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Bach in a 1748 portrait by Haussmann
Signature of J. S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (German pronunciation: [joˈhan] or [ˈjoːhan zeˈbastjan ˈbax]) (31 March 1685 [O.S. 21 March] – 28 July 1750) (often referred to simply as Bach) was a German composer, organist, violist, and violinist whose ecclesiastical and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity.[1] Although he did not introduce new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivalled control of harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France.

Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, Bach's works include the Brandenburg concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Partitas, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the Magnificat, The Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, the English and French Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, more than 200 surviving cantatas, and a similar number of organ works, including the celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time.

Childhood (1685–1703)

Johann Ambrosius Bach, Bach's father

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach. He was the youngest child of Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the Stadtpfeifer or town musicians,[2] and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. His father taught him to play violin and harpsichord.[3] His uncles were all professional musicians, whose posts ranged from church organists and court chamber musicians to composers. One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach (1645–93), was especially famous and introduced him to the art of organ playing. Bach was proud of his family's musical achievements, and around 1735 he drafted a genealogy, "Origin of the musical Bach family".[4]

Bach's mother died in 1694, and his father eight months later.[5] The 10-year-old orphan moved in with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach (1671–1721), the organist at the Michaeliskirche in nearby Ohrdruf. [6]There, he copied, studied and performed music, and apparently received valuable teaching from his brother, who instructed him on the clavichord. J.C. Bach exposed him to the works of the great South German composers of the day, such as Johann Pachelbel (under whom Johann Christoph had studied)[7] and Johann Jakob Froberger; possibly to the music of North German composers; to Frenchmen, such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis Marchand, Marin Marais; and to the Italian clavierist Girolamo Frescobaldi. The young Bach probably witnessed and assisted in the maintenance of the organ music. Bach's obituary indicates that he copied music out of Johann Christoph's scores, but his brother had apparently forbidden him to do so, possibly because scores were valuable and private commodities at the time.

At the age of 14, Bach, along with his older school friend George Erdmann, was awarded a choral scholarship to study at the prestigious St. Michael's School in Lüneburg, not far from the northern seaport of Hamburg, one of the largest cities in the Holy Roman Empire.[8] This involved a long journey with his friend, probably undertaken partly on foot and partly by coach. His two years there appear to have been critical in exposing him to a wider palette of European culture than he would have experienced in Thuringia. In addition to singing in the a cappella choir, it is likely that he played the School's three-manual organ and its harpsichords. He probably learned French and Italian, and received a thorough grounding in theology, Latin, history, geography, and physics. He would have come into contact with sons of noblemen from northern Germany sent to the highly selective school to prepare for careers in diplomacy, government, and the military.

Although little supporting historical evidence exists at this time, it is almost certain that while in Lüneburg, young Bach would have visited the Johanniskirche (Church of St. John) and heard (and possibly played) the church's famous organ (built in 1549 by Jasper Johannsen and nicknamed the "Böhm organ" after its most prominent master, Georg Böhm). Given his innate musical talent, Bach would have had significant contact with prominent organists of the day in Lüneburg, most notably Böhm (the organist at Johanniskirche) as well as organists in nearby Hamburg, such as Johann Adam Reincken.[9] Through contact with these musicians, Bach probably gained access to the largest and finest instruments he had played thus far. It is likely that during this stage he became acquainted with the music of the German organ schools, especially the work of Dieterich Buxtehude, and with music manuscripts and treatises on music theory that were in the possession of these musicians.

Arnstadt to Weimar (1703–08)

St. Boniface's Church in Arnstadt

In January 1703, shortly after graduating and failing an audition for an organist's post at Sangerhausen,[10] Bach took up a post as a court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar, a large town in Thuringia. His role there is unclear, but appears to have included menial, non-musical duties. During his seven-month tenure at Weimar, his reputation as a keyboard player spread. He was invited to inspect and give the inaugural recital on the new organ at St. Boniface's Church in Arnstadt.[11] The Bach family had close connections with this oldest town in Thuringia, about 40 km to the southwest of Weimar at the edge of the great forest.[12] In August 1703, he accepted the post of organist at that church, with light duties, a relatively generous salary, and a fine new organ tuned to a modern system that allowed a wide range of keys to be used. At this time, Bach was embarking on the serious composition of organ preludes; these works, in the North German tradition of virtuosic, improvisatory preludes, already showed tight motivic control (in which a single, short music idea is explored cogently throughout a movement). However, in these works the composer had yet to fully develop his powers of large-scale organisation and his contrapuntal technique (in which two or more melodies interact simultaneously).

Strong family connections and a musically enthusiastic employer failed to prevent tension between the young organist and the authorities after several years in the post. He was apparently dissatisfied with the standard of singers in the choir; more seriously, there was his unauthorised absence from Arnstadt for several months in 1705–06, when he visited the great master Dieterich Buxtehude and his Abendmusik in the northern city of Lübeck. This well-known incident in Bach's life involved his walking some 400 kilometres (250 mi) each way to spend time with the man he probably regarded as the father figure of German organists. The trip reinforced Buxtehude's style as a foundation for Bach's earlier works, and that he overstayed his planned visit by several months suggests that his time with the old man was of great value to his art. According to legend, both Bach and George Frideric Handel wanted to become amanuenses of Buxtehude, but neither wanted to marry his daughter, as that was a condition for the position.[13]

Places in which Bach lived throughout his life

According to minutes from the proceedings of the Arnstadt consistory in August 1705, Bach was involved in a brawl in Arnstadt:

Johann Sebastian Bach, organist here at the New Church, appeared and stated that, as he walked home yesterday, fairly late night ... six students were sitting on the "Langenstein" (Long Stone), and as he passed the town hall, the student Geyersbach went after him with a stick, calling him to account: Why had he [Bach] made abusive remarks about him? He [Bach] answered that he had made no abusive remarks about him, and that no one could prove it, for he had gone his way very quietly. Geyersbach retorted that while he [Bach] might not have maligned him, he had maligned his bassoon at some time, and whoever insulted his belongings insulted him as well ... [Geyersbach] had at once struck out at him. Since he had not been prepared for this, he had been about to draw his dagger, but Geyersbach had fallen into his arms, and the two of them tumbled about until the rest of the students ... had rushed toward them and separated them.[14]

Despite his comfortable position in Arnstadt, by 1706 Bach appeared to have realised that he needed to escape from the family milieu and move on to further his career. He was offered a more lucrative post as organist at St. Blasius's in Mühlhausen, a large and important city to the north. The following year, he took up this senior post with significantly improved pay and conditions, including a good choir. Four months after arriving at Mühlhausen, he married his second cousin from Arnstadt, Maria Barbara Bach. They had seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Two of them—Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach—became important composers in the ornate Rococo style that followed the Baroque.

The church and city government at Mühlhausen agreed to his plan for an expensive renovation of the organ at St. Blasius's. Bach, in turn, wrote an elaborate, festive cantataGott ist mein König, BWV 71— for the inauguration of the new council in 1708. The council was so delighted with the piece that they paid handsomely for its publication, and twice in later years had the composer return to conduct it. However, that same year, Bach was offered a better position in Weimar.

Weimar (1708–17)

A portrait of a young man, supposedly of Bach, but disputed[15]

After barely a year at Mühlhausen, Bach left, to become the court organist and concertmaster at the ducal court in Weimar, a far cry from his earlier position there as 'lackey'. The munificent salary on offer at the court and the prospect of working entirely with a large, well-funded contingent of professional musicians may have prompted the move. The family moved into an apartment just five minutes' walk from the ducal palace. In the following year, their first child was born and they were joined by Maria Barbara's elder, unmarried sister, who remained with them to assist in the running of the household until her death in 1729. It was in Weimar that the two musically significant sons were born—Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Bach's position in Weimar marked the start of a sustained period of composing keyboard and orchestral works, in which he had attained the technical proficiency and confidence to extend the prevailing large-scale structures and to synthesise influences from abroad. From the music of Italians such as Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli, he learned how to write dramatic openings and adopted their sunny dispositions, dynamic motor-rhythms and decisive harmonic schemes. Bach inducted himself into these stylistic aspects largely by transcribing for harpsichord and organ the ensemble concertos of Vivaldi; these works are still concert favourites. He may have picked up the idea of transcribing the latest fashionable Italian music from Prince Johann Ernst, one of his employers, who was a musician of professional calibre. In 1713, the Duke returned from a tour of the Low Countries with a large collection of scores, some of them possibly transcriptions of the latest fashionable Italian music by the blind organist Jan Jacob de Graaf. Bach was particularly attracted to the Italian solo-tutti structure, in which one or more solo instruments alternate section-by-section with the full orchestra throughout a movement.

In Weimar, he had the opportunity to play and compose for the organ, and to perform a varied repertoire of concert music with the duke's ensemble. A master of contrapuntal technique, Bach's steady output of fugues began in Weimar. The largest single body of his fugal writing is Das wohltemperierte Clavier ("The well-tempered keyboard"—Clavier meaning keyboard instrument). [16] It consists of two collections compiled in 1722 and 1744,[17] each containing a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key. [18]This is a monumental work for its masterful use of counterpoint and its exploration, for the first time, of the full range of keys–and the means of expression made possible by their slight differences from each other—available to keyboardists when their instruments are tuned according to systems such as that of Andreas Werckmeister.

Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor (BWV 1001) in Bach's handwriting

During his tenure at Weimar, Bach started work on The little organ book for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann; this contains traditional Lutheran chorales (hymn tunes), set in complex textures to assist the training of organists. The book illustrates two major themes in Bach's life: his dedication to teaching and his love of the chorale as a musical form. Bach eventually fell out of favour in Weimar and was, according to the court secretary's report, jailed for almost a month before being unfavourably dismissed:

On November 6, [1717], the quondam concertmaster and organist Bach was confined to the County Judge's place of detention for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal and finally on December 2 was freed from arrest with notice of his unfavourable discharge.[19]

Köthen (1717–23)

Bach began once again to search out a more stable job that was conducive to his musical interests. Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen hired Bach to serve as his Kapellmeister (director of music). Prince Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach's talents, paid him well, and gave him considerable latitude in composing and performing. However, the prince was Calvinist and did not use elaborate music in his worship; thus, most of Bach's work from this period was secular,[20] including the Orchestral suites, the Six suites for solo cello and the Sonatas and partitas for solo violin. The well-known Brandenburg concertos date from this period.[21]

On 7 July 1720, while Bach was abroad with Prince Leopold, tragedy struck: his wife, Maria Barbara, the mother of his first 7 children, died suddenly. The following year, the widower met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a young, highly gifted soprano 17 years his junior, who performed at the court in Köthen; they married on 3 December 1721.[22] Together they had 13 more children, six of whom survived into adulthood: Gottfried Heinrich, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian, all of whom became significant musicians; Elisabeth Juliane Friederica (1726–81), who married Bach's pupil Johann Christoph Altnikol; Johanna Carolina (1737–81); and Regina Susanna (1742–1809).[23]

Leipzig (1723–50)

Commemorative statue of J.S. Bach in Leipzig

In 1723, Bach was appointed Cantor of Thomasschule, adjacent to the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas's Lutheran Church) in Leipzig, as well as Director of Music in the principal churches in the town.[24] This was a prestigious post in the leading mercantile city in Saxony, a neighbouring electorate to Thuringia. Apart from his brief tenures in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, this was Bach's first government position in a career that had mainly involved service to the aristocracy. This final post, which he held for 27 years until his death, brought him into contact with the political machinations of his employer, the Leipzig Council. The Council comprised two factions: the Absolutists, loyal to the Saxon monarch in Dresden, Augustus the Strong; and the City-Estate faction, representing the interests of the mercantile class, the guilds and minor aristocrats. Bach was the nominee of the monarchists, in particular of the Mayor at the time, Gottlieb Lange, a lawyer who had earlier served in the Dresden court. In return for agreeing to Bach's appointment, the City-Estate faction was granted control of the School, and Bach was required to make a number of compromises with respect to his working conditions.[25] Although it appears that no one on the Council doubted Bach's musical genius, there was continual tension between the Cantor, who regarded himself as the leader of church music in the city, and the City-Estate faction, which saw him as a schoolmaster and wanted to reduce the emphasis on elaborate music in both the School and the Churches. The Council never honoured Lange's promise at interview of a handsome salary of 1,000 talers a year, although it did provide Bach and his family with a smaller income and a good apartment at one end of the school building, which was renovated at great expense in 1732.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, in the 21st century

Bach's job required him to instruct the students of the Thomasschule in singing and to provide weekly music at the two main churches in Leipzig, St. Thomas and St Nicholas. His post also obliged him to teach Latin, but he was allowed to employ a deputy to do this instead. In an astonishing burst of creativity, he wrote up to five annual cantata cycles during his first six years in Leipzig (two of which have apparently been lost). Most of these concerted works expound on the Gospel readings for every Sunday and feast day in the Lutheran year; many were written using traditional church hymns, such as Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme and Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, as inspiration.

