Johann Sebastian Bach Biography
Birthday: March 31, 1685
Died At Age: 65
Sun Sign: Aries
Born Country: Germany
Born in: Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach
Famous as: Composer
Spouse/Ex-: Anna Magdalena Bach (m. 1721), Maria Barbara Bach (m. 1707–1720)
father: Johann Ambrosius Bach
mother: Maria Elisabetha Lämmerhirt
siblings: Johann Balthasar Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Jacob Bach, Johann Jonas Bach, Johann Rudolf Bach, Johanna Juditha Bach, Maria Salome Bach
children: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Catharina Dorothea Bach, Christian Gottlieb Bach, Christiana Benedicta Louise Bach, Christiana Dorothea Bach, Christiana Sophia Henrietta Bach, Elisabeth Juliana Friederica Bach, Ernestus Andreas Bach, Gottfried Heinrich Bach, Johann August Abraham Bach, Johann Christian Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach, Johanna Carolina Bach, Leopold Augustus Bach, Maria Sophia Bach, Regina Johanna Bach, Regina Susanna Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
Died on: July 28, 1750
place of death: Leipzig
education: St. Michael's School
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer who was born in the late seventeenth century into a reputed musical family in Eisenach, Germany. He received his early musical training under his father and uncle. He lost his parents at a young age following which his eldest brother took him into his household and began tutoring him. At 15, he was sent to ‘Michaelis’ monastery in Lüneburg, where he completed his training. Bach began his career as a violinist in Weimar and then shifted to Arnstadt as an organist. From there, he went to Mühlhausen and then to the Court of Weimar. Subsequently, he moved to Köthen before settling in Leipzig. Unfortunately, his employers were unsympathetic to his aspirations or talent and therefore he neither earned money nor fame during his lifetime. His music was rediscovered about 50 years after his death; by then many of his creations had been lost. Today, he is considered one of the greatest composers of all time.
- Johann Sebastian Bach was born on 31 March 1685, in Eisenach, the capital city of the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the court trumpeter for the Duke of Eisenach and director of town musicians. His mother, Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt, was the daughter of a furrier.
- Sebastian, the youngest of his parents’ eight children, grew up in a musical environment. All his paternal uncles as well as four of his own brothers were renowned musicians. While his father taught him to play the violin and harpsichord, his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, gave him lessons in organ.
- At the age of eight, Sebastian started attending the local Latin grammar school where, apart from reading and writing, he also studied scriptures in Latin and German. Later as the students formed the choir of ‘St. Georgenkirche,’ he was selected as one of the choirboys.
- Sebastian’s mother died on 1 May 1694. His father too passed away on 2 March 1695. Thus, he became an orphan shortly before his tenth birthday.
- By then, his eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach, had established himself as an organist at the ‘St. Michaeliskirche’ in Ohrdruf. After his parents’ death, he took charge of his two younger brothers, 10-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach and 13-year-old Johann Jacob Bach.
- Thus in 1695, at the age of 10, Sebastian began living with his brother in Ohrdruf, where he received organ and harpsichord lessons from his brother. The elder Bach also encouraged him to copy the music of renowned musicians and watch how organs were constructed.
- Simultaneously, he also attended the Gymnasium in Ohrdruf, where he received lessons in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and theology. During this period, he sang in the local choir. His soprano voice and musical capabilities soon impressed the Cantor, Elias Herda.
- Sometime in the early 1700, he found a place in the choir of the wealthy ‘Michaelis’ monastery at Lüneburg, possibly at the recommendation of Elias Herda, who himself was a student at the monastery. There, he was immediately appointed to ‘Mettenchor,’ a select body of singers, because of his uncommonly beautiful soprano voice.
- Subsequently, he started participating in different types of choral or orchestral performances. He was also free to use the fine music library in the monastery, which enriched his knowledge on the subject. Later, as his voice began to change, he started performing as the violinist and also as an accompanist, playing the harpsichord.
- During this period, he met Georg Böhm, a noted organist, who introduced Bach to the great organ tradition of Hamburg. Later, he managed to visit Hamburg to hear the renowned organist and composer, Johann Adam Reincken.
- He went on to play the violin at the ‘Court of Celle’ where he heard French instrumental music. Thus, by the summer of 1702, he had not only become proficient as an organist, but had also experienced different types of music.
- Johann Sebastian Bach tried to land a job at the new church of Arnstadt in his native, Thuringia. Unfortunately, the organ there was still under construction. While waiting for the work to finish, he received an offer from Johann Ernst, the Duke of Weimar.
- Subsequently, he began his career as a violinist in the small chamber orchestra of Johann Ernst at Weimar. Concurrently, he served as a deputy to Effler, the Court Organist, and soon came into contact with Italian instrumental music.
- In July 1703, Bach was offered the post of the organist by the ‘Arnstadt Town Council.’ Therefore, he left Weimar and started his new job in August.
- In October 1705, he visited Lübeck, where he met the great organist Dietrich Buxtehude. There, he not only had great discussions with the master organist, but also attended several concerts. He extended his stay at Lübeck until February 1706.
