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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

The works of the German composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) are the ultimate expression of polyphony. He is probably the only composer ever able to make full use of the possibilities of art available in his time.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, the youngest child of Johann Ambrosius Bach, organist at St. George's Church, and Elizabeth Lämmerhirt Bach. He was the culmination of the family's long line of musicians, beginning with his great-grandfather, Veit Bach, who was a professional violinist in Gotha, and the name Bach was considered a synonym for musician. The Bach family was extremely loyal to the Lutheran faith. Throughout the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) the religious turmoil affected four generations of Bachs, who remained unwaveringly faithful to their Lutheran persuasion.

Bach's first music lessons were on the violin, with his father as instructor. Having a beautiful soprano voice, he also sang in the choir at St. George's Church. On May 3, 1694, his mother died; his father remarried 6 months later but died scarcely 2 months after that. The oldest brother, Johann Christoph, assumed the care of the 10-year-old Johann Sebastian. The boy moved to Ohrdruf to live with his brother, organist at St. Michael's Church. From him Johann Sebastian received his first instruction at the harpsichord and perhaps at the organ.

Lüneburg (1700-1703)

In 1700 Bach was nearing his fifteenth birthday, an age when Bachs usually began to earn their own living. When an opening developed at St. Michael's School in Lüneburg, a scholarship was awarded Bach for his fine voice and his financial need. After his voice changed, he was transferred to the orchestra and played violin. At Lüneburg, Bach met the composer Georg Böhm, organist at St. John's Church, who influenced his early organ compositions. In 1701 Bach walked 30 miles to Hamburg to hear the renowned Jan Reinken, organist at St. Catherine's Church. At neighboring Celle, Bach heard the orchestra of Georg Wilhelm, which specialized in French instrumental music. On subsequent visits to Hamburg, Bach made the acquaintance of Vincent Lübeck, organ virtuoso, and heard German opera under the baton of Reinhard Keiser, the leading operatic conductor in Germany.

The artistic weapon of the Lutheran Church was the chorale, a hymn in the vernacular sung by the people during worship. It was preceded by a chorale prelude, an organ composition based upon a chorale melody. Bach composed almost 150 chorale preludes; his earliest ones in print are from the Lüneburg period. The influence of Böhm, whose favorite form was the chorale partita or chorale variation, is evident in two Bach works: Christ, der du bist der helle Tag (Christ, Thou Who Art the Bright Day) and O Gott, du frommer Gott (O God, Thou Righteous God).

Bach graduated from St. Michael's School in 1702, and the following year he accepted the position of violinist in the chamber orchestra of Duke Johann Ernst of Weimar. As substitute organist, he had the privilege of practicing long hours on the church organ, which prepared him for future church positions.

Arnstad (1704-1707)

In the summer of 1703 Bach was invited to test and demonstrate the organ in the new church at Arnstad. He made such an impression that a month later he was formally installed as organist. Bach had much time to practice on his favorite instrument and to develop his creative talent. His dramatic flair could already be seen in his Prelude and Fugue in C Minor and Toccata and Fugue in C Major. The first of his church cantatas, No. 15, Denn du wirst meine Seele nicht in der Hölle lassen (For Thou Will Not Leave My Soul in Hell), was performed on Easter 1704. Evidently Bach's choir was less than adequate, because after the performance he immediately requested to be relieved of his choirmaster duties. His request was answered with a reprimand suggesting that his poor relationship with the choir was the source of the problem. A second reprimand, resulting from a street fight with his bassoonist, further deteriorated his relationships at Arnstad. He did find some comfort in his companionship with his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, who was referred to as the "stranger maiden" seen in the balcony while Bach was practicing the organ.

In 1705 Bach obtained a month's leave to hear the renowned Dietrich Buxtehude, organist at St. Mary's Church in Lübeck. Bach walked the 200 miles to Lübeck and he was so impressed by the brilliant sound of choir, organ, and 40 instrumentalists performing the annual Abendmusiken, or evening music, that he remained there for 4 months without sending an explanatory message to Arnstad. Bach, too, must have made an impression because he was offered Buxtehude's position on his retirement, but the offer contained the traditional stipulation that he marry one of Buxtehude's daughters. Since she was considerably older than Bach and Maria Barbara was back in Arnstad, Bach turned down the offer. when he returned to Arnstad, he imitated Buxtehude and composed long organ preludes. Soon Bach was admonished, and he countered by making the preludes extremely short. In addition, he began improvising and accompanying the hymns with what were called curious variations and irrelevant ornaments. Needless to say, the congregation felt no regret when Bach accepted a post at Mühlhausen.

Mühlhausen (1707-1708)

In 1707 Bach was appointed organist at the Church of St. Blaise in Mühlhausen. It was a free imperial city, larger and richer than Arnstad, and a rich musical tradition had been developed during the previous 50 years by Johann Rudolf Ahle and his son Johann Georg. Every year, for example, they composed a cantata for the installation of the newly elected city council. Later that year Bach married Maria Barbara.

