Bach (Family)

views updated May 29 2018

Bach (Family). The Bach family lived from the early 16th cent. in the Thuringian duchies of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Saxe-Meiningen and the principality of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. Their profession was mus.—there are records that 53 Bachs held posts as organists, cantors, or town musicians over a span of 300 years. J. S. Bach himself compiled a genealogy of his family, which began, as far as his own line was concerned, with Veit Bach (d 1619), a miller with a passion for lute-playing. Other prin. members of the family up to J. S. Bach's time were:

Hans Bach (b c.1550; d 1626). Violinist, son of Veit, and known as Der Spielmann (The Player). Carpet-weaver by trade. Johann Bach (b 1604; d 1673). Eldest son of Hans. Organist at Schweinfurt and Erfurt. Christoph Bach (b 1613; d 1661). 2nd son of Hans. Organist and composer. Town-musician at Eisenach. Heinrich Bach (b Wechmar, 1615; d Arnstadt, 1692). 3rd son of Hans. Arnstadt church organist for 51 years. Johann Christian Bach (b Erfurt, 1640; d Erfurt, 1682). Eldest son of Johann. Served under his father among town musicians of Erfurt but became first of family to settle at Eisenach where he married. Returned to Erfurt to succeed his father 1671. Johann Egidius Bach (b 1645; d 1716). 2nd son of Johann. Organist at Erfurt and composer of church mus., also va.-player. Georg Christoph Bach (b Eisenach, 1642; d 1697). Eldest son of Christoph. Cantor at Schweinfurt. Composer. Johann Christoph Bach (1) (b Arnstadt, 1642; d Eisenach, 1703). Eldest son of Heinrich. Became organist at Eisenach at age 23 in 1665. Considered by C. P. E. Bach as ‘great and expressive’ composer. Many elaborate and progressive vocal works, also instr. comps. 2 motets for double ch., Herr nun Lassest and Ich lasse dich nicht are extremely fine. Johann Michael Bach (b Arnstadt, 1648; d Gehren, 1694). Brother of preceding. Organist and parish clerk of Gehren from 1673 until his death. Maker of vns. and hpds. His motets have high merit. The youngest of his 5 daughters, Maria Barbara (b 20 Oct. 1684), became J. S. Bach's first wife. Johann Ambrosius Bach (b Erfurt, 1645; d Eisenach, 1695). 2nd (twin) son of Christoph. Played vn. and va. in addition to org. One of Erfurt compagnie of musicians from 1667 until Oct. 1671 when he succeeded his cousin, Johann Christian, at Eisenach. There the youngest of his 8 children, Johann Sebastian, was born on 21 Mar. 1685. Johann Christoph Bach (2) (b Erfurt, 1645; d Arnstadt, 1693). Twin brother of Johann Ambrosius. Court violinist at Arnstadt, where he was Hofmusikus and Stadtpfeifer. Johann Jakob Bach (b Wolfsbehringen, 1655; d Ruhla, 1718). Org. in Thal, cantor in Steinbach. Johann Bernard Bach (b Erfurt, 1676; d Eisenach, 1749). Son of Johann Egidius. Organist at Erfurt and Magdeburg. In 1703 succeeded cousin Johann Christoph (1) at Eisenach and became Kammermusikus in court orch. of Duke of Saxe-Eisenach. Instr. comps. admired and perf. at Leipzig by Johann Sebastian. Johann Nikolaus Bach (b Eisenach, 1669; d Eisenach, 1753). Eldest son of Johann Christoph (1). University and town organist at Jena from 1695 until death. Org.-builder and maker of hpds., to which he contributed some improvements. Comp. orch. suites, church mus. and opera. Johann Ludwig Bach (b Thal, 1677; d Meiningen, 1731). Son of Johann Jakob. Composer and Kapellmeister at Saxe-Meiningen. Johann Christoph Bach (3) (b Erfurt, 1671; d Ohrdruf, 1721). Eldest son of Johann Ambrosius, and brother of Johann Sebastian. Pupil of Pachelbel at Erfurt. Organist at Ohrdruf. Taught his brother the klavier. Johann Jakob Bach (b Eisenach, 1682; d Stockholm, 1722). Son of Johann Ambrosius and brother of Johann Sebastian. Town musician at Eisenach. Entered Swed. army service in 1704 as oboist and in 1713 became Hofmusikus at Stockholm. It was for his joining the army that Johann Sebastian comp. the Capriccio on the departure of his beloved brother (BWV 992).


views updated May 18 2018


Bach, illustrious family of German musicians. History possesses few records of such remarkable examples of hereditary art, which culminated in the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the Bach genealogy, the primal member was Johannes or Hann Bach, who is mentioned in 1561 as a guardian of the municipality of Wechmar, a town near Gotha. Also residing in Wechmar was his relative Veit Bach; a baker by trade, he was also skillful in playing on a small cittern. Another relative, Caspar Bach, who lived from 1570 to 1640, was a Stadtpfeifer in Gotha who later served as a town musician in Arnstadt. His five sons, Caspar, Johannes, Melchior, Nicolaus, and Heinrich, were all town musicians. Another Bach, Johannes Hans) Bach (1550–1626), was known as “der Spielmann,” that is, “minstrel,” and thus was definitely described as primarily a musician by vocation. His three sons, Johann(es Hans), Christoph, and Heinrich, were also musicians. J.S. Bach took great interest in his family history, and in 1735 prepared a genealogy under the title Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie. The Bach Reader, compiled by H. David and A. Mendel (N.Y., 1945; 2nd ed., rev. 1966; rev. and enl. ed., 1998, by C. Wolff as The New Bach Reader), contains extensive quotations from this compendium. Karl Geiringer’s books The Bach Family: Seven Generations of Creative Genius (N.Y., 1954) and Music of the Bach Family: An Anthology (Cambridge, Mass., 1955) give useful genealogical tables of Bach’s family. Bach’s father, Johann Ambrosius, was a twin brother of Bach’s uncle; the twins bore such an extraordinary physical resemblance that, according to the testimony of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, their own wives had difficulty telling them apart after dark. To avoid confusion, they had them wear vests of different colors. A vulgar suggestion that because of this similarity Bach may have been begotten by his uncle is too gross to require a refutation.

When the family became numerous and widely dispersed, its members agreed to assemble on a fixed date each year. Erfurt, Eisenach, and Arnstadt were the places chosen for these meetings, which are said to have continued until the middle of the 18th century, as many as 120 persons of the name of Bach then assembling. At these meetings, a cherished pastime was the singing of “quodlibets,” comic polyphonic potpourris of popular songs. An amusing example attributed to J.S. Bach is publ. in Veröffentlichungen der Neuen Bach-Gesellschaft (vol. XXXII, 2).

Entries for Bach family members follow immediately. Entries for other musicians named Bach follow thereafter.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire