(1685 - 1750)
The greatest composer in the history of European classical music, Bach arrived at the musical
culmination of the Baroque Era. Astounding as it may seem,
he was not famous for his musical compositions during
his lifetime. Like Cesar Franck he was considered only a
church organist, and it wasn't until a hundred-years after
his death that the world began to realize who Bach
really was. His sons had achieved
a greater fame than the master.
was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1685. He became an
orphan early in his life...both his parents having died
when he was 10. His father had begun to teach the young
Johann the violin and he went to the home of his brother
to receive lessons on the clavichord. His brother,
however, forbade him to inspect a manuscript of works by
Frohberger, Buxtehude and other composers. Obtaining it
secretly, Johann copied it by the moonlight for 6 months.
At 15, his fine soprano
voice secured him free tuition at St. Michaels Church in
Luneberg. He went on foot on holidays to Hamburg to hear
the great Dutch organist Reinken, and at Celle he heard
the French instrumental music that was used in the Royal
Chapel. Bach also studied the work of Bohm, organist at
Luneberg, and practiced the violin, clavichord, and organ...
often all night long.
In 1703, he joined the
Weimar court orchestra. In 1704, he became organist at
Arnstadt, and in 1705 he walked fifty miles to Lubeck to
hear Buxtehude. He stayed there until he received a
peremptory recall from the Church at Arnstadt. In 1707, he
became the organist at Muhlhausen. On October 17, he
married Maria Barbara Bach, his cousin, who bore him 7
children, of whom four died, leaving a daughter and two
sons who later became more famous than he ever dreamed of
being. In 1708, he played before the Duke at Weimar and
was made the court organist. In 1714, he furnished the
organ music for a service that was conducted in the
Thomaskirche in Leipzig and also produced a cantata. In
Dresden in 1717, he challenged Marchand, a French organist
of high repute, but Marchand was afraid to compete. Bach
was a brilliant performer.
In 1717, he became
Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt at Kothen, and
composed much orchestral and chamber music there. In 1719,
he revisited Halle to meet Handel, but unfortunately,
Handel had just left for his new home in England.
In 1721, Bach married Anna
Magdalene Wulken who bore him 13 children, 9 of them sons,
of whom only 2 survived him.
May of 1723, he became the
cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig and also the
organist and director of music at the Thomaskirche and the
Nicolaikirche, continuting as Kapellmeister vom Haus
aus to Prince Leopold. By this time, Bach had
established a reputation as a great organist. In 1736, he
was made the honorary conductor to the Duke of Weissenfels
and court composer to the King of Poland and Elector of
Saxony. He held this position at Leipzig for 27 years and
there, he wrote most of his sacred music.
Bach died in 1750, he was
little known as a composer and very few of
his works had ever been published. In 1829, Mendelssohn took up
Bach's cause and introduced his music to Europe with a
performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In 1850, a
hundred-years after his death, the Bach-Gesellschaft,
in which Brahms
participated, began to publish the enormous complete works, and this was
completed many years latter.
MP3s in the DoveSong MP3 Library of Positive Music