No doubt under the influence of Buxtehude, Bach wanted to present Mühlhausen with what he called "well-ordered church music." He soon discovered that his pastor, Johann Frohne, was an advocate of Lutheran Pietism. Frohne preferred simplicity in both the liturgy and the music, and the former organist, Johann Georg Ahle, had followed his wishes to a large extent. The very simple musical scores in the choir library reflected this approach. Bach soon became friendly with Reverend George Eilmar, an out-spoken enemy of Pietism, who is thought to be the librettist of at least three cantatas which Bach wrote during the Mühlhausen tenure. The brilliant setting of Cantata No. 71, Gott ist mein König (God Is My King), written for the installation service of the city council on Feb. 4, 1708, certainly must have antagonized Reverend Frohne and members of the congregation who were in the audience. Bach scored the cantata for strings, woodwinds, trumpets, tympani, and the usual chorus and soloist. The council was so impressed by the performance that the music was printed and put into the city records. In spite of the council's support, the fundamental conflict between his musical ideas and those of Pietism advocated by his pastor caused Bach to look elsewhere for a new position. In his letter requesting an honorable dismissal, he states very clearly that his goal in life is "with all goodwill to conduct well-ordered church music to the honor of God."

Weimar (1708-1717)

When Bach arrived in Weimar late in the summer of 1708 as court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst, it marked the third time in 5 years that he had changed positions because of unfavorable circumstances. Hopefully, all would now be well, since his new position doubled his salary and he could work in an orthodox Lutheran environment. The years 1708-1710 saw an enormous output of organ music by Bach. Preludes, fugues, choral preludes, and toccatas poured from his pen. The very familiar Toccata and Fugue in D Minor dates from this early Weimar period.

Bach's primary reputation came from his organ playing, not his compositions. He was in constant demand as a recitalist and organ consultant. Typical is the reaction of Crown Prince Frederick of Sweden, who heard Bach play in Cassel in 1714. Frederick was so astonished at his virtuosity that he took a diamond ring from his finger and gave it to Bach. The musical historian Johann Mattheson, writing in 1716, refers to him as "the famous organist" of Weimar. In 1713 Bach was invited to succeed Friedrich Zachau, the teacher of George Frederick Handel, in the Liebfrauenkirche at Halle. The possibility of playing a 65-rank instrument was a great temptation to him. When he informed the duke of his leaving, the duke promptly raised his salary and promoted him to concertmeister. When the formal invitation from Halle came 2 weeks later, Bach refused it, much to the chagrin of the Halle authorities. They, in fact, accused Bach of simply using their invitation to get an increase in salary at Weimar.

For his cantata compositions Bach was blessed with two fine librettists, Erdmann Neumeister, a Lutheran pastor at St. Jacob's Church in Hamburg, who was especially interested in elaborate church music, and Salamo Franck, the custodian of the library of Duke Wilhelm Ernst. Some of the cantatas from the Weimar period are No. 142, Uns ist ein Kind geborn (Unto Us a Child Is Born), and No. 21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (My Spirit Was in Heaviness). Bach also wrote a secular cantata, No. 208, Was mir behagt (What Pleases Me), to honor Duke Wilhelm's friend the Duke of Weissenfels. Bach did not hesitate to incorporate music from his secular cantatas into his sacred cantatas; for example, the very familiar "Sheep May Safely Graze" was taken from Cantata No. 208.

In his late Weimar years, especially beginning in 1716, Bach composed some of his grandest organ music. These compositions are not based upon a chorale but upon the architectonic nature of music itself. The brilliant preludes and fugues, with all their complexities, are miracles of tonal design. The great Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor came from this period.

In 1716 the Kapellmeister, or court conductor, Johann Dreise died. Bach wanted this position and resented it very much when it was not offered to him. In addition, a quarrel developed between the duke and his nephew, Ernst Augustus. The duke actually forbade all his employees to have anything to do with his nephew. Bach would not tolerate such an infringement on his personal liberty and composed a birthday cantata for Ernst Augustus. At the same time Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, a brother-in-law of Ernst Augustus, had heard of Bach through his sister's marriage. It appears that Bach investigated the musical opportunities at Cöthen and was offered a position.

If Prince Leopold had any doubts of Bach's capabilities, the proposed musical competition at Dresden between Bach and the great French organist Louis Marchand should have dispelled them. The contest was to include sight reading and improvisation. Bach welcomed the opportunity and agreed to read anything Marchand would put in front of him, provided the Frenchman would do likewise. Marchand agreed, but on the appointed day, evidently anticipating defeat, he left Dresden secretly by special coach.

When Bach requested his release to go to Cöthen, Duke Wilhelm refused on such short notice. Bach had already accepted money for the moving expenses and an advance in salary. When the duke would not release him, Bach became so angry that in punishment he was placed under arrest and confined to the country judge's place of detention from Nov. 6 to Dec. 2, 1717. Eight days later Bach began his duties at Cöthen.

