Johann Sebastian Bach
(born in Eisenach, 1685; died in Leipzig, 1750)
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany on March 21 st , 1685. His two godfathers, whom he was named after, were Sebastian Nagel, town piper of Gotha, and Johann Georg Koch, a ducal forester in Eisenach. The Bach family was a traditional family of musicians, organized along guild lines. The family earned their living as town musicians, organists, and cantors. The Bach family had produced musicians for several generations. Some of them had become composers of moderate fame. Bach received his earliest instruction from his father. In 1694, Johann Sebastianís mother died. After his father's death in 1695, Bach moved with his brother Johann Jacob to live with their eldest brother Johann Christoph, an organist. Bach studied organ with his older brother and received some schooling. When his brother could no longer support him Bach left for Lüneburg on March 15, 1700 with his school friend Georg Erdmann.
Children of poor parents could attend the Latin school in Lüneburg by singing in the choir of the Michaeliskirche and -schule (St. Michael's choir and church). Bach (who had a much-praised soprano voice before his voice broke) and Erdmann both joined the Mettenchor and were paid some money. At the end of his period in Lüneburg, Bach had some renown as an organist.
After Bach left Lüneburg, Duke Johann Ernst of Saxony-Weimar hired him as a servant and violinist in his private chapel from March to August 1703.
Bach's first permanent position was as an organist in Arnstadt. In August 1703 he was appointed organist of the Neue Kirche, one of three churches in Arnstadt. Bach's days in Arnstadt were numbered. Eventually, he found a new position in Mühlhausen and applied for his resignation in Arnstadt.
MühlhausenOn 17 October 1707, in Mühlhausen, Bach was married to his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach. Bach became interested in vocal music. The Blasiuskirche, where Bach worked, had a rich vocal tradition and offered commendable setting for vocal music. It also had a great music library, where Bach studied and copied a lot of traditional church music. From the beginning Bach's cantatas were superb masterpieces. One of the them, the Ratswechsel ("city council change") cantata, Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 was printed.
Wilhelm Ernst was a sponsor of the court music. From 1708-1717 Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar employed Bach as organist and member of the orchestra, and encouraged Johann Sebastian in his unique talents for the organ. Soon upon arrival in Weimar (1708), the Bachís first child, Catharina Dorothea, was born. Bach was involved with the organ throughout his entire life, but most of Bachís major organ compositions came from the Weimar period. In 1713, Bach had the opportunity of succeeding Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle. His local supporter, the Halle pastor Johann Michael Heineccius, locked him into a room to write a cantata on the spot. Bach was offered the job, but decided to stay in Weimar when the duke Wilhelm Ernst doubled his salary. On March 2, 1714 Wilhelm Ernst appointed Bach Konzertmeister . During this period he was also expected to produce a cantata each month.
Bach's fame began to extend beyond Weimar. Johann Mattheson referred to Bach as, "the famous organist of Weimar", in his book Das Beschützte Orchestre . Bach's fame also attracted more students. Bach's job in Weimar ended rather drastically. The whole situation started when Wilhelm Ernst forbade Johann Sebastian to give any musical service to his rival. Bach refused to obey the duke and was passed by for the function of Capellmeister in 1716. Bach was offended and stopped writing cantatas that year. Then, Bach received a job offer (this time as Capellmeister) from Leopold, but Wilhelm Ernst refused to let Johann Sebastian go. Bach was even arrested and imprisoned for a month before he was dismissed.
Bachís new patron was Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen who was dearly loved by Bach. This new position involved entirely different activities than what Bach did before. The prince formed a band, which included Bach and himself. Bach also wrote a lot of chamber music in Köthen. Since the court chapel was Calvinist, there was no need for church compositions so Bach probably used the organs for teaching and practice. Bachís new works were primarily for instrumental solo or ensemble.
The prince took his band with him to "take the waters". Upon Bach's return to Köthen, he learned that his wife Maria Barbara had died after a short illness and that she already had been buried. Bach was left behind with four children. Bach then married Anna Magdalena Wilcken who was a very gifted soprano. Anna Magdalena was probably only 19 years old when she married Bach.
In 1723, Bach was appointed cantor at the St. Thomas Church and School, and Director of Music for Leipzig, positions which he retained for the rest of his career. In spite of the Bach's move to Leipzig, he continued to serve his prince as an honorary Capellmeister until 1728 when the prince died. Bach was able to acquire his next honorary Capellmeistership in 1729 from Duke Christian von Sachsen-Weissenfels. During his first six years in Leipzig (1723-1729), Bach's most impressive compositions were his sacred cantatas (four yearly cycles), and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions. Bach's cantata output in the 1720s is one of the most astonishing creative explosions in the history of Western music.
Bachís life in Leipzig was not entirely happy. Between 1723 and 1737 Anna Magdalena went through twelve nine-month pregnancies. Unfortunately, eight of the twelve children died. Of the four living children, one was mentally handicapped. Bach's professional life was not satisfactory either. Because Bach did not want to teach Latin, he had to pay for a replacement teacher and Bach's salary was a fourth of his Köthen salary so he was very dependent on extra earnings. Eventually Bach became completely dissatisfied with his position. Bach wrote to his childhood friend Georg Erdmann a letter that has survived. In this letter, Bach bitterly complains about his circumstances, and shows interest in a job in Dantzig. The job didnít work out, however.
Bach found a new challenge in 1729 when he became the director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, an organization founded by Telemann in 1702.This group of orchestra of students and some professional musicians performed concerts held once a week in Zimmermann's CoffeeHouse and at Katharinenstrasse.
The new rector improved the situation at the Thomas school during the early 1730s. After 1735 his religious cantata production almost came to a complete stop. Bach still continued to write secular cantatas, however. In the 1730s, he also showed interest in the royal court at Dresden, and was named "Hofkomponist" (court-composer") in 1736. Bach had no special duties in this job to the Elector of Saxony Frederick Augustus II (king Augustus III of Poland). At this time Bach had a growing concern regarding his position in history.
"During Bach's last decade (the 1740s), he completed or revised several large-scale projects which he had started earlier. The Well-Tempered Clavier, Vol. II; a manuscript collection of chorale preludes, and the B minor Mass. Other new works showed an increased interest in fugal and canonic writing: Musikalische Opfer (Musical Offering); the canonic variations for organ on "Vom Himmel hoch"; and Die Kunst der Fuge. In the 1740s, Bach made various journeys, most notably to the court of Frederick the Great in 1747."*
"In the past, Bachs oeuvre was often seen as the culmination point of a development of centuries, as the terminal point of the polyphonic period in the history of music. Modern Bach scholarship, however, also tends to stress the pre-classic, "progressive" elements in Bach's late works and even his preoccupation with the stile antico can be seen as an element that points to the future rather than to the past. In 1747, Bach became member 14 of Mizler's society, for which he had to submit a composition. Bach finished his great B Minor Mass in 1749. Bach was practically blind due to cataracts at the end of his life. Early in 1750, he was unsuccessfully treated by the British oculist Taylor and later that year, was hit by a stroke. He died on July 28, 1750. According to recent medical interpretations of Bach's symptoms in the last period of his life, he probably suffered and died from diabetes mellitus."**
*Bryen Travis. A Johann Sebastian Bach Midi Page. [Online] Available at: , June 7th, 2000.
**Jan Koster. The J.S. Bach Home Page. [Online] Available at: , June 7th, 2000