To rehearse and perform these works at St. Thomas Church, Bach probably sat at the harpsichord or stood in front of the choir on the lower gallery at the west end, his back to the congregation and the altar at the east end. He would have looked upwards to the organ that rose from a loft about four metres above. To the right of the organ in a side gallery would have been the winds, brass and timpani; to the left were the strings. The Council provided only about eight permanent instrumentalists, a source of continual friction with the Cantor, who had to recruit the rest of the 20 or so players required for medium-to-large scores from the University, the School and the public. The organ or harpsichord was probably played by the composer (when not standing to conduct), the in-house organist, or one of Bach's elder sons, Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Philipp Emanuel.

Bach drew the soprano and alto choristers from the School, and the tenors and basses from the School and elsewhere in Leipzig. Performing at weddings and funerals provided extra income for these groups; it was probably for this purpose, and for in-school training, that he wrote at least six motets, mostly for double choir. As part of his regular church work, he performed motets of the Venetian school and Germans such as Heinrich Schütz, which would have served as formal models for his own motets.

Having spent much of the 1720s composing cantatas, Bach had assembled a huge repertoire of church music for Leipzig's two main churches. He now wished to broaden his composing and performing beyond the liturgy. In March 1729, he took over the directorship of the Collegium Musicum, a secular performance ensemble that had been started in 1701 by his old friend, the composer Georg Philipp Telemann. This was one of the dozens of private societies in the major German-speaking cities that had been established by musically active university students; these societies had come to play an increasingly important role in public musical life and were typically led by the most prominent professionals in a city. In the words of Christoph Wolff, assuming the directorship was a shrewd move that 'consolidated Bach's firm grip on Leipzig's principal musical institutions'.[26] During much of the year, Leipzig's Collegium Musicum gave twice-weekly, two-hour performances in Zimmerman's Coffeehouse on Catherine Street, just off the main market square. For this purpose, the proprietor provided a large hall and acquired several musical instruments. Many of Bach's works during the 1730s and 1740s were probably written for and performed by the Collegium Musicum; among these were almost certainly parts of the Clavier-Übung (Keyboard Practice) and many of the violin and harpsichord concertos.

Zimmerman's Coffeehouse in Leipzig, where Bach's Collegium Musicum gave regular concerts

During this period, he composed the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass in B Minor, and in 1733, he presented the manuscript to the King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Elector of Saxony, August III in an ultimately successful bid to persuade the monarch to appoint him as Royal Court Composer. He later extended this work into a full Mass, by adding a Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the music for which was almost wholly taken from some of the best of his cantata movements. Bach's appointment as court composer appears to have been part of his long-term struggle to achieve greater bargaining power with the Leipzig Council. Although the complete mass was probably never performed during the composer's lifetime,[27] it is considered to be among the greatest choral works of all time. Between 1737 and 1739, Bach's former pupil Carl Gotthelf Gerlach took over the directorship of the Collegium Musicum.

In 1747, Bach went to the court of Frederick II of Prussia in Potsdam, where the king played a theme for Bach and challenged him to improvise a fugue based on his theme. Bach improvised a three-part fugue on Frederick's pianoforte, then a novelty, and later presented the king with a Musical Offering which consists of fugues, canons and a trio based on the "royal theme", nominated by the monarch. Its six-part fugue includes a slightly altered subject more suitable for extensive elaboration.

The Art of Fugue, published posthumously but probably written years before Bach's death, is unfinished. It consists of 18 complex fugues and canons based on a simple theme.[28] A magnum opus of thematic transformation and contrapuntal devices, this work is often cited as the summation of polyphonic techniques.

The final work Bach completed was a chorale prelude for organ, dictated to his son-in-law, Johann Altnikol, from his deathbed. Entitled Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before thy throne I now appear, BWV 668a); when the notes on the three staves of the final cadence are counted and mapped onto the Roman alphabet, the initials "JSB" are found.[29] The chorale is often played after the unfinished 14th fugue to conclude performances of The Art of Fugue.

Death (1750)

The 1750 "Volbach Portrait" may show Bach in the last months of his life[30]
Bach's final resting place, St. Thomas' Church, Leipzig

Bach's health may have been in decline in 1749; on 2 June, Heinrich von Brühl wrote to one of the Leipzig burgomasters to request that his music director, Gottlob Harrer, fill the post of Thomascantor and Director musices posts "upon the eventual ... decease of Mr. Bach."[31] Bach became increasingly blind, and the celebrated British eye surgeon John Taylor (who had operated unsuccessfully on Handel) operated on Bach while visiting Leipzig in 1750. Bach died on 28 July 1750 at the age of 65. A contemporary newspaper reported the cause of death as "from the unhappy consequences of the very unsuccessful eye operation".[32] Some modern historians speculate the cause of death was a stroke complicated by pneumonia.[33][34][35] His estate was valued at 1159 thalers and included five Clavecins, two lute-harpsichords, three violins, three violas, two cellos, a viola da gamba, a lute and a spinet, and 52 "sacred books" (many by Martin Luther, Muller and Pfeiffer, including Josephus' History of the Jews and nine volumes of Paul Wagner's Leipzig Song Book).[36]

A modern reconstruction of Bach's head using computer modelling techniques, unveiled 3 March 2008 in Berlin, showed the composer as a strong-jawed man with a slight underbite, his large head topped with short, silver hair.[37]

Musical style

Bach's musical style arose from his extraordinary fluency in contrapuntal invention and motivic control, his flair for improvisation at the keyboard, his exposure to South German, North German, Italian and French music, and his apparent devotion to the Lutheran liturgy. His access to musicians, scores and instruments as a child and a young man, combined with his emerging talent for writing tightly woven music of powerful sonority, appear to have set him on course to develop an eclectic, energetic musical style in which foreign influences were injected into an intensified version of the pre-existing German musical language. Throughout his teens and 20s, his output showed increasing skill in the large-scale organisation of musical ideas, and the enhancement of the Buxtehudian model of improvisatory preludes and counterpoint of limited complexity. The period 1713–14, when a large repertoire of Italian music became available to the Weimar court orchestra, was a turning point. From this time onwards, he appears to have absorbed into his style the Italians' dramatic openings, clear melodic contours, the sharp outlines of their bass lines, greater motoric and rhythmic conciseness, more unified motivic treatment, and more clearly articulated schemes for modulation.[38]

There are several more specific features of Bach's style. The notation of Baroque melodic lines tended to assume that composers would write out only the basic framework, and that performers would embellish this framework by inserting ornamental notes and otherwise elaborating on it. Although this practice varied considerably between the schools of European music, Bach was regarded at the time as being on one extreme end of the spectrum, notating most or all of the details of his melodic lines—particularly in his fast movements—thus leaving little for performers to interpolate. This may have assisted his control over the dense contrapuntal textures that he favoured, which allow less leeway for the spontaneous variation of musical lines. Bach's contrapuntal textures tend to be more cumulative than those of Händel and most other composers of the day, who would typically allow a line to drop out after it had been joined by two or three others. Bach's harmony is marked by a tendency to employ brief tonicisation—subtle references to another key that lasts for only a few beats at the longest—particularly of the supertonic, to add colour to his textures.

The opening of the six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in Bach's hand

At the same time, Bach, unlike later composers, left the instrumentation of major works including The Art of Fugue and The Musical Offering open. It is likely that his detailed notation was less an absolute demand on the performer and more a response to a 17th-century culture in which the boundary between what the performer could embellish and what the composer demanded to be authentic was being negotiated.

Bach's apparently devout, personal relationship with the Christian God in the Lutheran tradition and the high demand for religious music of his times inevitably placed sacred music at the centre of his repertory; more specifically, the Lutheran chorale hymn tune, the principal musical aspect of the Lutheran service, was the basis of much of his output. He invested the chorale prelude, already a standard set of Lutheran forms, with a more cogent, tightly integrated architecture, in which the intervallic patterns and melodic contours of the tune were typically treated in a dense, contrapuntal lattice against relatively slow-moving, overarching statements of the tune.

Bach's theology also informed his compositional structures: Sei Gegrüsset is perhaps the finest example where there is a theme with 11 variations (making 12 movements) that, while still one work, becomes two sets of six—to match Lutheran preaching principles of repetition. At the same time the theological interpretation of 'master' and 11 disciples would not be lost on his contemporary audience. Further, the practical relationship of each variation to the next (in preparing registration and the expected textural changes) seems to show an incredible capacity to preach through the music using the musical forms available at the time.

Bach's seal, used throughout his Leipzig years. It contains the letters J S B superimposed over their mirror image topped with a crown.

Bach's deep knowledge of and interest in the liturgy led to his developing intricate relationships between music and linguistic text. This was evident from the smallest to the largest levels of his compositional technique. On the smallest level, many of his sacred works contain short motifs that, by recurrent association, can be regarded as pictorial symbolism and articulations of liturgical concepts. For example, the octave leap, usually in a bass line, represents the relationship between heaven and earth; the slow, repeated notes of the bass line in the opening movement of cantata Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106) depict the laboured trudging of Jesus as he was forced to drag the cross from the city to the crucifixion site.

On the largest level, the large-scale structure of some of his sacred vocal works is evidence of subtle, elaborate planning: for example, the overall form of the St. Matthew Passion illustrates the liturgical and dramatic flow of the Easter story on a number of levels simultaneously; the text, keys and variations of instrumental and vocal forces used in the movements of the Ascension Oratorio Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen, BWV 11) may form a structure that resembles the cross.

Beyond these specific musical features arising from Bach's religious affiliation is the fact that he was able to produce music for an audience that was committed to serious, regular worship, for which a concentrated density and complexity was accepted. His natural inclination may have been to reinvigorate existing forms, rather than to discard them and pursue more dramatic musical innovations. Thus, Bach's inventive genius was almost entirely directed towards working within the structures he inherited, according to most critics and historians.

Frontispiece of Bach's Clavier-Büchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach, composed in 1722 for his second wife

Bach's inner personal drive to display his musical achievements was evident in a number of ways. The most obvious was his successful striving to become the leading virtuoso and improviser of the day on the organ. Keyboard music occupied a central position in his output throughout his life, and he pioneered the elevation of the keyboard from continuo to solo instrument in his numerous harpsichord concertos and chamber movements with keyboard obbligato, in which he himself probably played the solo part. Many of his keyboard preludes are vehicles for a free improvisatory virtuosity in the German tradition, although their internal organisation became increasingly more cogent as he matured. Virtuosity is a key element in other forms, such as the fugal movement from Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, in which Bach himself may have been the first to play the rapid solo violin passages. Another example is in the organ fugue from BWV 548, a late work from Leipzig, in which virtuosic passages are mapped onto Italian solo-tutti alternation within the fugal development.

Related to his cherished role as teacher was his drive to encompass whole genres by producing collections of movements that thoroughly explore the range of artistic and technical possibilities inherent in those genres. The most famous examples are the two books of the Well Tempered Clavier, each of which presents a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key, in which a variety of contrapuntal and fugal techniques are displayed. The English and French Suites, and the Partitas, all keyboard works from the Köthen period, systematically explore a range of metres and of sharp and flat keys. This urge to manifest structures is evident throughout his life: the Goldberg Variations (1746?), include a sequence of canons at increasing intervals (unison, seconds, thirds, etc.), and The Art of Fugue (1749) can be seen as a compendium of fugal techniques.