Cöthen (1717-1723)

Bach's prime responsibility was to conduct the court orchestra, in which the prince himself participated. Leopold played both string instruments and the clavier. In the fall of 1719 Bach tried to meet Handel, who was visiting his family in Halle, but Handel had already left for London. An effort made 10 years later was also unsuccessful.

Tragedy struck Bach when he returned with the prince from Carlsbad in July 1720. He was informed that his wife had died and had been buried on July 4. Bach lost a great source of inspiration and encouragement in Maria Barbara. He again visited his old friend Reinken in Hamburg, from whom he had received instruction 20 years earlier. At this meeting Bach improvised on the melody An WasserflüssenBabylon (By the Waters of Babylon). Reinken paid Bach the highest compliment by saying, "I thought this art was dead; but I see that it survived in you." Since Reinken was considered the foremost extempore player of his time, this was high praise indeed.

Late in 1721 Bach married Anna Magdalena Wülken. Only 20 years old, she had to take over the momentous role of wife to a man of genius and also that of mother to his children, the oldest of whom was 12 years old. But she seems to have been equal to both tasks. In addition, during the next 20 years she presented Bach with 13 children.

Bach produced his greatest instrumental works during the Cöthen period. The Cöthen instrumental ensemble consisted of 16 skilled performers, and evidently the first-chair men were capable enough to cause Bach to write special music for them. He wrote unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas for Josephus Spiess, violinist, and six suites for unaccompanied cello for Ferdinand Abel, principal cellist. Bach's clavier music of the Cöthen period included English and French suites, the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier, inventions, and the two notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach. Bach also wrote his principal orchestral works during this period, such as the Overtures and the six Brandenburg Concertos. Interestingly, he wrote many of his keyboard works for the instruction of his own children.

Prince Leopold married his cousin, a princess of An-halt-Bernberg, in 1721. She had no enthusiasm for music and successfully persuaded her husband to give his time and resources to more frivolous activities. The situation became so serious that Bach, who had been quite happy in Cöthen, decided to look for another position. In addition, the education of Bach's children became more and more a concern to him, and he wanted to provide a strong orthodox Lutheran climate for his family.

In 1722 Johann Kuhnau, cantor of the Leipzig St. Thomas's Church, died. The vacant post was offered to Georg Philipp Telemann from Hamburg, who declined, and then to Christoph Graupner of Darmstadt, who, in declining, recommended Bach to the council. After Graupner's refusal a member of the council remarked that since the best musicians were unavailable an average one would have to be selected. In February 1723 Bach played a trial service and presented Cantata No. 22, Jesu nahm zu sich die Zwölfe (Jesus Called to Him the Twelve). At a second appearance he presented his setting of the Passion of Our Lord according to St. John. More than a year after the death of Kuhnau, Bach was made cantor of Leipzig.

Leipzig (1723-1750)

One can appreciate the reluctance of the Leipzig committee to appoint Bach. He did not have a university degree, and his reputation was primarily as an organist, not as a composer. The other candidates were recognized composers, and Bach's ability as an organist was not needed since the cantor was not required to play at the services. His duties, rather, were primarily to provide choral music for two large churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. A cantata was performed alternately at each church every Sunday. In addition, special music was required on festive days of the church year and for other occasions such as funerals and installations.

In his arrangement with the council, Bach promised to perform not only the musical duties but also other responsibilities in connection with the St. Thomas's School, such as teaching classes in music, giving private instruction in singing, and even teaching Latin.

In Leipzig he composed the bulk of his choral music. The list includes 295 church cantatas, of which 202 have survived, 6 great motets, the 5 Masses, including the B Minor Mass, and the great Passions and oratorios.

In 1747 Bach visited his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was in the service of Frederick the Great at Potsdam. Frederick had expressed the desire to meet the great Bach, and for the occasion Bach improvised a six-part fugue on a theme submitted by the King. Later Bach went home and completed the work, which he called a Musikalisches Opfer (Musical Offering). He dedicated it to Frederick with the words, "A sovereign admired in music as in all other sciences of war and peace." Bach's last work was the Art of the Fugue, in which he demonstrated the complete possibilities of the fugal and canonic forms.

In his final years Bach was afflicted with gradual blindness, and he was totally blind the last year of his life. A few days before his death he dictated a setting of the hymn Vor deinen Thron tret' ich allhier (Before Thy Throne I Stand) to his son-in-law. The composition was prophetic. Following a stroke and a raging fever, Bach died on July 28, 1750. Four of his sons carried on the musical tradition of the Bach family: Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel by his first marriage, and Johann Christoph and Johann Christian by his second.

For Bach, writing music was an expression of faith. His musical symbolism, his dramatic flair, even his insistence on no unnecessary notes—all served to profoundly interpret the text. Every composition, sacred and secular, was "in the name of Jesus" and "to the glory of God alone." His influence on music is well stated in the words of Johannes Brahms: "Study Bach: there you will find everything."

