Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

Johann Sebastian Bach was a great German composer. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family life, achievements and other facts related to his life.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Quick Facts

Birthday: March 31, 1685

Nationality: German

Famous: Quotes By Johann Sebastian Bach Composers

Died At Age: 65

Sun Sign: Aries

Born in: Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach

Famous as: Composer


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Magdalena Bach (m. 1721–1750), Maria Barbara Bach (m. 1707–1720)

father: Johann Ambrosius Bach

mother: Maria Elisabetha Lämmerhirt

siblings: Johann Balthasar Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Jacob Bach

children: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Catharina Dorothea Bach, Christian Gottlieb, Christiana Benedicta Louise, Christiana Dorothea, Christina Sophia Henrietta, Elisabeth Juliana Friederika, Ernestus Andreas, Gottfried Heinrich Bach, Johann August Abraham, Johann Christian Bach, Johann Christoph, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach, Johanna Carolina, Leopold Augustus, Maria Sophia, Regina Johanna, Regina Susanna, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Died on: July 28, 1750

place of death: Leipzig

More Facts

education: St. Michael's School

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Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, born in late seventeen century into a reputed musical family at Eisenach, Germany. He had his early musical training under his father and uncle. He lost both his parents at a young age following which his eldest brother took him into his household and began tutoring him. At fifteen, he was sent to Michaelis monastery at Lüneburg, where he completed his training. Bach began his career as a violinist in Weimar and then shifted to Arstadt as an organist. From there, he went to Mühlhausen and then again to the Court of Weimar, and subsequently to Köthen before settling at Leipzig. However, in most places, his employers were unsympathetic to his aspirations or talent and therefore he did not get either money or fame in his lifetime. His music was rediscovered about fifty years after his death; by then many of his creations had been lost. Today he is considered as one of the greatest composers of all time.

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Childhood & Early Life
  • 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 the 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 parental uncles as well as four of his own brothers were renowned musicians. While his father taught him violin and the harpsichord, his uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, gave him lessons in organ.
  • At the age of eight, young Sebastian started going to 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 the 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.
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In Ohrdruf & Lüneburg
  • By then, his eldest brother, also named Johann Christoph Bach, had established himself as organist at the St. Michaeliskirche, Ohrdruf. He now took charge of his two youngest brothers, ten year old Johann Sebastian Bach and thirteen year old Johann Jacob Bach.
  • Thus in 1695, at the age of ten, Sebastian began to live in the household of his brother in Ohrdruf, happily taking lessons in organ and harpsichord from him. The elder Bach also encouraged him to copy music of renowned musicians of that time and watch how organs were constructed.
  • Simultaneously, he also attended the Gymnasium in Ohrdruf, where he had lessons in Latin, Greek, French, Italian and theology. During his period, he sang in the local choir. His soprano voice and musical capabilities soon impressed the Cantor Elias Herda.
  • Sometime in 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 there. 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, thus enriching his knowledge on the subject. Later, as his voice began to change, he started acting as the violinist and also as an accompanist at 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 Reinken.
  • Sometime now, he went to play violin at the Court of Count of Celle and there he heard French instrumental music. Thus by late summer of 1702, when he left Lüneburg, he had not only become proficient as an organist, but had also experienced varied types of music.
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In Weimar
  • Johann Sebastian Bach first tried for employment at the new church of Arnstadt in his native Thuringia. Unfortunately, there the organ was still under construction and 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 acted as deputy to the Court Organist, Effler and soon came into contact with Italian instrumental music.
In Arstadt & Mühlhausen
  • In July 1703, Bach was offered the post of the organist by the Arnstadt Town Council on a generous term. He therefore left Weimar and happily started on his new job sometime in August.
  • In October 1705, he managed to get leave to visit Lübeck, where he visited the great organist, Dietrich Buxtehude. There he not only had great discussions with the master, but also attended several concerts. Thus he extended his stay, without leave, until February 1606.
  • 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 those ‘strange sounds’ and also for his absence without leave.
  • The matters came to a head when citing a clause in his contract he refused to train the choir boys. He started looking for other opportunities and when in 1706, he heard that the organist to the town of Mühlhausen had died, he applied for the post.
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  • 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 rise of the latter, the state of music became uncertain at 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.
Return to Weimar
  • At Weimar, Bach, who was both a member of the chamber orchestra and an Organist to the Court, 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 began to induct foreign influences into the existing German music successfully. Many of his famous works were composed here and his fame began to spread. Among his well-known works of this period was ‘Orgelbüchlein’ (Little Organ Book).
  • Sometime late in 1713, Bach was asked to succeed Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow at the Liebfrauenkirche, Halle. However, the Duke of Weimar raised his salary and so he stayed back.
  • On 2 March 1714, he became Konzertmeister (director of music) at the ducal court and started performing a church cantata monthly 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.
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  • 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. On his release, he left Weimar and moved to Köthen, some thirty miles north of Halle.
In Köthen
  • At Köthen, Johann Sebastian Bach became the Capellmeister in the Court of young prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Life there was informal and smooth. He therefore 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 at all musically inclined and what is more, she tried to wean away the Prince from music. Moreover, Bach’s children were growing up and there was no good educational facility at Köthen. Therefore, Bach once more decided to move.
In Leipzig
  • In 1723, Bach was appointed Thomaskantor, Cantor of the 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 supply music for four churches and therefore these years were essentially very productive. It is believed 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 suitable for it and continued doing so even after he gave up the post in 1737.
  • Meanwhile in 1733, Bach was appointed the Court composer at 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.
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  • In 1747, Bach joined the Correspondierende Societät der musikalischen Wissenschafften (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 dim. His last large work, ‘Mass in B minor’ was composed sometime in 1748–49.
Major Works
  • In his long career, Johann Sebastian Bach created a large body of music. 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 another 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.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • On 17 October 1707, four months after arriving at Mühlhausen, Bach married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach. Together they had seven children, four of who 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. Maria died all of a sudden on 7 July, 1720.
  • In 1721, Bach met Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a highly gifted singer at the Court in Köthen. They married on 3 December 1721 and together had thirteen children. However, only six of them survived.
  • Bach’s surviving children from his second marriage were Gottfried Heinrich, Elisabeth Juliane Friederica, Johann Christoph Friedrich, Johann Christian, Johanna Carolina and Regina Susanna. Many of his children, from both the marriages, later became accomplished musicians.
  • Bach’s eyesight began to suffer from the middle of 1749. Subsequently, he had his eyes operated upon by John Taylor, first in March 1750 and then again in April 1750. Eventually he died on 28 July 1750 as a consequence of these unsuccessful operations, at the age of 65.
  • In his lifetime, Bach received little appreciation; nor was he adequately paid. While for 150 years, he lay in an unmarked grave, his legacy too 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 great many musical instruments and fifty-two religious books. There was no or little money. When his wife died ten years later, she was given a pauper’s funeral.

See the events in life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Chronological Order

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- Johann Sebastian Bach Biography
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Last Updated
- November 10, 2016

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