Family members

Bach married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach in 1707. They had seven children, four of whom survived to adulthood:

Maria died in 1720, and Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke in 1721. They had a further 13 children, six of whom survived to adulthood:

Although Bach fathered 20 children, only 10 survived infancy. He has no known descendants living today. His great-granddaughter—Frau Carolina Augusta Wilhelmine Ritter, who died 13 May 1871—was his last known descendant.[39]


J.S. Bach's works are indexed with BWV numbers, an initialism for Bach Werke Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue). The catalogue, published in 1950, was compiled by Wolfgang Schmieder. The catalogue is organised thematically, rather than chronologically: BWV 1–224 are cantatas; BWV 225–249, the large-scale choral works; BWV 250–524, chorales and sacred songs; BWV 525–748, organ works; BWV 772–994, other keyboard works; BWV 995–1000, lute music; BWV 1001–40, chamber music; BWV 1041–71, orchestral music; and BWV 1072–1126, canons and fugues. In compiling the catalogue, Schmieder largely followed the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe, a comprehensive edition of the composer's works that was produced between 1850 and 1905. For a list of works catalogued by BWV number, see List of compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach.


Organ works

Bach was best known during his lifetime as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres—such as preludes, fantasias, and toccatas—and stricter forms, such as chorale preludes and fugues. He established a reputation at a young age for his great creativity and ability to integrate foreign styles into his organ works. A decidedly North German influence was exerted by Georg Böhm, with whom Bach came into contact in Lüneburg, and Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck, whom the young organist visited in 1704 on an extended leave of absence from his job in Arnstadt. Around this time, Bach copied the works of numerous French and Italian composers to gain insights into their compositional languages, and later arranged violin concertos by Vivaldi and others for organ and harpsichord. His most productive period (1708–14) saw the composition of several pairs of preludes and fugues and toccatas and fugues, and of the Orgelbüchlein ("Little organ book"), an unfinished collection of 45 short chorale preludes that demonstrate compositional techniques in the setting of chorale tunes. After he left Weimar, Bach's output for organ fell off, although his best-known works (the six trio sonatas, the "German Organ Mass" in Clavier-Übung III from 1739, and the "Great Eighteen" chorales, revised late in his life) were all composed after this time. Bach was extensively engaged later in his life in consulting on organ projects, testing newly built organs, and dedicating organs in afternoon recitals.[40][41] One of the high points may be the third part of the Clavier-Übung, a setting of 21 chorale preludes uniting the traditional Catholic Missa with the Lutheran catechism liturgy, the whole set interpolated between the mighty "St. Anne" Prelude and Fugue on the theme of the Trinity.

Other keyboard works

The title page of the third part of the Clavier-Übung, one of the few works by Bach that was published during his lifetime

Bach wrote many works for the harpsichord, some of which may also have been played on the clavichord. Many of his keyboard works are anthologies that show an eagerness to encompass whole theoretical systems in an encyclopaedic fashion.

  • The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2 (BWV 846–893). Each book comprises a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor (thus, the whole collection is often referred to as 'the 48'). "Well-tempered" in the title refers to the temperament (system of tuning); many temperaments before Bach's time were not flexible enough to allow compositions to move through more than just a few keys. [42]
  • The 15 Inventions and 15 Sinfonias (BWV 772–801). These short two- and three-part contrapuntal works are arranged in the same chromatic order as the Well-Tempered Clavier, omitting some of the less used keys. The pieces were intended by Bach for instructional purposes.
  • Three collections of dance suites: the English Suites (BWV 806–811), the French Suites (BWV 812–817) and the Partitas for keyboard (BWV 825–830). Each collection contains six suites built on the standard model (AllemandeCouranteSarabande–(optional movement)–Gigue). The English Suites closely follow the traditional model, adding a prelude before the allemande and including a single movement between the sarabande and the gigue. The French Suites omit preludes, but have multiple movements between the sarabande and the gigue. The partitas expand the model further with elaborate introductory movements and miscellaneous movements between the basic elements of the model.
  • The Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), an aria with thirty variations. The collection has a complex and unconventional structure: the variations build on the bass line of the aria, rather than its melody, and musical canons are interpolated according to a grand plan. There are nine canons within the 30 variations, one placed every three variations between variations 3 and 27. These variations move in order from canon at the unison to canon at the ninth. The first eight are in pairs (unison and octave, second and seventh, third and sixth, fourth and fifth). The ninth canon stands on its own due to compositional dissimilarities.
  • Miscellaneous pieces such as the Overture in the French Style (French Overture, BWV 831), Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903), and the Italian Concerto (BWV 971).

Among Bach's lesser known keyboard works are seven toccatas (BWV 910–916), four duets (BWV 802–805), sonatas for keyboard (BWV 963–967), the Six Little Preludes (BWV 933–938), and the Aria variata alla maniera italiana (BWV 989).

Orchestral and chamber music

Bach wrote music for single instruments, duets and small ensembles. Bach's works for solo instruments—the six sonatas and partitas for violin (BWV 1001–1006), the six cello suites (BWV 1007–1012) and the Partita for solo flute (BWV 1013)—may be listed among the most profound works in the repertoire. Bach also composed a suite and several other works for solo lute. He wrote trio sonatas; solo sonatas (accompanied by continuo) for the flute and for the viola da gamba; and a large number of canons and ricercare, mostly for unspecified instrumentation. The most significant examples of the latter are contained in The Art of Fugue and The Musical Offering.

Bach's best-known orchestral works are the Brandenburg concertos, so named because he submitted them in the hope of gaining employment from Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721; his application was unsuccessful. These works are examples of the concerto grosso genre. Other surviving works in the concerto form include two violin concertos (BWV 1041 and BWV 1042); a Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (BWV 1043), often referred to as Bach's "double" concerto; and concertos for one, two, three and even four harpsichords. It is widely accepted that many of the harpsichord concertos were not original works, but arrangements of his concertos for other instruments now lost. A number of violin, oboe and flute concertos have been reconstructed from these. In addition to concertos, Bach also wrote four orchestral suites, a series of stylised dances for orchestra, each preceded by a French overture. The work now known as the Air on the G String is an arrangement for the violin made in the nineteenth century from the second movement of the Orchestral Suite No. 3.

Vocal and choral works

Bach performed a cantata on Sunday at the Thomaskirche, on a theme corresponding to the lectionary readings of the week, as determined by the Lutheran Church Year calendar. He did not perform cantatas during the seasons of Lent and Advent. Although he performed cantatas by other composers, he also composed at least three entire sets of cantatas, one for each Sunday and holiday of the church year, at Leipzig, in addition to those composed at Mühlhausen and Weimar. In total he wrote more than 300 sacred cantatas, of which approximately 195 survive.

His cantatas vary greatly in form and instrumentation. Some of them are only for a solo singer; some are single choruses; some are for grand orchestras; some only a few instruments. A very common format, however, includes a large opening chorus followed by one or more recitative-aria pairs for soloists (or duets) and a concluding chorale. The recitative is part of the corresponding Bible reading for the week and the aria is a contemporary reflection on it. The melody of the concluding chorale often appears as a cantus firmus in the opening movement. Among the best known cantatas are Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Actus Tragicus), Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 and Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147.

In addition, Bach wrote a number of secular cantatas, usually for civic events such as council inaugurations. These also include wedding cantatas, the Wedding Quodlibet, the Peasant Cantata and the Coffee Cantata, which concerns a girl whose father will not let her marry until she gives up her addiction to that extremely popular drink.

Bach's large choral-orchestral works include the famous St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion, both written for Good Friday vespers services at St. Thomas and St. Nicholas Churches in alternate years, and the Christmas Oratorio (a set of six cantatas for use in the Liturgical season of Christmas). The Magnificat in two versions (one in E-flat major, with four interpolated Christmas-related movements, and the later and better-known version in D major) and the Easter Oratorio compare to large, elaborate cantatas, of a lesser extent than the Passions and the Christmas Oratorio.

Bach's other large work, the Mass in B minor, was assembled by Bach near the end of his life, mostly from pieces composed earlier (such as cantata Gloria in excelsis Deo, BWV 191 and Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 12). It was never performed in Bach's lifetime, or even after his death, until the 19th century.

All of these works, unlike the six motets (Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied; Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf; Jesu, meine Freude; Fürchte dich nicht; Komm, Jesu, komm!; and Lobet den Herrn alle Heiden), have substantial solo parts as well as choruses.

Bach's signature in a copy of a three volume Bible commentary by the orthodox Lutheran theologian, Abraham Calov, was discovered in 1934 in a house in Frankenmuth, Michigan in the US. It is not known how the Bible came to America, but it was purchased in a used book store in Philadelphia in the 1830s or 1840s by an immigrant and taken to Michigan. Its provenance was verified and it was subsequently deposited in the rare book holdings of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. It contains Bach's markings of texts for his cantatas and notes. It is only rarely displayed to the public. A study of the so-called Bach Bible was prepared by Robin Leaver, titled J.S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985).


Present-day Bach performers usually pursue either of two traditions: so-called "authentic performance practice", utilising historical techniques, or alternatively the use of modern instruments and playing techniques, with a tendency towards larger ensembles. In Bach's time orchestras and choirs were usually smaller than those known to, for example, Brahms, and even Bach's most ambitious choral works, such as his Mass in B minor and Passions, are composed for relatively modest forces. Some of Bach's important chamber music does not indicate instrumentation, which gives greater latitude for variety of ensemble.

Easy listening realisations of Bach's music and its use in advertising also contributed greatly to Bach's popularisation in the second half of the twentieth century. Among these were the Swingle Singers' versions of Bach pieces that are now well-known (for instance, the Air on the G string, or the Wachet Auf chorale prelude) and Wendy Carlos's 1968 groundbreaking recording Switched-On Bach, using the then recently invented Moog electronic synthesiser. Jazz musicians have also adopted Bach's music, with Jacques Loussier, Ian Anderson, Uri Caine and the Modern Jazz Quartet among those creating jazz versions of Bach works.

Legacy and modern reputation

Since being moved in 1938, the Donndorf statue of Bach now stands in the Frauenplan in Eisenach. The pedestal has been shortened and the relief is now at the wall in the background.

After his death, Bach's reputation as a composer declined; his work was regarded as old-fashioned in favour of the emerging classical style.[43] Initially he was remembered more as a player, teacher and as the father of his children, most notably Johann Christian and Carl Philipp Emanuel. (Two other children, Wilhelm Friedmann and Johann Christoph Friedrich, were also composers.)

During this time, his most widely known works were those for keyboard. Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin were among his most prominent admirers. On a visit to the Thomasschule, for example, Mozart heard a performance of one of the motets (BWV 225) and exclaimed "Now, here is something one can learn from!"[44]; on being given the motets' parts, "Mozart sat down, the parts all around him, held in both hands, on his knees, on the nearest chairs. Forgetting everything else, he did not stand up again until he had looked through all the music of Sebastian Bach".[citation needed] Beethoven was a devotee, learning the Well-Tempered Clavier as a child and later calling Bach the "Urvater der Harmonie" ("Original father of harmony") and, in a pun on the literal meaning of Bach's name, "nicht Bach, sondern Meer" ("not a brook, but a sea"). [45] Before performing a concert, Chopin used to lock himself away and play Bach's music. Several notable composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Robert Schumann, and Felix Mendelssohn began writing in a more contrapuntal style after being introduced to Bach's music.[citation needed]

The revival of the composer's reputation among the wider public was prompted in part by Johann Nikolaus Forkel's 1802 biography,  which was read by Beethoven. Goethe became acquainted with Bach's works relatively late in life through a series of performances of keyboard and choral works at Bad Berka in 1814 and 1815; in a letter of 1827 he compared the experience of listening to Bach's music to "eternal harmony in dialogue with itself". [46] But it was Felix Mendelssohn who did the most to revive Bach's reputation with his 1829 Berlin performance of the St. Matthew Passion.[47] Hegel, who attended the performance, later called Bach a "grand, truly Protestant, robust and, so to speak, erudite genius which we have only recently learned again to appreciate at its full value".[48] Mendelssohn's promotion of Bach, and the growth of the composer's stature, continued in subsequent years. The Bach Gesellschaft (Bach Society) was founded in 1850 to promote the works; by 1899, the Society had published a comprehensive edition of the composer's works, with a conservative approach to editorial intervention.