Further Reading

The principal source for the life and works of Bach is Philipp Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach: His Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685-1750 (2 vols., 1873-1880; trans., 3 vols., 1951). Albert Schweitzer, J. S. Bach (1905; trans., 2 vols., 1911), enumerates the principal sources of Bach's tonal language and his chief uses of it. Excellent short biographies of Bach are Wilibald Gurlitt, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Master and His Work (1936; trans. 1957), and Russell Hancock Miles, Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to His Life and Works (1962). Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel, eds., The Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents (1945), treats Bach from the human-interest viewpoint. See also Karl Geiringer, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era (1966). Bach's work in the context of the times is discussed in Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era: From Monteverdi to Bach (1947), and in Paul Henry Lang, Music in Western Civilization (1941). □

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Bach, Johann Sebastian

Bach, Johann Sebastian (b Eisenach, 1685; d Leipzig, 1750). Ger. composer and organist. Son of Johann Ambrosius Bach, organist and town musician, J. S. Bach was orphaned at the age of 10 and went to live with his elder brother Johann Christoph at Ohrdruf where he had klavier and org. lessons. In 1700 was a chorister at St Michael's Church, Lüneburg, staying for 3 years, learning much from the organist-composer Georg Böhm. Organist at Arnstadt, 1703, and then Mühlhausen, 1707, when he married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 became organist in the Kapelle of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, where he remained for 9 years, leaving in disappointment at not being appointed Kapellmeister in 1717. By this time he had comp. some of his finest org. works and church cantatas.

In 1717 appointed Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen where the prince's interest was not in religious works but in instr. comps. From this period date his vn. concs., sonatas, suites, and Brandenburg concs. Also comp. many of his best klavier works at Cöthen, probably for his children's instruction. In 1720 his wife died and in Dec. 1721 he married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, 20-year-old daughter of the court trumpeter. Now dissatisfied with life at Cöthen, where the ruler's new wife showed little interest in mus., Bach applied for the cantorship at St Thomas's, Leipzig, in Dec. 1722. He was not selected, but the chosen candidate, Graupner, withdrew and Bach was appointed in May 1723, having in the meantime cond. his St John Passion in St Thomas's as evidence of his fitness for the post. Remained at St Thomas's for the rest of his life, not without several disputes with the authorities. During time there, comp. more than 250 church cantatas, the St Matthew Passion, Mass in B minor, Christmas Oratorio, Goldberg Variations, and many other works incl. his last, the unfinished Die Kunst der Fuge (Art of Fugue). In 1740 began to have trouble with his eyesight and in the last year of his life was almost totally blind.

Bach was famous as an org. virtuoso. As a composer his reputation in his lifetime was restricted to a fairly narrow circle and his mus. was regarded by many as old-fashioned. His fame in no way approached that of, e.g., Telemann. His pubd. works today fill many vols., but in his lifetime fewer than a dozen of his comps. were printed, and for half a century after his death this position was only slightly improved until in 1801 the Well-Tempered Klavier was issued. The revival of interest in Bach's mus. may be dated from the Berlin perf. of the St Matthew Passion on 11 Mar. 1829, cond. Mendelssohn. Systematic publication of his works by the Bach Gesellschaft began in 1850 to mark the centenary of his death. (See Bach Revival.)

