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© 2003 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

Johann Sebastian Bach

1685-1750

Johann Sebastian Bach was born March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia. He was the youngest of Johann Ambrosius Bach and Maria Elisabeth Lammerhirt's eight children. Throughout his childhood, he was immersed in music and it became the main focus of his life. His father was a string player in the town council and the ducal court of Eisenach, a town in eastern Germany. In addition, Bach's brother, Johann Christoph, was an organist at the Georgen Church.

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Johann started school around 1692. By 1695, Bach's parents died and he was looked after by his brother, who gave him his first formal keyboard lessons. In 1700, Bach's voice secured him a position in the select choir of boys at St. Michael's Church School in Luneburg. Johann Sebastian Bach was a proficient organist by 1702. He focused much of his attention on composing sacred music for the keyboard. At age 18, Bach was appointed organist at the New Church in Arnstadt. He also worked briefly at the Blasius Church in Mulhausen, as court organist in Weimar and as musical director at the court of Kothen.

As musical director, Bach concerned himself with chamber and orchestral music. He wrote a few cantatas for the Prince's birthday and some other special occasions. Bach also found time to compile pedagogical keyboard works, which included the Klavierbuchlein, the French Suites, and the Well Tempered Clavier, a book with one prelude and one fugue in each major and minor key.

On July 7, 1720, Bach's wife died suddenly. He applied for the position of cantor in Leipzig. After many years and much determination on his part, Bach was finally offered the job. As director of church music for the city of Leipzig, Bach had to supply performances for four churches. These churches included: St. Peter's Church, New Church, St. Nikolai Church, and St. Thomas Church. Bach continued here for nearly 25 years. Bach was very committed to Leipzig, and dedicated his life to the composition of sacred music there.

In June 1747, Bach joined the Society of the Musical Sciences, which had been formed by one of his former pupils. Around this time, Bach developed cataracts, which left him mostly blind. He fell ill of unknown causes. Bach suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died from a stroke on July 18, 1750.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a brilliant individual, and is considered the greatest composer of the Baroque period. He constantly experimented with different sounds, notes, and chords structures. Bach was known to wood sticks in his mouth so that by leaning over the organ keyboard, and using his hands and feet, he could play as many notes as possible, creating sounds unheard before. He didn't think twelve notes played at one time on an organ was enough!

His most famous and influential choral works include the Mass in B minor, and the St. Matthew's Passion. The Brandenberg Concertos stand out as some of his most famous instrumental works, along with Wachet Auf. He wrote numerous organ Toccatas, with Toccata and Fugue in D Minor perhaps the most famous piece he ever composed. It is played in churches, and used all the time for theme music for computer games in modern times. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arguably the greatest composer known to man, spoke often of Bach's genius, and even wrote variations from many of Bach's original themes.

In addition to Bach's many accomplishments, he had over twenty children. His children also became successful musicians as well. Johann Christian Bach, on of Bach's sons, was a more popular composer in his time than his father had been. Although Bach is dead, he is not forgotten. His music is performed all over the world. It brings people closer to themselves, and also brings them closer to God. Bach's music is a thing of beauty, and will last for many years to come.


Notes:

Brandenburg Concerto #3 (excerpt)


Sources:

David, Hans and Arthur Mendel, The Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents (W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York 1966).

Forkel, Johann Nikolaus, Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life, Art , and Work (Da Capo Press, New York 1970).

Encyclopedia Americana (Grolier Inc., Connecticut 1988).


Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.