Thereafter, Bach's reputation has remained consistently high. During the 20th century, the process of recognising the musical as well as the pedagogic value of some of the works has continued, perhaps most notably in the promotion of the Cello Suites by Pablo Casals. Another development has been the growth of the "authentic" or period performance movement, which, as far as possible, attempts to present the music as the composer intended it. Examples include the playing of keyboard works on the harpsichord rather than a modern grand piano and the use of small choirs or single voices instead of the larger forces favoured by 19th- and early 20th-century performers.

Bach's contributions to music—or, to borrow a term popularised by his student Lorenz Christoph Mizler, his "musical science"—are frequently bracketed with those by William Shakespeare in English literature and Isaac Newton in physics. [49][50] Scientist and author Lewis Thomas once suggested how the people of Earth should communicate with the universe: "I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging, of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later."[51]

Street named after Johann Sebastian Bach in Wittenberg, Germany

Some composers have paid tribute to Bach by setting his name in musical notes (B-flat, A, C, B-natural; B-natural is notated as "H" in German musical texts, while B-flat is just "B") or using contrapuntal derivatives. Liszt, for example, wrote a prelude and fugue on this BACH motif in versions for organ and piano). Bach himself set the precedent for this musical acronym, most notably in Contrapunctus XIV from the Art of Fugue. Whereas Bach also conceived this cruciform melody (among other similar ones) as a sign of devotion to Christ and his cross[citation needed], later composers have employed the BACH motif in homage to the composer himself. Some of the greatest composers since Bach have written works that explicitly pay homage to him. Examples include Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, and Brahms's Cello Sonata in E, whose finale is based on themes from the Art of Fugue. A 20th-century work very strongly influenced by Bach is Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras.

Bach in popular culture

Bach is the most represented artist on the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record included in two Voyager missions; his compositions comprise three of the 27 recordings chosen. Many early examples of synthesised music played on the Commodore 64 home computer's SID chip were realisations of Bach's contrapuntal works.[citation needed]

Today the "Bach style" continues to influence musical composition, from hymns and religious works to pop and rock. Many of Bach's themes—particularly the theme from Toccata and Fugue in D minor—have been used in rock songs[citation needed] and have achieved popularity.

As recently as 1986 the album Switched On Bach reached RIAA platinum status[52] certifying that it sold over 1,000,000 units. Earlier this album entered Billboard's pop Top 40 charts on March 1, 1969, and climbed quickly to the Top 10. It stayed in the Top 40 for 17 weeks.[53]

See also


  1. ^ Grout, Donald (1980). A History of Western Music. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 435. ISBN 0-393-95136-7. 
  2. ^ Jones, Richard (2007). The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach. Oxford University Press. pp. 3. ISBN 0-19-816440-8. 
  3. ^ Malcolm Boyd, Bach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 6
  4. ^ Printed in translation in The Bach Reader (ISBN 0393002594)
  5. ^ Russell H. Miles, Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to His Life and Works (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1962), 8.
  6. ^ Malcolm Boyd, Bach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 7-8.
  7. ^ Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2000), 19.
  8. ^ Wolff, Christoph (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-393-04825-X. 
  9. ^ Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 13.
  10. ^ Rich, Alan (1995). Johann Sebastiam Bach: Play by Play. Harper Collins. pp. 27. ISBN 0-06-263547-6. 
  11. ^ Jan Chiapusso, Bach’s World (Scarborough, Ontario: Indiana University Press, 1968), 62.
  12. ^ Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 16-17.
  13. ^ "Classical Net – Basic Repertoire List – Buxtehude". Retrieved 20 September 2008. 
  14. ^ Mendel 1999, p. 43
  15. ^ "The Face Of Bach". Nathan P. Johansen. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  16. ^ Jan Chiapusso, Bach’s World (Scarborough, Ontario: Indiana University Press, 1968), 168.
  17. ^ Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach: Volume I (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), 331.
  18. ^ Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach: Volume I (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), 337.
  19. ^ Mendel 1999, p. 80
  20. ^ Russell H. Miles, Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to His Life and Works (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), 57.
  21. ^ Malcolm Boyd, Bach (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 74.
  22. ^ Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 50.
  23. ^ Wolff 1983, p. 98, 111
  24. ^ Russell H. Miles, Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to His Life and Works (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), 86-87.
  25. ^ Butt, John (28 June 1997). The Cambridge Companion to Bach. Cambridge University Press. pp. 17–34. ISBN 0521587808. 
  26. ^ Wolff, Christoph (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 341. ISBN 0-393-04825-X. 
  27. ^ Gerhard Hertz, Essays on J.S. Bach (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985), 187.
  28. ^ Jan Chiapusso, Bach’s World (Scarborough, Ontario: Indiana University Press, 1968), 277.
  29. ^ Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 256.
  30. ^ Towe, Teri Noel (28 August 2000). "The Inscrutable Volbach Portrait". The Face of Bach. Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  31. ^ Wolff, Christoph (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 442. ISBN 0-393-04825-X. , from David HT and Mendel A (eds), The new Bach reader: a life of Johann Sebastian Bach in letters and documents, revised and expanded by Wolff C, New York, 1998
  32. ^ Mendel 1999, p. 188
  33. ^ Breitenfeld, Tomislav; Solter, Vesna Vargek; Breitenfeld, Darko; Zavoreo, Iris; Demarin, Vida (2006-01-03). "Johann Sebastian Bach's Strokes" (PDF). Acta Clinica Croatica (Sisters of Charity Hospital) 45 (1). Retrieved 20 May 2008. 
  34. ^ Baer, Ka. (1956). "Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) in medical history". Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (Medical Library Association) 39 (206). 
  35. ^ Breitenfeld, D.; Thaller V, Breitenfeld T, Golik-Gruber V, Pogorevc T, Zoričić Z, Grubišić F (2000). "The pathography of Bach's family". Alcoholism 36: 161–64. 
  36. ^ Mendel 1999, pp. 191–97
  37. ^ "Bach Reconstructed". International Business Times. 3 March 2008. Retrieved 22 August 2009. 
  38. ^ Wolff, Christoph (2000). Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 166. ISBN 0-393-04825-X. 
  39. ^ Terry, C. Sanford (1 June 1930). "Has Bach Surviving Descendants?". The Musical Times (JSTOR) 71 (1048): 511–513. doi:10.2307/917359. Retrieved 8 October 2007. 
  40. ^ "Bach, Johann Sebastian". ClassicalPlus. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  41. ^ "Arnstadt (1703–1707)". Northern Arizona University. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  42. ^ Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach: Volume I (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), 333.
  43. ^ Beethoven: the universal composer. Edmund Morris, 2005, p. 2 ff "[Bach was] mocked as passé even in his own lifetime."
  44. ^ Schenk, Erich (1959), Mozart and his times, Knopf, p. 452 
  45. ^ Kerst, Friedrich (1904), "Beethoven im eigenen Wort", Die Musik 4: 14-19, 
  46. ^ Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1998), 499.
  47. ^ Herbert Kupferberg, Basically Bach: A 300th Birthday Celebration (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1985), 126.
  48. ^ "Matthäus-Passion BWV 244". Bach Cantatas. Retrieved 19 May 2008. 
  49. ^ Vaughan Price, Guy (1935), The new social order in America, The Brown-White company, p. 142 
  50. ^ Geck, martin (2006), Johann Sebastian Bach: life and work, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, p. 644 
  51. ^ Berger, Marilyn (4 December 1993), "Lewis Thomas, Whose Essays Clarified the Mysteries of Biology, Is Dead at 80", The New York Times: 128, 
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Maxwell, D.R.Theological Symbolism in the Organ Works of J.S. Bach
  55. ^ Analyzing Bach Cantatas by Chafe, E.T.Analyzing Bach Cantatas. New York: Oxford University Press US, 2000.
  56. ^ Herl, J. Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  57. ^ Leaver, R.A.Luther's Liturgical Music. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 2007.
  58. ^ For example, see Grove, G. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 4. New York: Macmillian, 1980. p. 335.


External links

General reference




Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Where there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-03-31 (O.S. 1685-03-21)1750-07-28) was a German organist and composer. His works are now considered to be among the greatest in the Western classical tradition.


  • Dem höchsten Gott allein zu Ehren,
    Dem Nächsten draus sich zu belehren.
    • To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbour may be benefited thereby.
    • Epigraph to the Orgelbüchlein, cited from Carl Hermann Bitter Johann Sebastian Bach (Berlin: Ferdinand Schneider, 1865) vol. 1, p. 145; translation from Rush Rhees (ed.) Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981) p. 182.
  • Und soll wie aller Music also auch des Generalbasses Finis und Endursache anders nicht als nur zu Gottes Ehre und Recreation des Gemütes seyn. Wo dieses nicht in acht genommen wird, ists keine eigentliche Music, sondern ein Teuflisches Geplerr und Geleyer.
    • Like all music, the figured bass should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.
    • Quoted in Ludwig Prautzsch Bibel und Symbol in den Werken Bachs p. 7 [1]; translation from Albert Schweitzer (trans. Ernest Newman) J. S. Bach (New York: Dover, 1966) vol. 1, p. 167.
  • Bey einer andächtigen Musig ist allezeit gott mit seiner Gnaden-Gegenwart.
    • Where there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present.
    • Annotation in a copy of the Calov Bible, cited from John Butt (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) p. 256; translation from ibid. p. 46.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Johann Sebastian Bach at German Wikisource

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750), German musical composer. The Bach family was of importance in the history of music for nearly two hundred years. Four branches of it were known at the beginning of the 16th century, and in 1561 we hear of Hans Bach of Wechmar who is believed to be the father of Veit Bach (born about 1555). The family genealogy, drawn Family. up by J. Sebastian Bach himself and completed by his son Philipp Emanuel, describes Veit Bach as the founder of the family, a baker and a miller, "whose zither must have sounded very pretty among the clattering of the mill-wheels." His son, Hans Bach, "der Spielmann," is the first professional musician of the family. Of Hans's large family the second son, Christoph, was the grandfather of Sebastian Bach. Another son, Heinrich, of Arnstadt, had two sons, Johann Michael and Johann Christoph, who are among the greatest of J. S. Bach's forerunners, Johann Christoph being now supposed (although this is still disputed) to be the author of the splendid motet, Ich lasse dick nicht (" I wrestle and pray"), formerly ascribed to Sebastian Bach. Another descendant of Veit Bach, Johann Ludwig, was admired more than any other ancestor by Sebastian, who copied twelve of his church cantatas and sometimes added work of his own to them.

The Bach family never left Thuringia until the sons of Sebastian went into a more modern world. Through all the misery of the peasantry at the period of the Thirty Years' War this clan maintained its position and produced musicians who, however local their fame, were among the greatest in Europe. So numerous and so eminent were they that in Erfurt musicians were known as "Bachs," even when there were no longer any members of the family in the town. Sebastian Bach thus inherited the artistic tradition of a united family whose circumstances had deprived them of the distractions of the century of musical fermentation which in the rest of Europe had destroyed polyphonic music.

