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Bagge [Bach], Baron de [Ennal, Charles-Ernest]locked

  • Roger J.V. Cotte

(b Fockenhof, Kurland, Feb 14, 1722; d Paris, March 24, 1791). French dilettante, amateur violinist and composer, patron of the arts and instrument collector. A magnificent and very wealthy nobleman, he both amused and astounded his contemporaries. M. Audinot in his comic opera La musicomanie (1779), and possibly E.T.A. Hoffmann in his tale Die Serapionsbrüder (1819), attempted to evoke his strange personality, emphasizing its ridiculous nature.

At the death of his father, a landed nobleman, in 1747, Bagge inherited a large fortune which enabled him to study the violin in Italy with Tartini. By 1750 he had settled in Paris; in the following year he was awarded the title chambellan du Roi de Prusse (then Frederick II) and married the daughter of the Swiss banker Jacob Maudry. With Maudry's death in 1762 the very large inheritance proved a source of contention to the ill-matched couple and they soon separated. Bagge later attempted to gain possession of the inheritance of Mme Maudry, who had died in 1767, and the resulting lawsuits scandalized Paris until the Parlement decided in his wife's favour in 1773.

After the separation Bagge devoted himself entirely to music, and exercised considerable influence on Parisian musical life as concert organizer, patron, performer, composer and teacher. Every Friday in his hotel on the rue de La Feuillade he held a concert at which his protégés performed; on one of these occasions in 1783 Kreutzer gave the first performance of one of Bagge's violin concertos. He travelled in 1778 to England and in 1784 to Vienna, where he performed before Mozart. In 1790, having left France at the outbreak of the Revolution, he was appointed Kammerherr to Friedrich Wilhelm II in Berlin. His death in the following year was accompanied by rumours that he had been poisoned by his mistress, though several public disclaimers later that year discredit the accusation.

Bagge was a freemason and belonged to two of the Parisian lodges with the most active music programmes: the celebrated Loge Olympique and particularly Les Neuf Soeurs, where he was director of concerts and organized the musical side of Voltaire's initiation. His talent as a violinist and particularly his technical capabilities were perhaps not so negligible as earlier writers have maintained. He showed special skill in performing ascending and descending scales on a single string using only one finger of the left hand. His compositions, though hardly original, reveal sureness of taste and irreproachable workmanship. He was criticized for his nervous twitches and strange attitudes while performing; the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung (iii, 1800, col.841) recalled of his playing that

No Baron can ever have made such horrible grimaces the moment he took violin and bow in hand. His face, his muscles, the whole of his body underwent most painful contortions, and, as his playing increased in animation, the sounds that proceeded could only be likened to the wailing of a cat.

This doubtless gave rise to the ambiguous compliment paid by the Emperor Joseph II (‘My dear Baron, I have never heard anyone play the violin quite like you’), and the quatrain under one of his portraits:

Du Dieu de l'harmonie adorateur fidèle,

Son zèle impetueux ne saurait s'arrêter;

Dans l'art du violon il n'a point de modèle

Et personne jamais n’osera l’imiter.

As a patron Bagge was extraordinarily generous. Although he favoured artists who were also freemasons (Kreutzer, Viotti, Duport, Capron and Gossec), or who were closely linked with the order (Gaviniès and Boccherini), he nevertheless helped only deserving musicians. He insisted, however, on giving lessons to the violinists among them, paying them to accept his tuition, and was thus able to boast of himself as leader of the French violin school. His private collection of violins was prodigious, and included instruments by Stradivari, Amati and Gasparo da Salò, which he generously conferred on his ‘pupils’. This collection, as well as his large music library which he freely extended to other musicians, reverted at his death to his wife together with the rest of his largely depleted estate, and has since been untraced.

Several portraits of Bagge are known, one of them engraved by Nicolas Cochin (reproduced in Terry) and another portraying him with a violin ‘comme un ménétrier’.

Works

all printed works published in Paris

Orchestral

3 sinfonie (1788)

4 vn concs., all (n.d.)

vn conc., F-Pn; 2 symphonies concertantes, D-B

Chamber

6 quatuors concertants, str qt, op.1 (1773)

6 trio, 2 vn, b (n.d.)

Airs de Marlborough variés, hpd, vn (n.d.)

2 str qts, 4 str qnts, collab. ?F. Fiorillo, destroyed

Cantata, 1786, for accession of Friedrich Wilhelm II, D-B

Bibliography

  • L. Petit de Bachaumont and others: Mémoires secrets, 20 (London, 1783), 83–4
  • F. Marpurg: Legende einiger Musikheiligen (Cologne [recte Breslau], 1786), 224–5, 277ff
  • P. Smith: ‘Les élèves du Baron de Bagge’, RGMP, 12 (1845)
  • G. Cucuel: ‘Le Baron de Bagge et son temps’, Année musicale, 1 (1911), 145–86
  • C.S. Terry: ‘Baron Bach’, ML, 12 (1931), 130–39
  • C.M. Carroll: ‘A Beneficent Poseur: Charles Ernest, Baron de Bagge’, RMFC, 16 (1976), 24–36
  • R.J.V. Cotte: Les musiciens franc-maçons à la cour de Versailles et à Paris sous l'ancien régime (doctorat d'Etat, diss., 1982, F-Pn)
  • R.J.V. Cotte: La musique maçonnique et ses musiciens (Paris, 2/1987), 72–4
Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Musikabteilung
F.-J. Fétis: Biographie universelle des musiciens
Revue et gazette musicale de Paris
Music & Letters
Recherches sur la musique française classique
E.L. Gerber: Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France