- On his return, he tried to use his newly acquired skills in his new compositions—something the choir could not follow, resulting in utter confusion. The church authority decided to reprimand him for ‘strange sounds’ and also for his absence without leave.
- Subsequently, he started looking for other opportunities. In 1706, when he heard that the organist of the town of Mühlhausen had died, he applied for the post.
- Thereafter in June 1707, he took up his new post at the ‘Blasius Church’ in Mühlhausen. Very soon, a conflict arose between the orthodox Lutherans and the Pietists. With the rise of the latter, the state of music became uncertain in Mühlhausen.
- Therefore, when Duke of Weimar offered him the post of chamber musician at his court on a generous term, he gladly took it up. He sent in his letter of resignation to the authorities on June 25, 1708 and left for Weimar.
- At Weimar, Bach, who was a member of the chamber orchestra as well as the Court Organist, had the opportunity to work with a large contingent of professional musicians for the first time. He soon started composing keyboard and orchestral work on regular basis.
- It was here in Weimar that he successfully began to induct foreign influences into the existing German music. Many of his famous works were composed here and his fame began to spread. Among his well-known works from this period was ‘Orgelbüchlein’ (Little Organ Book).
- Sometime late in 1713, Bach was asked to succeed Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow at the ‘Liebfrauenkirche’ in Halle. However, the Duke of Weimar raised his salary and so he stayed back.
- On 2 March 1714, he became the ‘Konzertmeister’ (director of music) at the ducal court, and started performing a church cantata every month in the castle church. He was now second only to ‘Capellmeister’ Johann Samuel Drese, who was old and frail. Subsequently, he started taking over the duties of the older musician.
- In 1717, a conflict arose in the Court of Weimar and Bach was unfortunately drawn into it. On the order of the Duke of Weimar, he was imprisoned for one month. Upon his release, he left Weimar and moved to Köthen, 19 miles north of Halle.
- At Köthen, Johann Sebastian Bach became the ‘Capellmeister’ in the court of young prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Life there was informal and smooth. Therefore, he was able to concentrate on his music, writing much of his chamber music—violin concertos, sonatas, and keyboard music—during this period.
- Sometime in late 1721, Bach’s master, Prince Leopold, got married. Unfortunately, his wife was not interested in music. Furthermore, she tried to wean away the prince from music. Moreover, Bach’s children were growing up and there was no good educational facility in Köthen. Therefore, Bach decided to move again.
- In 1723, Bach was appointed ‘Thomaskantor,’ Cantor of Thomasschule, at the ‘Thomaskirche’ in Leipzig. He reached the town on May 22, 1723, and his first official performance was on May 30.
- In this capacity, he was required to provide music to four churches. Therefore, these years were very productive for Bach. It is believed that in the first three years, he produced one new cantata every week, which not only met the present need, but also took care of the future requirements.
- In March 1729, he took up the directorship of the ‘Collegium Musicum,’ a secular ensemble, consisting of mainly college students. He now began to compose music, and continued doing so even after giving up the post in 1737.
- Meanwhile in 1733, Bach was appointed the court composer in Leipzig. Later, he also received honorary appointments at the courts of Köthen and Weissenfels as well as in the court of Frederick Augustus (also the king of Poland) in Dresden.
- In 1747, Bach joined the ‘Correspondierende Societät der Musicalischen Wissenschaften’ (Corresponding Society of the Musical Sciences) of Lorenz Christoph Mizler von Kolof. However, from 1749, his health began to decline and his eyesight also became weak. His last major work, ‘Mass in B minor,’ was composed sometime in 1748–49.
- In his long career, Johann Sebastian Bach created a large body of work. Among them, his ‘Brandenburg Concertos,’ composed by 1721, is believed to be one of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era.
- ‘The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988’ is one of his major works. Named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the work was first published in 1741. It is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form.
- On 17 October 1707, four months after arriving at Mühlhausen, Bach married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach. Together, they had seven children, and four among them reached adulthood.
- His surviving children from this marriage were Catharina Dorothea, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Gottfried Bernhard. They were all born in Weimar. His wife Maria died on 7 July 1720.
- In 1721, Bach met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a highly gifted singer at the court in Köthen. They got married on 3 December 1721, and had 13 children together. However, only six of them survived infancy.
- Bach’s surviving children from his second marriage were Gottfried Heinrich, Elisabeth Juliana Friederica, Johann Christoph Friedrich, Johann Christian, Johanna Carolina, and Regina Susanna. Many of his children, from both the marriages, went on to become accomplished musicians.
- Bach’s eyesight began to weaken from 1749. Subsequently, he had his eyes operated, first in March 1750 and then again in April 1750. Eventually, he died on 28 July 1750, at the age of 65, as a consequence of these unsuccessful operations.
- During his lifetime, Bach received little appreciation and was not adequately paid. For 150 years, his legacy remained forgotten until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Today, he is remembered as one of the greatest composers of all time.
- At the time of his death, Bach’s estate consisted of many musical instruments and 52 religious books. There was no or little money. When his wife died ten years later, she was given a pauper’s funeral.
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