Bach's supreme achievement was as a polyphonist. His N. Ger. Protestant religion was the root of all his art, allied to a tireless industry in the pursuit of every kind of refinement of his skill and technique. Sonata form was not yet developed enough for him to be interested in it, and he had no leaning towards the (to him) frivolities of opera. Although some of the forms in which he wrote—the church cantata, for example—were outdated before he died, he poured into them all the resources of his genius so that they have outlived most other examples. The dramatic and emotional force of his mus., as evidenced in the Passions, was remarkable in its day and has spoken to succeeding generations with increasing power. Suffice it to say that for many composers and for countless listeners, Bach's mus. is supreme—to quote Wagner: ‘the most stupendous miracle in all music’. Prin. works:ORCH.: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1–6 (BWV1046–51); 7 Concertos for hpd. and str. (BWV1052–8), No.1 in D minor, No.2 in E, No.3 in D, No.4 in A, No.5 in F minor, No.6 in F, No.7 in G minor; 3 concs. for 2 hpd. and str. (BWV1060–2), No.1 in C minor, No.2 in C, No.3 in C minor; 2 concs. for 3 hpd. and str. (BWV1063–4), No.1 in D minor, No.2 in C (No.1 arr. for vn., fl., ob., No.2 for 3 vn. or fl., ob., vn.); conc. for 4 hpd. and str. in A minor (BWV1065, transcr. of Vivaldi conc. Op.3 No.10); conc. for fl., vn., hpd., str. (BWV1044), hpd., ob., str. (BWV1059), vn., str. in A minor (BWV1041, same work as BWV1058), vn., str. in E (BWV1042, same work as BWV1054), 2 vn., str. in D minor (BWV1043, same work as BWV1062), vn., ob., str., in D minor (BWV1060, reconstr. of hpd. conc.); 4 Suites (BWV1066–9), No.1 in C, No.2 in B minor, No.3 in D, No.4 in D.CHAMBER MUSIC: Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue) (BWV1080); Das Musikalische Opfer (The Musical Offering) (BWV1079); 3 Partitas, solo vn. (BWV1002, 1004, 1006), No.1 in B minor, No.2 in D minor, No.3 in E; 3 Sonatas, solo vn. (BWV1001, 1003, 1005), No.1 in G minor, No.2 in A minor, No.3 in C; 6 Sonatas, vn., klavier (BWV1014–9), No.1 in B minor, No.2 in A, No.3 in E, No.4 in C minor, No.5 in F minor, No.6 in G; 6 Sonatas, vn./fl., klavier (BWV1020–5), No.1 in G minor, No.2 in G, No.3 in F, No.4 in E minor, No.5 in C minor, No.6 in A; 4 Sonatas, 2 vn./2 fl./2 ob., hpd. (BWV1036–9), No.1 in D minor, No.2 in C, Nos.3 and 4 in G; 6 Sonatas, fl., hpd. (BWV1030–5), No.1 in B minor, No.2 in E♭, No.3 in A, No.4 in C, No.5 in E minor, No.6 in E; 3 Sonatas, viola da gamba (vc.), klavier (BWV1027–9), No.1 in G (same as BWV1039), No.2 in D, No.3 in G minor; sonata, fl. in A minor (BWV1013); 6 Suites, vc. (BWV1007–12), No.1 in G, No.2 in D minor, No.3 in C, No.4 in E♭, No.5 in C minor, No.6 in D.KEYBOARD: Capriccio in B♭ (on the departure of a beloved brother) (BWV992); Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor (BWV903); 16 concs., solo hpd. (BWV972–87), Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 9 transcr. of Vivaldi, No.3 of Marcello, Nos. 14 and 15 of Telemann; 6 English Suites (BWV806–11), No.1 in A, No.2 in A minor, No.3 in G minor, No.4 in F, No.5 in E minor, No.6 in D minor; Fantasia in A minor (BWV922); Fantasia and Fugue in A minor (BWV904); 6 French Suites (BWV812–17), No.1 in D minor, No.2 in C minor, No.3 in B minor, No.4 in E♭, No.5 in G, No.6 in E; Fugue in C (BWV952); Goldberg’ Variations (BWV988); 15 Inventions (2-part) (BWV772–86); 15 Inventions (3-part) (BWV787–801); Italian Concerto (BWV971); 6 Partitas (BWV825–30); 9 Preludes for W. F. Bach (BWV924–32); 6 Preludes (BWV933–8); 7 Toccatas (BWV910–16), No.1 in F♯ minor, No.2 in C minor, No.3 in D, No.4 in D minor, No.5 in E minor, No.6 in G minor, No.7 in G; Variations in the Italian Style (BWV989); Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Klavier), 48 preludes and fugues (BWV846–93).LUTE: Suites: in A (BWV1007), in E minor (BWV996), in E (BWV1006a, transcr. from BWV1006, vn. Partita No.3), in C minor (BWV997), in G minor (BWV995).ORGAN: 6 concs. (BWV592–7), all transcr. from other composers, incl. Vivaldi); 4 Duets (BWV802–5); Fantasia and Fugue in C minor (BWV537), in G minor (BWV542); Fantasias, in C (BWV573), in C minor (BWV562), in G (BWV572); Fugues, in C minor (BWV574), in C minor (BWV575), in G (BWV577), in G minor (BWV578); Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV582); Prelude and Fugue: in A (BWV536), in A minor (BWV543), in A minor (BWV551), in B minor (BWV544), in C (BWV531), in C (BWV545), in C (BWV547), in C minor (BWV546), in C minor (BWV549), in D (BWV532), in D minor (BWV538), in D minor (BWV539), in E minor (BWV533), in E minor (‘Wedge’) (BWV548), in E♭ (BWV552), in F minor (BWV534), in G (BWV541), in G (BWV550), in G minor (BWV535), in G minor (BWV542); 8 Preludes and Fugues (BWV553–60), No.1 in C, No.2 in D minor, No.3 in E minor, No.4 in F, No, 5 in G, No.6 in G minor, No.7 in A minor, No.8 in B♭; 6 Sonatas (BWV525–30), No.1 in E♭, No.2 in C minor, No.3 in D minor, No.4 in E minor, No.5 in C, No.6 in G; Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C (BWV564); Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Dorian) (BWV538), in D minor (BWV565), in E (BWV566), in F (BWV540); Trio in D minor (BWV583), in G (BWV586).CHORALE PRELUDES: Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) (BWV599–644), containing 46 items; also many others of which only a brief selection is given here: Ach, bleib bei uns (BWV649), Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr (BWV711), An Wasserflüssen Babylon (BWV653b), Christum wir sollen Loben schon (BWV696), Ein’ feste Burg (BWV720), Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (BWV709), In dulci jubilo (BWV729), Jesu, meine Freude (BWV713), Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (BWV688), Komm, Gott Schöpfer (BWV667), Komm, heiliger Geist (BWV652), Kommst du nun, Jesu (BWV650), Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV706), Meine Seele erhebet den Herren (BWV648), Nun danket alle Gott (BWV657), Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV659), O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV767), O Lamm Gottes unschuldig (BWV656), Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele (BWV654), Vater unser in Himmelreich (BWV682/3, 737), Vom Himmel hoch (BWV700, 701 fughetta, 738, 769 canonic variations), Wachet auf (BWV645), Wer nur den lieben Gott (BWV647, 690, 691), Wo soll ich fliehen hin (BWV646).CANTATAS: Merely a selection of these is given here, with dates of comp. where known: No.4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (c.1707), No.6 Bleib bei uns (1725), No.10 Meine Seele’ erhebt den Herren (1724, rev. 1744–50), No.11 Lobet Gott (c.1735), No.12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (1714), No.20 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (1724), No.23 Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (1723), No.28 Gottlob Nun geht das Jahr zu Ende (1725), No.29 Wir danken dir, Gott (1731), No.34 O ewiger Feuer (? after 1742), No.40 Dazu ist erschiene der Sohn Gottes (1723), No.45 Est ist dir gesagt (1726), No.51 Jauchzet Gott (1730), No.60 O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (1723), No.61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1714), No.68 Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (1725), No.78 Jesu, der du meine Seele (1724), No.80 Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (1724), No.82 Ich habe genug (1727), No.93 Wer nur den lieben Gott (1724), No.95 Christus der ist mein Leben (1723), No.106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (c.1707), No.140 Wachet auf (1731), No.143 Lobe den herrn (1735), No.147 Herz und Mund (10th movement is Jesu, bleibet meine Freude, Jesu, joy of man's desiring) (1723), No.197 Gott ist unser Zuversicht (c.1728), No.201 Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan (?1729), No.202 Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (?1718–23), No.208 Was mir behagt (?1713), No.209 Non sa che sia dolore (after 1740), No.211 Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Coffee cantata, 1732), No.212 Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet (Peasant cantata, 1742). Canons for 2, 3, 4, and 7 voices (BWV1075, 1077, 1073, and 1078 respectively).ORATORIOS, etc: Christmas Oratorio in 6 parts (Weihnachtsoratorium) (BWV248, 1734); Easter Oratorio (BWV249, 1736); Magnificat in E♭ (BWV 243a, perf. Christmas Day 1723 incl. 4 Christmas texts), Magnificat in D (BWV243, rev. of Magnificat in E♭, c.1728–31, omitting Christmas texts); Mass in B minor (BWV232, 1724–49); Mass in G (BWV236, c.1738); Mass in G minor (BWV235, c.1737); 6 Motets (BWV225–230) 1. Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, 2. Der Geist hilft, 3. Jesu meine Freude, 4. Fürchte dich nicht, 5. Komm, Jesu, komm, 6. Lobet den Herrn; St John Passion (Johannespassion) (BWV245, 1723); St Matthew Passion (Matthäus-passion) (BWV244, 1727).SONGS AND ARIAS: Notebook (No.2) of Anna Magdalena Bach (BWV508–18), contains 11 songs, the first being Bist du bei mir (but not by Bach); Aria, Gott lebet noch (BWV461); Jesus ist das schönste Licht (BWV474); Aria, Komm, süsser Tod (BWV478); O Jesulein süss (BWV493); Song, Vergiss mein nicht, mein allerliebster Gott (BWV505).

