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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 21 March 1685Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach, Holy Roman Empire [now Thuringia, Germany]
Date of Death 28 July 1750Leipzig, Saxony, Holy Roman Empire [now Germany]  (stroke and high fever)
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany, into a large and distinguished family of professional musicians. His father, named Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a violinist and trumpeter, employed by the city of Eisenach. His uncles were church organists, court musicians and composers. His mother and father died before Bach was 10. As an orphan, he moved in with his eldest brother, J. C. Bach, an organist and composer, under whose tutelage Bach studied organ music as well as the construction and maintenance of the organ.

Education: At the age of 14, Bach received a scholarship and walked on foot 300 kilometers to the famous St. Michael's school in Luneburg, near Hamburg. There he lived and studied for 2 years from 1699-1701. It was there that he sang a Capella at the boys chorale. Bach's studies included organ, harpsichord, and singing. In addition he took the academic studies in theology, history and geography, and lessons of Latin, Italian, and French. Besides his studies of music by the local Nothern German composers, Bach had important exposure to the music of composers from other European nations; such as the French composers Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marais, and Marchand, the South German composers Johann Pachelbel and Froberger, and the Italians Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi.

Personality and character: Bach was 17 when he made a 4-month pilgrimage, walking on foot about 400 kilometers from Arnstadt to the Northern city of Lubeck. There he studied with 'Dietrich Buxtehude' and became so involved that he overstayed his leave by three months. Buxtehude being probably the best organist of his time became the living link between the founder of Baroque music Heinrich Schütz and the biggest Baroque genius, Bach. Back in Arnstadt, Bach wrote 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' (1702), his first masterpiece; which stemmed from his bold organ improvisations. At that time he was in love with his second cousin Maria Barbara; whom he was taking upstairs to the church organ, where her presence was inspirational for his creativity. Bach was punished for the violation of the restrictions on women's presence in the church and he was fired. However, he eventually married Maria Barbara.

Cross-cultural studies: Bach studied the orchestral music of Antonio Vivaldi and gained insight into his compositional language by arranging Vivaldi's concertos for organ. Six French suites were written for keyboard; each suite opens with 'Allemande' and consists of several pieces, including 'Courante', 'Sarabande', 'Menuet', 'Gavotte', 'Air', 'Anglaise', 'Polonaise', 'Bourree', and 'Gigue'. As suggested by their titles, the pieces were representing songs and dances from various cultures. From the music of the Italians Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, and 'Giuseppe Torelli'; Bach adopted dramatic introductions and endings as well as vivacious rhythmical dynamism and elaborate harmonization. Bach also performed the music of English, French, and Italian composers; motets of the Venetian school, and incorporated their rhythmical patterns and textural structures in the development of his own style.

Teaching: Bach selected and instructed musicians for orchestras and choirs in Weimar and Leipzig. His work as a Cantor included teaching instrumental and vocal lessons to the church musicians and later to the musicians of the court orchestra. Bach was also a teacher of his own children and of his second wife. In 1730, Bach presented his second wife with a musical notebook for studies, known as the 'Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach'. Compositions in the notebook were written in a form of minuete, polonaise, gavotte, march, rondeau, chorale, sonata, prelude, song, and aria; written mainly by Bach, as well as by his sons 'Carl Philip Emanuel Bach', Johann Christoph Bach, and composers 'Francois Couperin', Georg Bohm, and others.

Family: Bach married his second cousin, named Maria Barbara, who was the inspirational force for his early compositions. They had seven children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood. W. F. Bach, J. C. Bach, and C. P. E. Bach became composers. Maria Barbara died in 1720. On December 3, 1721, Bach married Anna Magdalena (bee Wilcke), a talented soprano, who was 17 years his junior. They had thirteen children. Bach fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. His sons 'Friedemann Bach', Johann Christoph Bach, and 'Carl Philip Emanuel Bach' became important composers in the Rococo style. The descendants of Bach are living in many countries across the world.

Social activity: Bach replaced his friend Georg Philipp Telemann as the director of the popular orchestra known as Collegium Musicum, which he led from 1729-1750. It was a private secular music society that gave concert performances twice a week at the Zimmerman's Coffeehouse near the Leipzig market square. Bach's exposure to such a secular public environment inspired him to compose numerous purely entertainment pieces for solo keyboard and several violin and harpsichord concertos.

Politics: Being the undisputed musical genius, Bach still suffered from ugly political machinations. Although the Leipzig Council had enough money, they never honored the promised salary of 1000 talers a year; promised to Bach by the Mayor of Leipzig, Gottlieb Lange, at the hiring interview. Bach worked diligently, in spite of being underpaid for 27 years until his death. On top of that local political factions in the Leipzig Council manipulated Bach's educational work as well as his compositions and public performances. They were pressuring him as the Cantor and Composer and interfering his creative efforts by imposing restrictions on his performances because of their ugly political games. Bach prevailed as he composed and played his "Mass in B Minor" to the monarch of Saxony and was appointed the Royal Court Composer of Saxony.

King Frederick the Great invited Bach to Potsdam in 1747. There the king played his own theme for Bach and challenged the composer to improvise on it. Bach used the 'royal theme' and improvised a three-part fugue on the king's piano. Later Bach upgraded the king's theme to a more sophisticated melody, and composed an array of pieces based on the improved 'royal theme', which he titled "Musical Offering" and later presented this composition to the king.

Legacy: Bach wrote over eleven hundred music compositions in all genres. In Leipzig alone he wrote a cantata for every Sunday and feast day of the year, of which 224 cantatas survive. Some of his compositions were written on the same theme at different times in his life, like choral cantatas and organ works on similar themes with significantly reworked arrangements. The complete list of Bach's works, BWV, has 1127 compositions for voice, organ, harpsichord, violin, cello, flute, chamber music for small ensembles, orchestral music, concertos for violin and orchestra, and for keyboard and orchestra. His music became the essential part of the education for every musician. Bach influenced such great composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and many other prominent musicians.

Bach is by far the most performed and recorded composer in history. His 'Das Wohltemperierte Clavier' (The well-tempered keyboard, or The well-tuned piano, in modern terminology) is the definitive work for all students as well as concert musicians. Bach's 'Orgebuchlein' (The little organ book) is a staple in the repertoire of organists and pianists, and some pieces from it were arranged for ensembles. Bach's many chorales, especially the "Mass in B Minor" are considered the best works in the genre. His last work 'The Art of Fugue' is best known for it's acclaimed performance by Glenn Gould. Bach's music was used in hundreds of films, thousands of stage productions, and continues being played all over the world.

The definitive biography of J. S. Bach was written by the Nobel Prize Laureate Albert Schweitzer.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (2)

Anna Magdalena Wilcke (11 December 1721 - 28 July 1750) (his death) (9 children)
Maria Barbara Bach (17 October 1707 - 7 July 1720) (her death) (7 children)

Trivia (4)

Had 13 children with Anna Magdalena Wilcke; among them, composer Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, born 21 June 1732.
He had seven children with Maria Barbara Bach, who was also his second cousin; among them, composers Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Friedemann Bach.
His last name means "brook" in German.
Great-great-great-grandfather of Richard D. Bach.

Personal Quotes (1)

I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.

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