Johann Sebastian Bach was baptized at Eisenach on the 23rd of March 1685. His parents died in his tenth year, and his elder brother, Johann Christoph, organist at Ohrdruf, took charge of him and taught him music. The elder brother e a h is said to have been jealous of Sebastian's talent, and to have forbidden him access to a manuscript volume of works by Froberger, Buxtehude and other great organists. Every night for six months Sebastian got up, put his hand through the lattice of the bookcase, and copied the volume out by moonlight, to the permanent ruin of his eyesight (as is shown by all the extant portraits of him at a later age and by the blindness of his last years). When he had finished, his brother discovered the copy and took it away from him. In 1700 Sebastian, now fifteen and thrown on his own resources by the death of his brother, went to Luneburg, where his beautiful soprano voice obtained him an appointment at the school of St Michael as chorister. He seems, however, to have worked more at instrumental than at vocal music. Apart from the choristers' routine, his position provided only for his general education, and we know little about his definite musical instructors. In any case he owed his musical development mainly to his own incessant study of classical and contemporary composers, such as Frescobaldi (c. 1587), Caspar Kerl (1628-1693), Buxtehude, Froberger, Muffat the elder, Pachelbel and probably Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741), the author of the Gradus ad Parnassum on which all later classical composers were trained. A prettier and no less authentic story than that of his brother's forbidden organ-volume tells how, on his return from one of the many holiday expeditions which Bach made to Hamburg on foot to hear the great Dutch organist. Reinken, he sat outside an inn longing for the dinner he could not afford, when two herring-heads were flung out of the window, and he found in each of them a ducat with which he promptly paid his way, not home, but back to Hamburg. At Hamburg, also, Keiser was laying the foundations of German opera on a splendid scale which must have fired Bach's imagination though it never directly influenced his style. On the other hand Keiser's church music was of immense importance in his development. In Celle the famous Hofkapelle brought the influence of French music to bear upon Bach's art, an influence which inspired nearly all his works in suite-form and to which his many autograph copies of Couperin's music bear testimony. Indeed, there is no branch of music, from Palestrina onwards, conceivably accessible in Bach's time, of which we do not find specimens carefully copied in his own handwriting. On the other hand, when Bach, at theage of nineteen, became organist at Arnstadt, he found Lubeck within easy distance, and there, in October 1705, he went to hear Buxtehude, whose organ works show so close an affinity to Bach's style that only their lack of coherence as wholes reveals to the attentive listener that with all their nobility they are not by Bach himself. Bach's enthusiasm for Buxtehude caused him to outstay his leave by three months, and this, together with his.

habit of astonishing the congregation by the way he harmonized the chorales got him into trouble. But he was already too great an ornament to be lightly dismissed; and though his answers to the complaints of the authorities (every word of which makes amusing reading in the archives of the church) were spirited rather than satisfactory, and the consistorium had to add to their complaints the grave scandal of his allowing a "strange maiden" to sing in the church,' Bach was able to maintain his position at Arnstadt until he obtained the organistship of St Blasius in Miihlhausen in 1707. Here he married his cousin, easily indentified with the "strange maiden" of Arnstadt; and here he wrote his first great church cantatas, Aus der Tiefe, Gott ist mein Känig and Gottes Zeit. Bach's mastery of the keyboard attracted universal attention, and prevented his ever being unemployed. In 1708 he went to Weimar where his successes were crowned by his appointment, in 1714, at the age of twenty-nine, as Hofkonzertmeister to the duke of Weimar. Here the composition of sacred music was one of his most congenial duties, and the great cantata, Ich hatte viel Bekiimmerniss, was probably the first work of his new office. In 1717 Bach visited Dresden in the course of a concert tour, and was induced to challenge the arrogant French organist, J. Louis Marchand, who was making himself thoroughly disliked by the German musicians who could not deny his powers. Bach was first given an opportunity of listening secretly to Marchand's playing, then a competition on the organ was proposed, and a day was fixed for the tournament at which all the court and all the musical celebrities of the town were to be present, to see nothing less than the issue between French and German music. Marchand took up the challenge contemptuously;, but it would appear that he also was allowed to listen secretly to Bach's playing, for on the day of the tournament the only news of him was that he left Dresden by the earliest coach.

This triumph was followed by Bach's appointment as Kapellmeister to the duke of Cothen, a post which he held from 1717 to 1723. The CBthen period is that of Bach's central instrumental works, such as the first book of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier, the solo violin and violoncello sonatas, the Brandenburg concertos, and the French and English suites.

In 1723, finding his position at Cothen uninspiring for choral music, he removed to Leipzig, where he became cantor of the Thomasschule, being still able to retain his post as visiting Kapellmeister at Cothen, besides a similar position at Weissenfels. His wife had died in 1720, leaving seven children, of whom Friedermann and Philipp Emanuel had a great future before them. (For his sons see Bach, K. P. E., below.) In December 1721 Bach married again, and for the beautiful soprano voice of his second wife he wrote many of his most inspired arias. She was a great help to him with all his work, and her musical handwriting soon became so like his own that her copies are difficult to distinguish from his autographs. In 1729 Bach heard that Handel was for a second time visiting Halle on his way back to London from Italy. A former attempt of Bach's to meet Handel had failed, and now he was too ill to travel, so he sent his son to Halle to invite Handel to Leipzig; but the errand was not successful, and much to Bach's disappointment he never met his only cornpeer. Bach so admired Handel that he made a manuscript copy of his Passion nach Brockes. This work, though almost unknown in England then as now, was, next to the oratorios of Keiser, incomparably the finest Passion then accessible, as Graun's beautiful masterpiece, Der Tod Jesu, was not composed until four years after Bach's death. The disgusting poem of Brockes (which was set by every German composer of the time) was transformed by Bach with real literary skill as the groundwork of the nonscriptural numbers in his Passion according to St John. All Bach's most colossal achievements, such as the Passion according to St Matthew and the B Minor Mass (for discussion of which see Oratorio and Mass), date from his cantorship at Leipzig. But, important and congenial as was his position there, and smooth as the course of life seems to have been until 1 Spitta points out that this cannot mean singing in the choir at a service, but making music in church privately.

his death in 1750, he must have had quite as much experience as can have been good for him. He was often ruffled by the town councillors of Leipzig, who (like his earlier employers at Arnstadt) were shocked by the "unecclesiastical style" of his compositions and by his independent bearing. But he had more serious troubles. Of his seven children by his first wife only three survived him. By his second wife he had thirteen children, of whom he lost four of the six sons. For the head of so large a family his post was dignified rather than lucrative, and few documents tell a prouder tale of uncomplaining thrift than the inventory of his possessions made after his death. One can only be thankful that he did not live to see anything but the wonderful promise of his son Friedermann, who, in the words of the brilliantly successful K. Philipp Emanuel Bach, was more nearly capable of replacing his father than all the rest of the family together. The prospect of complete loss of the tradition of his own polyphonic art he faced with equanimity, saying of the new style, which in the hands of his own son, Philipp Emanuel, was soon to eclipse it for the next hundred years, "The art has advanced to great heights: the old style of music no longer pleases our modern ears." But it would have broken his heart if he had forseen that Friedermann Bach was to attain a disreputable old age after a dissolute and unproductive life.

The brilliant successes of Philipp Emanuel led to his appointment as court-composer to the king of Prussia and hence, in 1747, to Sebastian's being summoned to visit Frederick the Great at Potsdam, an incident which Bach always regarded as the culmination of his career, much as Dr Johnson regarded his interview with George III. Bach had to play on the numerous newly invented pianofortes of Silbermann which the king had bought, and also to try the organs of the churches of Potsdam. Frederick, whose musical reputation rested on a genuine if narrow basis, gave him a splendid theme on which to extemporize; and on that theme Bach afterwards wrote Das musikalische Opfer. Two years after this event his sight began to fail, and before long he shared the fate of Handel in becoming perfectly blind.2 Bach died of apoplexy on the 28th of July 1750. His loss was deplored as that of one of the greatest organists and clavier players of his time. Of his compositions comparatively little was known. At his death his MS. works were divided amongst his sons, and many of them have been lost; only a small fraction of his greater works was recovered when, after the lapse of nearly a century, the verdict of his neglectful posterity was reversed by the modern upholders of polyphonic art. Even now some important works are still apparently irrecoverable.

The rediscovery of Bach is closely connected with the name of Mendelssohn, who was amongst the first to proclaim by word and deed the powers of a genius too gigantic to be grasped by three generations. By the enthusiastic endeavours of Mendelssohn, Schumann and others, and in England still earlier by the performances and publications of Wesley and Crotch, the circle of Bach's worshippers rapidly increased. In 1850, a century after his death, a society was started for the correct publication of all Bach's remaining works. Robert Franz, the great song-writer, did good service in arranging some of Bach's finest works for modern performance, until the experience of a purer scholarship could prove not only the possibility but the incomparably greater beauty of a strict adherence to Bach's own scoring. The Porson of Bach-scholarship, however, is Wilhelm Rust (grandson of the interesting composer of that name who wrote polyphonic suites and fantasias early in the 19th century). During the fourteen years of his editorship of the Bach-Gesellschaft he displayed a steadily increasing insight into Bach's style which has never since been rivalled. In more than one case he has restored harmonies of priceless value from incomplete texts, by means of research and reasoning which he sums up in a modest footnote that reads as something self-evident. His prefaces to the Bach-Gesellschaft volumes are perhaps the most valuable contributions to the criticism of the 18th-century music ever written, Spitta's great. biography not excepted.

The same surgeon operated unsuccessfully on both composers.

Bach's importance in the history of music cannot be exaggerated. His art, neglected as old-fashioned and crabbed by his younger contemporaries, survived only in certain limited aspects as the subject of a desultory and unintelligent academic study, until its re-discovery by Mendelssohn. And yet, whatever disguise may have been foisted on it by corrupt traditions and ignorance of its idioms, whenever any fragment of it gained the inner ear of a true composer the effect on the history of music was immediate and profound. Indeed his influence is by no means chiefly manifested in the time when his work became known in its larger aspects, though the Bach-revival is very obviously connected with certain tendencies in the "Romantic" movement in music. But, however clear we may consider Bach's claim to the title of "the first of Romanticists," the full influence of his whole work has hardly yet begun to show itself. Schumann died before even such enthusiasts as the editors of the Bacla-Gesellschaft began to find more beauty than extravagance in Bach's ordinary musical language (see, for example, Hauptmann's letters passim, The Letters of a Leipzig Cantor, trans. by A. D. Coleridge, London, Novello, Ewer, 1892), or, indeed, to grasp the main features of his designs.' The labours of the BachGesellschaft have occupied more than fifty years, during which about four-fifths of Bach's choral works have been published for the first time; and it would be surprising if another fifty years sufficed to make these adequately known to the world at large. It is difficult to make an anthology of such bulky works as churchcantatas, nor does an anthology meet the purpose where the whole work so constantly attains that excellence for which the anthologist seeks. Except for practical difficulties (as when Bach writes for obsolete instruments) the only reason why some cantatas are better known than others is that a beginning must be made somewhere. Indeed, a cantata was recently selected, on the ground of its popularity, for a choral competition in a small English country town the year before it was performed as a novelty in Berlin!

It is clear, then, that the influence of Bach's art as an understood whole is still undeveloped. In the past history of music his part was hardly suspected except by the great composers themselves; and, to any one contemplating the art of the generation after him, it might have seemed that both he and Handel had worked in vain. Yet his was the most subtle and universal force in the development of music, even when his musical language seemed hopelessly, forgotten. Mozart, when rapidly advancing to the height of his mastery, had but to read the Baron von Swieten's manuscript copies of the motets and of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier, and his style, quite apart from his immediate essays in the old art-forms, and apart also from the influence of his study of Handel, developed a new polyphonic richness and depth of harmony which steadily increased until his untimely death. Beethoven studied all the accessible works of Bach profoundly, and frequently quoted them in his sketch-books, often with a direct bearing on his own works. His rendering of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier is said to be recorded in the marks of expression and tempo given in Czerny's edition; and if that record is true, Beethoven must have been completely in the dark as to Bach's meaning in many important respects; but art is full of such illustrations of the way in which great minds influence each other in spite of every barrier which diversity of language and time can set. Beethoven's great Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli were actually described in the publisher's puff as worthy of their kinship with the "Goldberg Variations" of Bach; and that kinship is revealed in its truest light by a comparison between Beethoven's 31st variation and Bach's 25th; for here, just where the resemblance is most obvious, each composer utters his most intimate expression of feeling.

In the same way, Chopin is nowhere more characteristic than where he shows his love of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier in his Etudes and Preludes; and so subtle is the influence of poly ' See the wild conjectures of the editor of the Four Short Masses as to the "displacing" of structure in the kyrie of the G minor Mass (B.-G., Jahr. viii. preface, with Rust's answer in the preface to Jahr. xxiii.) .

phonic style even over a writer so little apt to make direct use of it as Chopin, that one of Schumann's few plagiarisms occurs in his use of a phrase from Chopin's F minor Etude (written for the Methode des methodes) as the subject of a fugue (Op. 72, No. 3). And, apart from fugues, which Schumann cultivated assiduously at a late stage in his career, the influence of Bach pervades the texture and rhythm of his work in more ways than can easily be followed.

