed especially close relations with the famed Hofkapelle in Dresden, at which the Kapellmeister Pisendel performed many of his concertos (to some extent in arrangements), and likewise with the court at Cöthen, which attracted him by its Pietist leanings. Through his son C.F.C. Fasch, harpsichordist at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin from 1756, he was connected with C.P.E. Bach.
None of Fasch’s compositions was published during his lifetime. The extensive body of his manuscripts is widely distributed and difficult to assess; but it appears that most of his vocal works (including 9 complete cantata cycles, at least 14 masses and four operas) are lost, while the instrumental works are mostly extant. There are four principal sources: the remains of the court music library at Zerbst are divided between the Landesarchiv-Historisches Staatsarchiv, Oranienbaum, and the Institut für Musikwissenschaft der Martin-Luther-Universität, Halle an der Saale; and music that was passed between Fasch and the courts at Dresden and Darmstadt is now at the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden, and the Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek, Darmstadt, respectively. Fasch appears to have sent music to and received music from these courts throughout his life, and thus may have formed part of a wider network for the exchange of new music. Important documents at the Landesarchiv-Historisches Staatsarchiv, Oranienbaum, which reveal precisely what music was performed in the Schlosskirche in Zerbst during Fasch's employment there, have enabled the dating of the remnants of a cantata cycle in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, to 1735.
During the 19th century Fasch was so much overshadowed by Bach that he was neglected by music historians. In about 1900 Hugo Riemann, from his acquaintance with several overtures, recognized Fasch as one of the most important innovators in the transitional period between Bach and Haydn, who ‘set instrumental music entirely on its feet and displaced fugal writing with modern “thematic” style’. Later research has largely confirmed this assessment; in fact the transitional nature of Fasch's work, the synthesis of Baroque and Classical styles with a gradual increase in the ‘modern’ elements, is its most striking aspect. Fasch developed the vocabulary of the new musical language within the framework of traditional forms, and in some of his late works anticipated to a remarkable degree the idioms, though not the formal structures, used by Gluck, Haydn and Mozart.
Fasch's cantatas correspond roughly with those of J.P. Krieger, Telemann and Stölzel in their sequence of da capo arias, recitatives and chorales. The music of the masses is considerably richer; here the choir and the orchestra, with a large complement of wind instruments, have equal roles in the thematic development, and there is some expressive melodic writing in the solo movements.
The concertos, of which 64 are extant, show the development from Baroque to the early Classical style particularly clearly. Most are of the three-movement type created by Vivaldi, with the fast outer movements built around the ritornello structure of the Italian concerto. However Fasch, in one of his boldest experiments, often interrupted the thematic statement of the ritornello with motivically and sometimes thematically contrasting episodes for wind instruments. In both ritornello and solo sections articulation and periodicity within a theme are achieved by motivic, rhythmic and textural contrasts. In some cases there is a functional dualism of thematic material that anticipates the Classical sonata principle.
Fasch's unusual treatment of orchestral instruments, in particular the wind, attracted special attention even from his contemporaries. Besides employing unusual combinations of instruments, in many of his concertos he used the wind in pairs (flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns) as solo instruments, often with a solo violin. Unlike Bach and Handel, he did not use wind instruments in a truly solo manner as part of the concertino but rather as components of episodes of reduced texture within solo and ritornello sections. He also used ‘wind exclamations’ between phrases, and used wind alone for echoing repeated (or, occasionally, consequent) phrases. Fasch rarely contrasted sustained wind harmonies with active lines in the strings (an important principle of Classical orchestration); but in the concertos and the symphonies he sometimes simplified a doubled string part by ‘eliminating repeated notes, or taking just the main notes of an arpeggiated passage’ (Sheldon, 1972) in the wind: Fasch's most important step away from Baroque colla parte writing.
The orchestral suites (overtures) are based on the traditional form of the French overture followed by a series of dance movements. The fugues in the overtures are frequently interrupted by homophonic episodes for wind instruments; sometimes they are entirely replaced by free symphonic movements. The airs and free Allegro or Andante movements, interspersed between the dances, are of an equally striking ‘modern’ nature, being derived from the lyrical or rhythmical alternation of wind and string groups. In the symphonies and sonatas the tendency towards the Classical form is present in the double-bar repeat structure, like Classical sonata form, of most of the Allegro movements. But the presence of fugal movements and the inclination to solid, skilled counterpoint show Fasch's conservative tendencies.
Fasch's works are important primarily for their originality, for the creation of a musical vocabulary strikingly similar to the coming Classical idiom of Haydn and Mozart.
13 masses, individual mass movts (reworkings of the same material, counted as 1 work), D-Bsb, Dl, HAmi, ORB, GB-Er, Ob
9 cant. cycles, music lost; † – text survives, see Gille, 1989: †Gott geheiligtes Singen und Spielen (J.O. Knauer), 1722–3, double cycle; †Gott-geheiligtes Beth- und Lob-Opfer (J.F. Möhring), 1723–4; Geistliche Andachten über epistolische Texte (Fasch), 1727–8; †Evangelische Kirchen-Andachten (E. Neumeister), 1730–31, double cycle; Nahmenbuch Christi und der Christen (B. Schmolck), 1732–3; Das in Bitte, Gebet, Fürbitte und Dankgesang bestehende Opfer (?Fasch), 1735–6, double cycle; †Das Lob Gottes in der Gemeinde des Herrn (Neumeister), 1741–2; 1 cycle (G. Jacobi), cited in Engelke, 1909; Von der Nachfolge Christi (Uffenbach), 1751–2
Passio Jesu Christi (passion, B.H. Brockes), D-LEm, US-Cu
7 psalms, D-Dl: Beatus vir; Confitebor tibi Domine; Dixit Dominus; Laetatus sum; Lauda Jerusalem; Laudate pueri; Nisi Dominus
Doubtful: 13 cantatas, 1, DS; 8, D-KFp; 4, ORB
4 operas, lost: Clomire, Naumburg and Zeitz, 1711; Lucius Verus, Zeitz, 1711, as Berenice, Zerbst, 1739; Die getreue Dido, Naumburg, 1712; Margenis (after S. von Birken), Bayreuth, carn. 1715
Serenata Freudenbezeugung der vier Jaherszeiten (Fasch), 1723