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"Bach, Johann Sebastian." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Bach, Johann Sebastian." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bach-johann-sebastian

Bach, Johann Sebastian

Johann Sebastian Bach

Born: March 21, 1685
Eisenach, Germany
Died: July 28, 1750
Leipzig, Germany

German composer, organist, and musician

The works of the German composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach are the utmost expression of polyphony (a style of musical composition in which two independent melodies are played side by side in harmony). He is probably the only composer ever to make full use of the possibilities of art available in his time.

Early life

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany, the youngest child of Johann Ambrosius Bach, a church organist, and Elizabeth Lämmerhirt Bach. There were musicians in the Bach family going back seven generations. The family was also devoutly Lutheran (a religion based on the faith of its believers that God has forgiven their sins). Bach received violin lessons from his father. He also had a beautiful voice and sang in the church choir. In 1694 his mother and father died within two months of each other. At age ten, Johann Sebastian moved to Ohrdruf, Germany, to live with his brother, Johann Christoph, who was the organist at St. Michael's Church. From him Johann Sebastian received his first instruction on keyboard instruments.

When an opening developed at St. Michael's School in Lüneburg in 1700, Bach was awarded a scholarship for his fine voice. After his voice changed, he was transferred to the orchestra and played violin. Bach often traveled to Hamburg, Germany, to hear other musicians. During this time he also began composing chorale preludes (organ compositions that were played before hymns sung in the Lutheran worship service). Bach graduated from St. Michael's School in 1702.