In a more external, but not less significant way, the Passion according to St Matthew made its mark on Mendelssohn from the time when he discovered it at the age of twelve, and suggested to him many features in the general design of oratorios, by means of which he rescued that branch of art from the operatic influences that ruined Beethoven's Mount of Olives. Without the example of Bach, Wagner's schemes of Leitmotif would never in his lifetime have become woven into that close polyphonic texture which secures for his music a flow as continuous as that of drama itself: - and intimately connected with this is the whole subject of Wagner's harmonization, which in many of its boldest characteristics was foreshadowed by Bach. A close study of the texture of Brahms's work shows that he develops Bach's and Beethoven's artistic devices pari passu, and that the result is a complete unification of that opposition between polyphony and form which in the infancy of the sonata (as in every transitional stage in musical history) threatened to wreck the art as a false antithesis wrecks a philosophy. Perhaps the only great composers who escaped the direct influence of Bach are Gluck and Berlioz. Even Gluck reproduced in every detail of harmony and figure the first twelve bars of the Gigue of Bach's B flat Clavier-Partita in the aria "Je t'implore et je tremble" in Iphigenie en Tauride. But plagiarism, however unconscious, is a very different thing from that profound indebtedness which makes a great man attain his truest originality; and Gluck's training practically deprived him of Bach's direct influence, useful as that would have been to the attainment of his aims in harmonic and choral expression. The indirect influence no one could escape, for whatever in modern music is not traceable to Sebastian Bach is traceable to his sons, who were encouraged by their father in the cultivation of those infant art-forms which were so soon to dazzle the world into the belief that his own work was obsolete.

Bach's place in music is thus far higher than that of a reformer, or even of an inventor of new forms. He is a spectator of all musical time and existence, to whom it is not of the smallest importance whether a thing be new or old, so long as it is true. It is doubtful whether even the forms most peculiar to him (such as the arpeggio-prelude) are of his invention. Yet he left no form as he found it, - not even that most conventional of all, the Da Capo Aria, which he did not outwardly alter in the least. On the other hand, with every form he touched he said the last word. All the material that could be assimilated into a mature art he vitalized in his own way, and he had no imitators. The language of music changed at his death, and his influence became all-pervading just because he was not the prophet of the new art, but an unbiassed seeker of truth. Whether so great a man becomes "progressive" or "reactionary" depends on the artistic resources of his time. He will always work at the kind of art that is most complete and consistent in all its aspects. The same spirit of truthfulness that makes Sebastian Bach hold himself aloof from the progressive art which he encourages in his sons, drives Beethoven to invent new forms and new means of expression with every work he writes. Gluck abolished the Da Capo Aria, because it was unfit for dramatic music. Bach did not abolish it, because he did not intend to write dramatic music in the strict sense of the term. Mature musical art in Bach's time could not be dramatic, except in the loose sense in which the term may be applied to an epic poem. Dramatic expression, properly so called, can only be attained in music by the full development of resources that do not blend with those of Bach's art at all. Meanwhile there are many things unsuitable for the stage which are nevertheless valuable on purely musical grounds; and the Da Capo Aria was one. Bach developed it in a great variety of ways, while retaining even the minor details of what in other hands had long before become its conventional form; but the one thing he did not do was to abuse it according to time-honoured custom as the staple form for opera. For that he had too much dramatic insight. His treatment of other important art-forms is illustrated in the articles On Contrapuntal Forms; Concerto and Instrumentation. Here we may attempt to illustrate his methods by such forms and characteristics as cannot be classified under those headings.

r. The toccatas of Buxtehude and his predecessors show how an effective musical scheme may be suggested by running over the keyboard of an organ as if to try (toccare) the tions of touch, then bursting out into sustained and full harmony, and at last settling down to a fugue. But before Bach no one seemed able to keep the fugue in motion long enough to make a convincing climax. Very soon it collapsed and the process of quasi-extemporization began again, to culminate in a new fugue which often gave the whole work a happy but deceptive suggestion of organic unity by being founded on an ingenious variation of the subject of the first fugue. But in Bach's hands the toccata becomes one of the noblest and most plastic of forms. The introductory runs may be disjointed and exaggerated to grotesqueness, until the gaps between them gradually fill out, and they build themselves up into grand piles of musical architecture, .as in the organ toccata in C; or they may be worked out on an enormous scale in long and smooth canonic passages with a definite theme, as in the greatest of all toccatas, that in F for organ, which is most artistically followed by a fugue unusually quiet for its size. In one instance, the toccata at the beginning of the E minor clavierpartita, the introductory runs, though retaining much of the extempore character from which the form derives its name, take shape in a highly organized and rounded-off group of contrasted themes. The fugue follows without change of time, and is developed in so leisurely a manner that it is fully as long as a normal fugue on a large scale by the time it reaches what sounds like its central episode. At this point some of the introductory matter quietly enters, and leads to a recapitulation of the whole introduction in the key now reached. The obvious sequel would be a counter-development of the fugue, at least as long as what has gone before, as in the clavier-toccata in. C minor; but Bach does not choose to weary the hearer and weaken the impression of breadth he has already made here. Instead, he expands this restatement of the introduction, and makes its harmonies deliberately return to the fundamental key, and thus in an astonishingly short time the toccata is brought to a close with the utmost effect of climax and finality. The same grasp of all the possible meanings of an artistic device shows itself in his treatment of the other features of toccata form. With his variety of proportion and flow he has no need to break off the fugue like earlier composers: but all the old devices by which the division into sections was managed are turned to account by him, and almost every toccata has its own scheme of contrasted movements, always based on the old natural idea of the growth of an organized music from a chaos of extemporization.

If this is Bach's treatment of a comparatively small and specialized art-form, it is obviously impossible to reduce the scantiest account of the rest of his work into practical limits here, nor is there as yet a sufficient body of accepted criticism of Bach for such an account to carry further conviction than an expression of individual opinion. Fortunately, however, Bach was constantly re-arranging his own compositions; indeed he evidently regards adaptability to fresh environment as the test of his finest work: and we cannot do better than review the evidence thus given to us, - evidence which only Beethoven's sketch-books surpass in significance.

2. The successful transplanting of a work of art to a fresh environment is obviously a convincing test of our definitions of the art-forms concerned, if only we take care to distinguish between the alterations produced by the change of environment and those that imply the composer's dissatisfaction with the original version. In Bach's case this seldom causes much difficulty; his methods of adaptation are so logical and so varied as to form a scheme of musical morphology with all the interest and none of the imperfections of the geological record; and the few cases in which a work owes its changes to the need for improvement as well as adaptation cause no confusion, but rather form a link between the pure adaptations and the numerous revisions of his favourite works without change of medium. There is, for example, no difficulty in separating the element of corrective criticism from that of the impulse to give an already successful composition a larger or more permanent form, in such cases as the transformations undergone by the movements of the birthday cantata, Was mir behagt ist nur die muntre Jagd, during their distribution among the church cantatas, Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt and Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg. The fine bass aria, "Ein Fiirst ist seines Landes Pan," was obviously ill-proportioned, with its breakneck return to the tonic and its perfunctory close; and Bach's chief concern in adapting it for its place as the aria, "Du bist geboren mir zu Gute," in Also hat Gott, was to remedy this defect. On the other hand, the use of the delightful ritornello for violoncello from the little aria, "Weil die wollenreichen Heerden," in the birthday cantata, and the restoration of the rejected long instrumental fugat° that was to follow, were obviously brought about by the conception of the entirely new material for the voice in the famous aria, "Mein glaubiges Herze." And when the last chorus of Was mir behagt became the first chorus of Man singet mit Freuden, it was expanded to the proportions necessary for a triumphant opening (as distinguished from a cheerful finale) by the adroit insertion of new material between every joint in the design. This material, being new, could not produce the effect of diffuseness that would result from the expansion of the old material already complete in its simplest form, and thus this instance does not imply criticism.

A highly interesting example of pure self-criticism is the Passion according to St John ,which was twice revised, and each time reduced to a smaller scale by the omission of some of its finest numbers. The final result was a work of perfect proportions, and of the rejected numbers one (a magnificent aria with chorale) remained unused, two were replaced by finer substitutes, others took shape as one of the most complete and remarkable of the church cantatas, Du wahrer Gott, while the greatest of the figured chorales was transferred to the Passion according to St Matthew, of which it now crowns the first part.

3. Such instances of self-criticism might be paralleled in the works of other composers; but there is no parallel in music to Bach's power of reproducing already perfect works in different media. Here Bach reveals to us identities in difference which we should otherwise never have suspected. Of course it is possible to arrange works in different ways without illustrating any profound identities at all. Handel, for instance, collected several of his favourite choruses in an enormous instrumental concerto (see vol. 46 of the Handel-Gesellschaft), and the result in the case of a chorus like "Lift up your Heads" was ridiculous. Bach, however, does not arrange old work merely to please a court where it was already admired. He never leaves it in a state of mere make-shift, though he cannot always attain his evident aim of a new originality. His methods of orchestration and the profoundly significant identity of certain forms of chorus with certain concerto forms may better be described under their proper headings (see articles Instrumentation and Concerto). Here we will attempt first to show, by illustrations of Bach's power of adding parts to already complete harmonic and contrapuntal schemes, what was his conception of the nature of an art-form, and secondly, by means of a short analysis of cases in which he adapts the same music to different words, to define his range of expression.

Bach arranged all his violin concertos for clavier, including two that are lost in the original version. Here his power of providing new and apparently necessary material for the left hand of the cembalist (or, in the double concertos, two left hands) without disturbing the already complete score, is astonishing; and it fails only in the slow movements, which he prefers to leave obviously in the condition of an arrangement rather than to spoil their broad cantabile style by a too polyphonic bass.

But these cases are insignificant compared with such transformations as that of the prelude of the E major partita for unaccompanied violin into the sinfonia for organ obligato accompanied by full orchestra (including three trumpets and a pair of drums) at the beginning of the church cantata, Wir danken dir, Gott. The original version is perhaps the most complete and natural of the violin solos, for its arpeggios produce full harmony without recourse to that constant attempt to play on all four strings at once, which makes the performance of the polyphonic movements a tour de force in which steady rhythm is nearly impossible. Yet in the sinfonia its proportions seem to reveal themselves for the first time. Not a bar is displaced and not a note of the new accompaniment is unnecessary. The whole is almost entirely without themes; for even this, the largest of all arpeggio-preludes, consists essentially of the gradual unfolding of a scheme of harmony in which rhythmic and melodic organization is reduced to a minimum. Only in the first line does the incisive initial figure persist a little longer in the new accompaniment than in the original solo, but on the last page it reappears and pervades the whole orchestra, even the drums thundering out its rhythm at the climax where the holding-notes of the trumpet span the torrent of harmony like a rainbow.

