Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

 

Early Years

  Johann Sebastian Bach was born on the 21st of March l685 in in Eisenach, Germany. The Bach family was one of the most notable musical families in history. They made their living as town musicians, organists, and cantors. The family had produced musicians for several generations. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the town piper in Eisenach.

 Ohrdruf

 Bach's mother, Maria Elisabeth, died when he was a young boy and his father died the following year when J. S. Bach was just nine years old, at that time Bach went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph Bach, who was the organist of the town of Ohrdruf in Germany. Johann Christoph was a very competent musician and it was from his brother that Johann Sebastian got his first formal keyboard lessons.

 Lüneburg

 Bach left Ohrdruf for Lüneburg on 15 March 1700, with his school friend Georg Erdmann for the St Michael's school. According to an old tradition, children of poor parents could attend the school here and pay for their costs by singing in the church choir. By 1702 and the end of this short period in Lüneburg, Bach appears to have become an organ virtuoso of some renown.

 Arnstadt

 In 1703 when he was 18 years old he became the organ player for the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt. A few years later he would marry his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach.

 Weimar

  In 1708 Bach took a position as organist and concert master to the court in Weimar. He was 23 and relatively well-paid. He was married to Maria Barbara and soon after their arrival in Weimar, their first child, Catharina Dorothea, was born. Here he had opportunity not only to play the organ but also to compose a more varied repertoire of music for the duke's ensemble.

A devotee of contrapuntal music, Bach's amazing output of fugues begins here in Weimar. Perhaps the best known example of his fugal music is The Well-Tempered Clavier, which comprises 48 preludes and fugues, one pair for each major and minor key. Bach fell out of favour in Weimar and due to the increasing political tensions between Bach and the Weimar court, Bach began to search out a different positions that might be more suitable to his musical interests.

 Cöthen

 In 1707 when he was finally dismissed from Weimar "without honor" Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen hired Bach to serve as his director of music. Prince Leopold, was himself a musician, he appreciated Bach's talents and paid him a good salary. The Prince also gave Bach considerable creative freedom in composing and performing. However, the prince was Calvinist and did not permit elaborate music in his worship, so most of Bach's work from this period is of a secular nature. The Brandenburg concertos, as well as many other instrumental works, including the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, the suites for solo cello and the orchestral suites, all date from this period. The Cöthen period is seen by many as the highest point of Bach's chamber music.

 Leipzig

 In 1723, J. S. Bach's career took yet another path and he was appointed Cantor and Musical Director of the Thomaskirche, Leipzig. This post required him not only to teach music to the students of the St. Thomas school but also to provide music for the two main churches in Leipzig. Bach needed to compose a new church piece, or cantata, every week. This challenging schedule, which included writing an hour's worth of music every week, in addition to his teaching duties at the school, produced arguably his best music, most of which has thankfully been preserved. On holy festivals such as Easter and Christmas, Bach produced cantatas of particular brilliance, most notably the Magnificat in D for Christmas and St. Matthew Passion for Good Friday. The composer himself considered the monumental St. Matthew Passion among his greatest masterpieces; in his letters, he referred to it as his 'Great Passion' and it required every available musician in town for its performance.

 Final Years

 Having spent most of the decade composing weekly cantatas, Bach began pursuing interests in secular music, both vocal and instrumental. Many of these later works were collaborations with Leipzig's Collegium Musicum, but some were increasingly introspective and abstract masterpieces that for many represent the pinnacle of Bach's compositional art. At this time the four volumes of his Clavier-Übung ('Keyboard Practice') were written, a set of keyboard works to inspire and challenge organists and lovers of music that comprises the Six Partitas for Keyboard, the Italian Concerto, the French Overture, and the Goldberg variations. At the end of his life Bach was practically blind due to cataracts and he became ill from complications to an eye operation in early 1750. He later had a stroke and died on July 28 1750.

 Quotes

 "The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. "

 Johann Sebastian Bach

 

Circle of Existence - Ambient Bach is ambient variations and inspirations on the music of JS Bach.

 

For more detailed information see:

Johann Sebastian Bach on Wikipedia.

The J.S. Bach Home Page extensive information on Bach and his works; huge and growing database of user-contributed recordings and reviews

Dave's J.S. Bach Page - includes a catalog of works, images, MIDI files, audio, and electric bass arrangements

Bach-Cantatas.com, information on the cantatas as well as other works