Develops organ skill

In 1703 Bach was hired as an organist in a church in Arnstad, Germany, which gave him time to practice on his favorite instrument and to develop his talent. He got into trouble on several occasions, once for fighting with a fellow musician and once for being caught entertaining a "strange maiden" in the balcony while he was practicing the organ. In 1705 Bach obtained a month's leave to visit a church in Lübeck, Germany, to hear the organist there. Bach was so impressed that he remained there for four months without sending word back to Arnstad about what he was doing. After returning to Arnstad, he began composing long organ preludes. After people complained, he made the preludes extremely short. He also began changing and adding parts to the hymns that confused the churchgoers.

In 1707 Bach was appointed organist at a church in Mühlhausen, Germany, a larger and richer city than Arnstad. Later that year Bach married Maria Barbara Bach, his cousin. Bach wanted to present Mühlhausen with what he called "well-ordered church music." His pastor, Johann Frohne, liked both the mass and the music to be simple. The brilliant Cantata No. 71, Gott ist mein König (God Is My King), was written for the service at which new members were placed into the city council in February 1708. It so impressed the council that the music was printed and put into the city records. Still, the conflict between Bach's musical ideas and those of his pastor caused Bach to look elsewhere for a new position.

Working for royalty

Bach arrived in Weimar, Germany, in 1708 as court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst. His new position doubled his salary and allowed him to work in a stricter Lutheran environment. The years 1708 to 1710 saw an enormous output of original organ music by Bach. His reputation at the time, however, came mainly from his organ playing, not his compositions. Crown Prince Frederick of Sweden, who heard Bach play in 1714, was so astonished that he took a diamond ring from his finger and gave it to the organist.

In 1716 Bach became upset when he was not offered the opportunity to replace the duke's court conductor, who had died. At the same time Prince Leopold of Cöthen, Germany, heard of Bach and offered him a position. When Bach requested his release to go to Cöthen, Duke Wilhelm refused to accept such short notice. Bach, who had already accepted an advance in salary, became so angry that he was placed under arrest and jailed for almost a month. Bach began his duties at Cöthen after his release.

Prime of his life

In Cöthen Bach's prime responsibility was to conduct the court orchestra, in which the prince himself participated. In 1720 Bach's wife died, leaving him a widower with seven children. Late in 1721 he married Anna Magdalena Wülken, a twenty-year-old singer. She had to take over the difficult role of wife to a man of genius and also that of mother to his children, the oldest of whom was twelve years old. But she seems to have been equal to both tasks. In addition, during the next twenty years she presented Bach with thirteen more children.

Bach produced his greatest instrumental works during the Cöthen period. The other Cöthen musicians were all skilled performers, and their talent inspired Bach to write special music for them. Bach also wrote his major orchestral works during this period. He wrote many of his keyboard works for the instruction of his own children. However, after Prince Leopold married, he had less time for music, and the court orchestra had less to do. This decrease in importance, plus Bach's concern over his children's education, led him to look for another position in a strong Lutheran area. In 1723 he was named cantor (choir leader) of Leipzig, Germany, to replace the deceased Johann Kuhnau.

The Leipzig committee was reluctant to hire Bach. His reputation was mainly as an organist, not as a composer, and his ability as an organist was not needed since the cantor was not required to play at the services. His duties were primarily to provide choral music (designed for a choir) for two large churches, St. Thomas and St. Nicholas. In addition, special music was required on certain days of the church year and for other occasions such as funerals. Bach promised to perform not only the musical duties but also other responsibilities in connection with the St. Thomas School, such as teaching classes in music, giving private singing lessons, and even teaching Latin. While in Leipzig Bach composed the bulk of his choral music.

Later years

Bach gradually lost his eyesight during his final years, and he was totally blind the last year of his life. A few days before his death he read parts of the hymn Vor deinen Thron tret' ich allhier (Before Thy Throne I Stand) for his son-in-law to write down. Following a stroke and a high fever, Bach died on July 28, 1750. Four of his sons carried on the musical tradition of the Bach family. For Bach writing music was an expression of faith. Every composition was "in the name of Jesus" and "to the glory of God alone." His influence on music is well stated in the words of Johannes Brahms (18331897): "Study Bach: there you will find everything."

For More Information

Boyd, Malcolm. J. S. Bach. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Eidam, Klaus. The True Life of Johann Sebastian Bach. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000.

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Bach, Johann Sebastian

Johann Sebastian Bach (sābäs´tyän bäkh), 1685–1750, German composer and organist, b. Eisenach; one of the greatest and most influential composers of the Western world. He brought polyphonic baroque music to its culmination, creating masterful and vigorous works in almost every musical form known in his period.