Deeper still is the thought that underlies the transformation of two movements of the great violin-concerto in D minor (unfortunately lost except in its splendid arrangement for clavier) into parts of the church cantata, Wir miissen durch viel Triibsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen. In both movements the violin is replaced by the organ an octave lower, the orchestral accompaniment remaining where it was. This treatment, with the addition of new and plaintive parts for wind instruments, turns the already very long and sombre first movement into an impressive idealization of the "much tribulation" that lies between us and the kingdom of heaven. The slow movement is still more solemn, and is arranged in the same way as regards the instruments; but from the first note to the last a four-part chorus sings, to the words of the title, a mass of quite new material (except for the bass and for numerous imitations of the solo-part), treated with every variety of vocal colouring and a grandeur of conception which is not dwarfed even by the Passion according to St Matthew. 4. The four short masses, the Christmas oratorio and the B minor mass, contain every variety of adaptation from earlier work. The four short masses are indeed obviously compiled for use in a church where the orchestra was small. Only four movements in the whole collection are not traceable to other extant works; all the rest comes from church cantatas. The adaptations are not always significant; no attempt, for example, is made in the G minor mass to conceal how unfit for a Kyrie eleison is the tremendous denunciatory chorus, Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben. But the F major and G major masses are very instructive; and the A major mass, except for the damage done to the instrumentation, is a work that no one would conceive to be not original. The Kyrie is one of Bach's most individual utterances and could surely never have fitted any other text, but we should say the same of the Gloria if we did not possess the church cantata, Halt im Gedtichtniss. The Gloria begins with a triumphant polyphonic chorus accompanied by a spirited symphony for strings. At the words "et in terra pax" the time changes, and two flutes softly accompany a single solemn melody in the altos. At the "laudamus to" the material of the beginning returns, and is interrupted again by the calm slow movement, this time in another key and for another voice, at the words "adoramus te." Twice the "laudamus" and "adoramus" alternate in a finely proportioned design; at last the words "gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam" are set for the full chorus to the music of the slow movement, the strings join with the flutes, and this most appropriate setting of those words is finished. And yet it is quite impossible to regard this as superseding the last chorus of Halt im Gedachtniss. Not one bar or harmony of the framework differs; yet the two versions are two independent works of art. In the cantata the beginning is for instruments only; when the slow movement (here adequately scored for a flute and two oboe d'amore) begins, the basses, permanently separated from the rest of the chorus, sing "Peace be unto you." The other voices then sing the triumph of the faithful helped by the Saviour in their battle against the world. The slow movement is, of course, set for bass alone throughout, and at the last recurrence of the allegro the bass continues to sing "Friede sei mit euch" through the rest of the chorus, as if leading the chorus of humanity through strife to the kingdom of heaven, and then the single voice of peace remains to the end. Hardly a bar of the chorus-material is on the same themes in the two versions.

The study of the sources of the Christmas oratorio will complete the evidence on which we support our estimate of Bach's methods and range of expression. It is certain that the occasional cantatas, from which all except the chorale-tune numbers and those set to words from the Bible were taken, date from shortly before the oratorio; and that Bach, being incapable of putting inferior work even into birthday odes, rescued it from oblivion by having the verses for the oratorio numbers built on the same rhythms as those of the odes in order that he might use those occasional works as a sketch (see B.-G., Jahr. xxxiv. preface). Be this as it may, the alterations are confined to details even where an aria is transposed a fourth or fifth; but the effect of them is startling. Pleasure (Wollust) sings a lovely soprano aria to allure Hercules from the paths of Virtue, to which Hercules replies indignantly with an aria in a spirited staccato style. It is no doubt a shock to our feelings to find that Wollust's aria became the Virgin's cradle-song, while Hercules's reply became the alto aria in which Zion is bidden to "prepare for the Bridegroom." But it does not warrant the inference that Bach's music lacks definite characterization: on the contrary, these two arias are the best demonstration of his profound insight into the possibilities of musical expression within his range. It is no part of his conception of art that Wollust should be represented by a Wagnerian Venusberg-music; the obvious way to represent Pleasure was by writing pleasant music, and with Bach's ideas of pleasance the step from this to the solemn beauty of the sacred cradle-song was a mere matter of change of colour and tempo. The key is lowered from B flat to G, the strings are veiled with the tender reed tone of a group of oboe d'amore, the soprano becomes an alto whose notes are, as it were, surrounded with a nimbus by being doubled in the upper octave by a flute; and the aria becomes worthy of its new purpose, not by losing a grossness which it never possessed, but by gaining the richness which distinguishes the perfect work from the boldly executed draft.

As to the aria of Hercules the change is in manner, while the character, in the human sense of the term, is quite rightly the same. Both Hercules and the faithful Christian of the oratorio are renouncing pomps and vanities for the claims of a higher life; in the one case indignantly, in the other case inspired "mit zartlichem Triebe." A change to a legato style, the substitution of a single oboe d'amore for tutti violins, the addition of delicate ornaments indicative of a slower pace, and the noble stream of melody preserve its identity while changing its aspect. Bach's larger designs react on their changing contents as a cathedral reacts on the impressiveness of the rites performed within it, or as nature reacts on a poet's thoughts; and in the same way Bach's melody is greater than any possible mood of the moment, not because of that vague and negative pseudo-classical quality misnamed "reserve," but because of its vital individuality. In their proper directions its changes are limitless; elsewhere change in inconceivable. No amount of "Umarbeitung" could, for instance, turn the aria of Hercules into the Virgin's cradle-song, or Wollust's aria into the exhortation of Zion to prepare for the Bridegroom. In short, Bach's melodies are characteristic, not like a mask with a set expression, but like a living face that is the more individual for the mobility of its features.

B. Without Orchestra 5 motets a capella (but there is reason to believe that these, except Komm Jesu komm, were intended to be partly supported by the organ). A sixth motet has an obligato figured-bass accompaniment.

A few early choruses, mostly turned to account in later works.

A large collection of plain chorales, including several original melodies.

Within these limits, that is, short of dramatic expression in just so far as "the end of drama is not character but action," there is nothing good that Bach's art does not express. He has plenty of humour, if the term may be applied to art which is, so to speak, always literal, - art in which a jest is a jest and serious things are treated with familiar directness, and all, whether in jest or earnest, is primarily beautiful. In Der Streit zwischen Phoebus and Pan Bach answers the critics who censured him for his pedantry and provincial ignorance of the grand Italian operatic style, by making effective use of that style in Pan's prize-aria ("Zum Tanze, zum Sprunge, so wack-ack-ack-ackelt das Herz"), nobly representing his own style in Phoebus's aria, and promptly caricaturing it in the second part of Pan's ("Wenn der Ton zu miihsam klingt"). Midas votes for Pan - "denn nach meinen beiden Ohren singt er unvergleichlich schdn." At the word "Ohren" the violins give a pianissimo "hee-haw" which is fully as witty in its musical aptness as Mendelssohn's clown-theme in the Overture to the Midsummer Night's Dream; and in the ensuing dialogue their prophecy is verified. As with many other great artists, Bach's playfulness occasionally showed itself inconveniently where little things shock little minds. The hilarious aria, "Ermuntre dich," in the church cantata, Schmiicke dich, o liebe Seele, is one instance, and the quaint representation of the words "dimisit inanes" in the Magnificat is another. This great work, one of the most terse and profound things Bach ever wrote, contains, among many other subtle inspirations, one conception with which we may fitly end our survey, for it strongly suggests Bach himself and the destiny of all that work which he finished so lovingly, with no prospect of its becoming more than a family heirloom and a salutary tradition in his Leipzig choirschool. In the Magn ficat he sets the words "quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae" to a touchingly appropriate soprano solo accompanied by his favourite oboe d'amore. With the next sentence "ecce enim beatam me dicent" the tone brightens to a quiet joy, but Bach takes advantage of the syntax of the Latin in a way that defies translation, and the sentence is finished by the chorus. "Omnes generationes" seem indeed to pass before us in the crowded fugue which rises in perpetual stretto, the incessant entries of its subject now mounting the whole scale, each part a step higher than the last, and now collecting in unison with a climax of closeness and volume overwhelming in its impression of time and multitude.

Summary Of Bach'S Works No attempt is here made at chronological sequence. The changes in Bach's style, though clear and important, are almost impossible to describe in untechnical language; nor are they of such general interest as to make it worth while to expand this summary by an attempt to apportion its contents among the Arnstadt-Miihlhausen period, the Weimar period, the COthen period (chiefly remarkable for instrumental music and comparatively uninteresting in its easy-going choral music), and the last period (1733-1750) in which, while the choral works became at once more numerous and more terse (e.g. Jesu, der du meine Seele) the instrumental music, though never diffuse, shows an increasing preference for designs on a large scale. (Compare, for example, the second book of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier, 1744, with the first, 1722.) I.-Church Music A. With Orchestra 190 church cantatas: besides several which are only known from fragmentary sets of parts. Of the 190, 40 are for solo voices, about 60 (including some solo cantatas) are more or less founded on chorales, and the rest, though almost invariably containing a chorale (for congregational singing), are practically short oratorios and frequently so entitled by Bach himself.

3 wedding cantatas: the Easter oratorio (exactly like the abovementioned oratorio-cantatas; and the Christmas oratorio (six similar cantatas forming a connected design for performance on six separate days).

The Passions according to St Matthew and St John.

Funeral ode for the Duchess Eberhardine (now known to be arranged from portions of the lost Passion according to St Mark).

4 short masses (i.e. Kyrie and Gloria only) mainly compiled from church cantatas.

Mass in B minor. Magnificat in D. A few other ecclesiastical Latin choruses.

II.-Secular Vocal Music Der Streit zwischen Phoebus and Pan and Der zufrieden gestellte Aeolus; both entitled Dramma per Musica, but showing no more essential connexion with the stage than Handel's Acis and Galatea. 7 solo and 7 choral cantatas, of which latter three were almost entirely absorbed into the Christmas oratorio and the B minor mass. Of the solo cantatas two are Italian (one of these being Bach's only developed work for voice and clavier) and two are burlesque.

Several tunes with clavier bass, almost foreshadowing the modern song. I 11.- Instrumental Music A. Orchestral 7 clavier concertos arranged from violin concertos and other sources.

3 concertos for two claviers (two being arranged from concertos for two violins).

2 concertos for three claviers.

The 6 Brandenburg concertos, for various combinations.

2 violin concertos, and a colossal torso of a concerted violinmovement forming the prelude to a lost church cantata. I concerto for two violins.

4 orchestral suites. (The symphony in F in the same volume of the B. G. is only an earlier version of the first Brandenburg concerto.) B. Chamber Music 3 sonatas for clavier and flute; a suite and 6 sonatas for clavier and violin, 3 for clavier and viola da gamba; 2 trios with figured bass; 2 flute-sonatas and a violin suite with figured bass; 6 sonatas (i.e. 3 sonatas and 3 partitas) for violin alone; 6 suites for violoncello alone.

C. Clavier and Organ Music Bach's own collections are :- Das wohltemperirte Klavier for clavichord: two books each containing 24 preludes and fugues, one in each major and minor key; with the object of stimulating tuning by "equal temperament" instead of sacrificing the euphony of remoter keys to that of the more usual ones.

2. Klavier-Ubung (chiefly for harpsichord) in four books comprising: (i) 15 two-part inventions and 15 three-part symphonies. (ii.) 6 partitas. (iii.) The "Goldberg" variations. 4 duets, and an important collection of organ choral-preludes, with the "St Anne" prelude and fugue in E flat. (iv.) The Italian concerto and French overture.

3. The 6 "French" and 6 "English" suites.

The other clavier works fill two Jahrgange of the B.-G.

Bach's collections of organ music are (besides that included in the third part of the KlavierUbung): - (1) 6 sonatas. (2) 4 groups of 6 organ preludes and fugues. (3) Das Orgelbiichlein, a collection of short choral-preludes carefully planned - all the blank pages of the autograph being headed with the titles of the chorales intended for them - but not half executed. (The projected whole would have been a larger volume than the Wohltemperirtes Klavier). (4) 18 larger chorale-preludes, including Bach's last composition. (5) The 6 "Schiibler" chorales, all arranged from movements of cantatas.

Besides these there are the three great independent toccatas and the Passacaglia. The remaining choral-preludes fill one Jahrgang, and the other organ works two more.

D. Unclassified Two important instrumental works cannot be classified, viz. Das musikalische Opfer, the volume of compositions (two great fugues, various puzzle-canons, and a splendid trio for flute, violin and figured bass) on the theme given to Bach by Frederick the Great; and Die Kunst der Fuge, a progressive series of fugues on one and the same subject, written in open score as if entirely abstract studies, but all (except the extreme contrapuntal tours de force) in admirable clavier style and of great musical value.

IV.-Lost Works A. Choral J. N. Forkel's statement that Bach wrote 5 Jahrgange of church cantatas (i.e. enough to provide one for each Sunday and holy day for five years) would indicate that some 80 are lost, but there is reason .to believe that this is a great exaggeration. Not more than six or seven cantatas are known to be lost, by the evidence of fragments, text-books, &c.

Forkel also says that Bach wrote five Passions. Besides the great Matthew and John Passions there is in an indisputable Bach autograph one according to St Luke; but it is so worthless that the best plea for its authenticity offered by responsible critics is that only a personal interest could have induced Bach to make a copy of it.

III. 5 The lost Passion according to St Mark must, judging by the movements preserved in the Trauer-Ode, have been larger than that according to St John.

Was there a genuine Lucas-Passion ? If so, Forkel's report of five Passions would be explained. Several lost secular works are partly preserved in those portions of the Christmas oratorio of which the sources are not definitely known, but which, like the other duplicated numbers, are fair copies in the autograph.

B. Instrumental Three violin concertos and one for two violins; known only from the wonderful clavier versions.

Most of the first movement of the A major sonata for clavier and flute which was written in the spare staves at the bottom of a larger score. Some of these have been cut off.

V.-Arrangements Of Works By Other Composers Arrangements for harpsichord alone of 16 concertos, generally described as by Vivaldi, but including several by other composers. 4 Vivaldi concertos arranged for organ.

Many of these arrangements contain much original matter, such as entirely new slow movements, large cadenzas, &c.

Concerto in A minor for 4 claviers and orchestra, from Vivaldi's B minor concerto for 4 violins. This, though the most faithful to its original, is the richest and most Bach-like of all these arrangements, and is well worth performing in public.

2 sonatas from the Hortus Musicus of Reinken, arranged for clavier. (The ends of the slow movements are Bach.) Finishing touches to cantatas by his uncle Johann Ludwig Bach. Also a very characteristic complete "Christe eleison" inserted in Kyrie of Johann Ludwig's.

VI.-Doubtful And Spurious Works Bach's autographs give the name of the composer on the outside sheet only. He was constantly making copies of all that interested him; and where the outside sheet is lost, only the music itself can tell us whether it is his or not. The above-mentioned Passion according to St Luke is the chief case in point. The little music-books he and his second wife wrote for their children are full of pieces in the most various styles; and the editors of the Bach-Gesellschaft have not completely identified them, even Couperin's well-known "Les Bergeries" escaping their scrutiny. A sonata for two claviers by Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedermann, was detected by the editors after its inclusion in Jahrgang xliv. The second of the 3 sonatas for clavier and flute is extremely suggestive of Bach's sons, but Philipp Emanuel ascribes it to his father. However, he might easily have docketed it wrongly while arranging copies of his father's works. It has a twin brother (B.-G. ix. Anhang ii.) for which he has not vouched.

Four absurd church cantatas are printed for conscience' sake in Jahrgang xliii. More important than these, because by no means too obviously ridiculous to deceive a careless listener, is the wellknown 8-part motet, Lob, Ehr' and Weisheit (blessing and glory and wisdom). A closer acquaintance shows that it is really very poor stuff; and it was finally crowned with absurdity by the discovery that its composer was a contemporary of Bach, - and that his name was Wagner.

The beautiful motet, Ich lasse dich nicht, has long been known to be by one of Bach's uncles (Johann Christoph).


Almost the only works of Bach published during his lifetime were the instrumental collections, most of which he engraved himself. Of the church cantatas only one, Gott ist mein Konig (written when he was nineteen, but a very great work), was published in his lifetime.

Of modern editions that of the Bach-Gesellschaft is, of course, the only complete one. It is, inevitably, of very unequal merit. Its first editors could not realize their own ignorance of Bach's language; their immediate admiration of his larger choruses seemed to them proof of their competence to retain or dismiss details of ornamentation, figured bass, variants between score and parts, &c., without always stopping to see what light these might shed on questions of tempo and style - especially in the arias and recitatives, which they regarded as archaic almost in direct proportion to the depth of thought really displayed in them. In the 9th Jahrgang Wilhelm Rust introduced scholarly methods, with the happiest results. The Wohltemperirtes Klavier (Jahrgang xiv.) was edited by Kroll, who also made his text accessible in the Edition Peters (which till then had only Czerny's - an amazing result of corrupt tradition, still widely accepted). Kroll's and Rust's volumes are far the best in the B. G. On Rust's death the standard deteriorated; his immediate successor seems more interested in reprinting in full an early version of a work of which Rust had given only the variants, than in digesting his own materials (Jahrgang xxix.); and in his next volume (Jahrgang xxx. p. 109) the bass and violin are a bar apart for a whole line. The last ten volumes, however, are again satisfactory, and in Jahrgang xliv. the French and English suites are re-edited. Part of the B minor mass was also worked over again; and Kroll's text of the Wohltemperirtes Klavier was supplemented by the evidence of the British Museum autograph. The Steingraber edition of the clavier works, edited by Dr Hans Bischoff, is incomparably the best, giving all the variants in footnotes and clearly distinguishing the extremely intelligent nuances and phrasing signs of the editor from the rare but significant indications of Bach himself. Nor does this wealth of scholarship interfere with the presentation of a straightforward, single text; though in addition there is every necessary explanation of the ornaments and kindred matters. We have seen no other editions that distinguish Bach's text from the editor's taste - the disappointing publications of the Neue Bachgesellschaft 1 by no means excepted. We may remark that the older vocal scores of cantatas in the Edition Peters are, though unfortunately but a selection, far better than the complete series issued by Breitkopf and Hartel in conformity with the Bach Gesellschaft, and therefore accepted as authoritative (see Instrumentation). The English vocal scores published by Novello are generally very good though covering but small ground. The Novello score of the Christmas oratorio contains a fine analytic preface by Sir George Macfarren.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.-J. N. Forkel, Ober Bach's Leben, Kunst and Kunstwerke, translated (London, 1820); C. H. Bitter, John Sebastian Bach (Berlin, 1865); Ernest David, La Vie et les oeuvres de Bach (Paris, 1882); P. Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach (Leipzig, 1873 and 1880); E. Heinrich, Sebastian Bach's Leben (Berlin, 1885); A. Pirro, L' Esthetique de Jean Sebastian Bach (Paris, 1907); and L' Orgue de Jean Sebastian Bach (Paris, 1907); A. Schweitzer, J. S. Bach: Le Musicien poete. Spitta's biography superseded everything written before it and has not since been approached. With corrections in the light of Rust's B. G. prefaces it contains everything worth knowing about Bach, except the music itself. (D. F. T.)

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Johann Sebastian Bach in the year 1746

Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Eisenach, 31 March 1685; d. Leipzig, 28 July 1750) was a German composer and organist. He lived in the last part of the Baroque period. He never traveled very far, spending all his life in central Germany, but he studied all the music he could find by other composers of his time. His own music shows that he learned from the music of Italian, French and German composers. He spent several years working at courts of noblemen. Here he wrote most of his chamber music and orchestral music. Most of his life, however, he worked in a church where he was expected to write church music. Bach wrote almost every kind of music except opera. During the last part of his life most composers were writing in a new style called the Classical style, but Bach always wrote in the Baroque style. That made some people at the time think he was old-fashioned, but today we know that his work is the very best of Baroque music.


Early Life

Bach came from a highly musical family. Many of his relatives were professional musicians of some sort: violinists and town musicians, organists, Kantors (Directors of Music in a church), court musicians and Kapellmeisters (Directors of Music at a royal court). Most of them played several instruments. Of his twenty children, several became quite famous composers, especially Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788), Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784).

We hardly know anything about Johann Sebastian’s childhood. He must have sung in the church choir at Eisenach where he was born. He may have learned to play instruments from his father. When he was ten years old, his mother and father both died within eight months of one another (1694 and 1695). He went to live with his brother Johann Christoph Bach in a small town called Ohrdruf nearby. Johann Christoph was an excellent teacher and taught the young boy a lot in music. In Ohrdruf he visited the Lyzeum. There was a good school there, and he studied religion, reading, writing, arithmetic, singing, history and science.

When he was fifteen he went to the large town of Lüneburg. At first he sang treble in the choir, but his voice very soon got lower, so he made himself useful playing instruments. He learned by listening to famous organists like Reincken (1623-1722) and Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). Bach got his first job in 1703 in Arnstadt. It was a well-paid job for a young boy who was 18 years old. There was a new organ in the church and Bach already knew a lot about organ building as well as being a brilliant organist. They asked him to examine the new organ, and then offered him a job. Bach spent four years as organist there. He composed some organ works. Unfortunately the congregation were not musical enough to like it. They did not understand the ornamental notes he added to the hymn tunes. Bach got rather fed up with the priests who were always complaining about it, and so he resigned and took another job in Mühlhausen, not far away. After a year there he gave up that job and went to a big town called Weimar.

Weimar years (1708-1717)

J. S. Bach in 1715

Johann Sebastian was made organist to the Duke of Weimar. At the Duke’s court there was a chapel with an organ. Bach composed many of his great organ works at this time. He became very famous as an organist as was invited to play in other big churches and to give advice on organ building. He was extremely good at improvisation. On one occasion he was in Dresden at the same time as a French organist named Louis Marchant. There was going to be a competition between the two men to see who was better at improvisation. Bach was practicing the day before and Marchant heard him. He realized that Bach would win, so he ran away.

In 1714 the Duke made Bach Konzertmeister (Concert Master, which meant he earned more money.) He had to write cantatas for church services. In 1717 he was offered a job in the town of Cöthen, where he would earn an even better salary. The Duke was angry and did not want him to go but Bach insisted, so the Duke put Bach in prison for a month. In the end he had to let the musician go.

Cöthen (1717-1723)

At Cöthen Bach worked for Prince Leopold. The Prince was very musical and a nice man to work for. Bach was Kapellmeister (Director of Music) and was treated well. The organ was not very good and it was not used much, so Bach did not write any organ music during this period. The Duke had an orchestra and Bach was in charge. Nearly all Bach’s orchestral works were written in Cöthen: the Brandenburg Concertos, the violin concertos, the orchestral suites, the solo music for violin and for cello, and a lot of keyboard music for harpsichord or clavichord.

During 1719 the great composer Handel, who had moved to England, came to Germany to visit his mother. Bach wanted to meet Handel, who was only 30 km away, but these two famous musicians never met. Handel wanted to spend his limited time in Germany with his mother who was old and frail, knowing that it would be the last time he would see her.

Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach, died in 1720. The couple had seven children. Soon afterwards he married Anna Magdalena, with whom he had another thirteen children. However, several of his children died young.

Leipzig (1723-1750)

Bach in 1750 by an unknown artist

In 1723 Bach moved to Leipzig to take the job of Kantor at the St Thomas Church, a very large church in the town. As Kantor he was in charge of all the music, both at St Thomas and at another church nearby. He also had to compose music for the town. It was an excellent job, and more secure than being at a court. The schools were good for his sons. Bach stayed in Leipzig until his death. He loved his job most of the time and worked very hard. He composed many cantatas for the church services. These services were very long, lasting about three hours. Many of the cantatas he wrote last about 30 minutes, and that was just one part of a service! He had assistants to play the organ. Bach himself directed the choir and the orchestra. There were probably 16 singers in the choir and 18 players in the orchestra. He wrote the St Matthew Passion and the St John Passion. Both these works, which are very long, tell the story of Jesus dying on the cross. They are among the most famous pieces of music ever written. He also wrote cantatas for special occasions such as weddings or funerals.

Life was not always easy, and there were sometimes arguments with the people who ruled the church. The sub-deacon wanted to choose some of the hymns, but this was the Kantor’s job. Bach was a sensible man, and he managed to get his way without making enemies. On another occasion he argued with the headmaster of the school (Bach had to do some teaching at the church school) about who was allowed to choose the choir section leaders. This actually went to court, and Bach lost the case.

Bach often made journeys to other towns. In 1747 he visited the court of Prussian King Frederick the Great near Berlin. The king, a music lover, gave Bach a tune to play on the harpsichord. Bach sat down and improvised a piece using this theme. The king was very impressed. Later Bach wrote a very long composition for flute, violin and harpsichord with cello accompaniment, in many movements, all based on this theme. At the end, the tune is heard in six voices all together. Bach called it The Musical Offering and he sent it to king, who was very much pleased. In the picture at the top of this article Bach is holding the music of the 6 part movement (called: a ricercar).

Bach loved writing fugues, and he decided to write a collection called The Art of Fugue. He wanted to publish it and he was making some changes, but he died before he could finish it. In the last year or two of his life, he became blind in spite of two eye operations.

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