Life

Born into a gifted family (see Bach, family), J. S. Bach was devoted to music from childhood. He was taught by his father and later by his brother Johann Christoph, and was a boy soprano in Lüneberg. His education was acquired largely through independent studies. He had an insatiable curiosity about music and sometimes walked great distances to hear the organists Johann Adam Reinken (at Hamburg) and Buxtehude (at Lübeck). In 1703 he became violinist in the private orchestra of the prince at Weimar but left within a year to become organist at Arnstadt.

Bach went to Mühlhausen as organist in 1707. There he married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, who was to bear him seven children. In 1708 he was made court organist and chamber musician at Weimar, and in 1714 he became concert master. Prince Leopold of Anhalt engaged him as musical director at Köthen in 1717. Three years later his wife died, and in 1721 he married Anna Magdalena Wülken, a woman of considerable musical cultivation who eventually bore him 13 children. In 1723 he took the important post of music director of the church of St. Thomas, Leipzig, and of its choir school; he remained in Leipzig until his death.

Compositions

Since few of Bach's many works were published in his lifetime, exact dates cannot be fixed for all of them, but most can be placed with some certainty in the periods of his life. At Arnstadt and Mühlhausen he began a series of organ compositions that culminated in the great works of the Weimar period: the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, most of the great preludes and fugues, and the 45 chorale-preludes gathered in Das Orgelbüchlein [the little organ book].

At Köthen he concentrated on instrumental compositions, especially keyboard works: the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; the English Suites; the French Suites; the Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions, written for the education of his son Wilhelm Friedemann; and Book I of the celebrated Well-Tempered Clavier. He also wrote several unaccompanied violin sonatas and cello suites, and the Brandenburg Concertos, recognized as the best concerti grossi ever composed.

The St. John Passion was performed (1723) at Leipzig when Bach was a candidate for the position of musical director at St. Thomas. His Magnificat was presented shortly after he assumed that post. Many more of his superb religious compositions followed: the St. Matthew Passion (1729), the Christmas Oratorio, the sonorous Mass in B Minor, and the six motets. The principal keyboard works of this period were Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier and the four books of clavier pieces in the Clavierübung, which includes: six partitas (1726–31); the Italian Concerto and the Partita in B Minor (1735); the Catechism Preludes, the Prelude and Fugue (St. Anne) in E Flat (1739), and four duets; and the Goldberg Variations (more formally Aria with Thirty Variations, 1742). His last notable compositions were the Musical Offering composed (1747) for Frederick the Great and The Art of the Fugue (1749).

Accomplishments and Influence

In all his positions as choir director, Bach composed sacred cantatas—a total of some 300, of which nearly 200 are extant. There are also over 30 secular cantatas, composed at Leipzig, among them Phoebus and Pan (1731). The bulk of his work is religious—he made four-part settings of 371 Lutheran chorales, also using many of them as the bases of organ preludes and choral works. In addition, he composed an astonishing number of instrumental works, many of them designed for the instruction of his numerous pupils. In his instrumental and choral works he perfected the art of polyphony, displaying an unmatched combination of inventiveness and control in his great, striding fugues.

During his lifetime, Bach was better known as an organist than as a composer. For decades after his death his works were neglected, but in the 19th cent. his genius came to be recognized, particularly by romantic composers such as Mendelssohn and Schumann. Since that time his reputation has grown steadily.

Bibliography

The classic study of his life and music is by P. Spitta (tr. 1884–85, repr. 1972), and A. Schweitzer's study (tr. 1911, repr. 1962) attracted much attention. See also biographies by K. and I. Geiringer (1966), C. S. Terry (1928, repr. 1988), C. Wolff (2000), M. Geck (2000, tr.2006), and P. Williams (2012); studies by J. N. Forkel (tr. 1920, repr. 1970), R. L. Marshall (2 vol., 1972), B. Schwendowius and W. Domling, ed. (1984), and J. E. Gardiner (2013); H. T. David and A. Mendel, The Bach Reader (1945, rev. ed. 1966); O. L. Bettmann, Johann Sebastian Bach as His World Knew Him (1995).

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"Bach, Johann Sebastian." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Bach, Johann Sebastian." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bach-johann-sebastian

Bach, Johann Sebastian

Bach, Johann Sebastian Prolific German baroque composer. He held a series of successive court positions as organist and music director and had 20 children, four of whom were also composers. Bach brought contrapuntal forms to their highest expression and is unrivaled in his ability to interweave melodies within the exacting rules of baroque harmony and counterpoint. While at the court in Weimar (1708–17), he wrote many of his great organ works (preludes, fugues, toccatas), such as the Fugue in C minor. At Köthen (1717–23), he wrote instrumental works for keyboard, such as Book I of the The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the six Brandenburg Concertos for chamber orchestra. As musical director of St Thomas, Leipzig (1723–50), Bach wrote his celebrated church music, including St Matthew Passion (1729) and Mass in B Minor. Other works included the Goldberg Variations (1742). The Art of Fugue remained incomplete at his death.

http://www.jsbach.org

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