Sunday, 4 July 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach

NAME Johann Sebastian Bach

WHAT FAMOUS FOR Composer

BIRTH 1685 in Eisenach, which is a city in Thuringia, Germany.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Johann was the youngest of eight children. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach (d 1694), was a string player, court trumpeter and town piper in Eisenach. The post of town piper entailed organizing all the secular music in town as well as participating in church music at the direction of the church organist.
Johann's mother Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt (d 1695) also grew up in a musical family and his uncles were also all professional musicians ranging from church organists and court chamber musicians to composers.
Johann was orphaned aged 10 and was raised by his eldest brother Johann Christoph Bach, the organist at the Michaeliskirche in nearby Ohrdruf. (Evidently the Bach family were not very imaginative at names).

CHILDHOOD Johann Sebastian's childhood home would have been busy and crowded. In addition to seven siblings, there were two orphaned cousins, some of his father's apprentices, and other relatives from time to time. The environment was saturated with music.
After the loss of his parents , the orphaned boy lived first in Ohrdruf in the home of an older brother, Johann Christoph, and then in Lüneburg at St. Michael's School, where he was a choirboy.
Johann Sebastian received his first musical instruction from his Father, then after his death from his organist brother Johann Christoph and his uncle confusingly also called Johann Christoph, who was the town and court organist.
While in his brother's house, Sebastian devoted much of his to copying, studying, and playing music. Christoph owned a manuscript of keyboard music by some of the most notable organists of the day, including his mentor Joann Pachelbel. Late one night, when the house was asleep, Johann Sebastian slipped his hand through the grate of the locked cabinet, pulled out the prized manuscript from his brother's music cabinet and began to copy it by the moonlight. This went on nightly for months until Johann Christoph heard the young Sebastian playing some of the distinctive tunes from his private library, grabbed his copy and confiscated it.

EDUCATION Young Johann Sebastian attended the Gymnasium in Eisenach the same school that Martin Luther attended 200 years earlier.
According to regulation, children of poor parents could attend the Latin school at Lüneburg (which he did from 1700) and pay for their costs by singing in the choir.
Johann Sebastian completed Latin school when he was 18, (an impressive accomplishment in his day, especially considering that he was the first in his family to finish school)

CAREER RECORD It was at Ohrdruf whilst living with his brother that Joann Sebastian began to learn about organ building. The Ohrdruf church's instrument, it seems, was in constant need of minor repairs, and he was often sent into the belly of the old organ to tighten, adjust, or replace various parts. The church organ, with its moving bellows, manifold stops, and complicated mechanism, was the most complex machine in any European town. This practical experience with the innards of the instrument would provide a unique counterpoint to his unequalled skill in playing it; Bach was equally at home talking with organ builders and with performers.
Here's his CV:
1700 A choirboy at the Convent of St Michael in Lüneburg, where he received free tuition, room, and board plus a small stipend
1702 Johann Sebastian's voice broke and he worked as a musician for a minor Noblemen, Duke Johann Ernst.
1703 Organist and Choirmaster at New Church in Arnstradt.
1704 Wrote his first Cantata "Denn Wurst Meine Seele."
1707 Organist at the Church of St Blasius in Mülhausen. The Congregation objected to the innovative harmonised music he was introducing.
1708 Appointed the Court Organist, with a doubled salary to Duke Wilhelm Ernst.
1714 Seemingly having got over his wanderlust and still in the same job his reward was promotion to Concert Master to Duke Wilhelm Ernst at double the salary again.
He began to travel throughout Germany as an organ virtuoso and as a consultant to organ builders.
1717 Resigned from Duke Wilhelm Ernst who was so upset that Bach had not given him sufficient notice that he imprisoned him for 16 days. Appointed Concert Master and Director of Music to the 23-year-old Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen effectively meaning he was musical director for the city of Leipzig.
1723 Appointed the Music Director and choirmaster of St Thomas Choir School in Leipzig, who must have wondered about young Herr Bach's capacity for holding down a job. He in fact was the third choice and presumably regretted taking it as he constantly squabbled with the town council who did not appreciate his musical genius. He also had to teach Latin to the schoolboys there. JSB didn’t want to do this and he paid for a replacement out of his own pocket. The school was unruly, lacking discipline and Bach only received a quarter of his Prince Leopold salary. Things did improve. Surprisingly, considering his track record he stuck at it for the rest of his life.
Bach's dedication to teaching is especially remarkable. There was hardly any period in his life when he did not have a full-time apprentice studying with him, and there were always numerous private students studying in Bach's house, including such 18th century notables as Johann Friedrich Agricola. Well, he was famous in his day, Agricola was a German composer.

APPEARANCE Looked a bit like Michael Winner in a judges wig.

FASHION Those judges wigs that were all the rage in early eighteenth century society.

CHARACTER Red blooded, often independent and stubborn, stuffy, a strong sense of right & fairness. Often got into trouble with his employers hence his large CV. Apart from that he was a decent bloke.

SENSE OF HUMOUR According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, Bach's Goldberg Variations are a prime example of his "lyrical wit."

Heere's a Bach joke - Dracula was a terrible organist. His Bach was worse than his bite.

RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILY Following a small inheritance from an uncle Johann Sebastian married his first wife Maria Barbara Bach, a 2nd cousin, in October 1707 at Dornheim church. She bore him seven children (four survived, a pair of twins died within the first year, and one died at age 24.) Little is known of Maria Barbara. She died suddenly on July 7, 1720 while Bach was travelling with Prince Leopold. On his return he discovered that his wife had unexpectedly became ill, died, and was buried while he was gone.
A year and a half after this tragedy, Bach got hitched to his second wife, the 20-year-old Anna Magdalena Wilcken on December 3, 1721. She was a soprano singer at the prince's court and daughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfells. Anna bore Johann Sebastian thirteen children. five died in the first year and three died between three and five years, another Gottfried Heinrich was seriously mentally handicapped. The busy Anna had her last child at the age of 41. When not busy giving birth she helped him with his work copying the scores of his music for the performers (see picture below), while he encouraged her singing. Eventually her handwriting became so much like her husband's that it is sometimes difficult to tell them apart. Despite their age difference (she was 17 years his junior), the couple seem to have had a very happy marriage. However, his first marriage didn’t do much for Anna after he died and when she passed away in 1760 she was given a pauper’s funeral.
If your Maths is up to it you will have worked out that Bach had 20 children altogether, 9 girls and 11 boys. Unsurprisingly, 5 of the boys were called Johann. They lovingly referred to him as "The Old Hat."
If every dog can have it's day, Bach's sons certainly did. For instance Carl Phillip, who at one time worked for Frederick the Great, wrote many pieces for the clavier in a passionate expressive style. He was one of the founders of the classical style and his use of harmony was an influence on a promising young composer called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian was from 1762 the Music Master to the English royals. One of the most popular musicians in England in the late 18th century, he was known as the English Bach.
One could say that for his sons, success was relative, but not all his siblings sustained the good name of Bach. For instance his second son, W E Bach tried to pass off in his old age some of his Father's work as his own.
The only one of the Bach daughters to marry, Elisabeth Juliana Friederica, chose as her husband Bach's student Johann Christoph Altnikol.
In total 64 members of the Bach family between 1600 and 1800 took up music as a profession. More than 100 descendants of Bach have been cathedral organists.
George Friedrich Handel, who was born in the same year as Bach, made several trips to Germany, but Bach was unable to meet him, a fact he regretted.

MONEY AND FAME Bach was acknowledged in Germany as the greatest organist of his time and esteemed as a specialist in the mechanics of organ building. However his contrapuntal (music that consists of 2 or more melodies played at the same time) style of writing sounded old fashioned to his unhip contemporaries. Indeed Carl Philip and Johann Christian Bach were more famous in their lifetime than their father. The old man's compositions weren't fully appreciated until the 19th century when Mendelssohn helped revive his music. In 1829 Mendelssohn conducted the first performance since the "Old Hat's" death of his passion of St Matthew. In 1850 the Bach Gesellschaft was formed to publish his music. By now everyone was wanting to perform or listen to his works en masse.
Bach was always complaining about money with a lot of children to support and choirs and orchestras to run. However, recently discovered papers reveal he was a dab hand at financial speculation, trading shares in a Saxony silver mine.
Outside the St Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) at Leipzig there is a statue of the composer, with his left-hand coat pocket turned inside out.

FOOD AND DRINK 1732 Wrote the Coffee Cantata, a humorous one act operetta about a stern Father's attempt to check his daughter's indulgence in the coffee habit. Check out the Coffee Cantanta Songfacts for more.

MUSIC AND ARTS The quality of Bach’s soprano voice as a child earned him a place in the choir of St Michael in Lüneburg. When his voice broke he retained his place due to his talents as an instrumentalist.
An outstanding organist and harpsichordist and not an insignificant composer, Bach relied heavily on old German hymn tunes for inspiration. Most of his writing was for the Lutheran church, in total he wrote over 200 chorales and 46 organ chorales. In his last years he was fascinated by fugues. A master of improvisation, he could sit down and create great music on the spot. In addition he could play by ear (but then others fiddle with their moustaches.)
A great innovator, Bach developed the chorale prelude, (a counterpuntal composition consists of 2 or more melodies played at the same time). He also instigated the novel practice of the far greater use of the thumb on the keys of the organ. Despite his innovative contrapuntal and organ keying styles, Bach could be an old fogey- he thought the recently invented piano made "a frightful noise."
Bach defined music as “An agreeable harmony for the honour of God and the permissible delights of the soul”.
Here's a summary of some of Bach's Greatest Hits- with links to Songfacts all written by yours personally.

1706 Toccata & Fugue in D Minor: This rousing work was christened when Bach went on holiday to Lübeck to hear the Danish Organist Dietrich Buxtehude play on the five Sundays before Christmas. He was meant to return to work before Christmas but didn't return to Arnstradt until the following February. Consequently he didn't provide any music for his employer over Christmas and the New year and lost his job. However he did write this piece. Today it is associated with spooky images from horror films.
Toccata & Fugue in D Minor Songfacts


1713 Sheep May Safely Graze: This humdinger was written for the 31st birthday celebrations of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels.

1721 Brandenburg Concertos: These six pieces were written for the Count Brandenburg, a Prince who loved music, to gain extra support for his work. The Count's orchestra was too small to perform them and the manuscripts were discovered for sale on the Count's death in a job lot. The second concerto is meant to include one of the most difficult pieces there is for a trumpeter.
Brandenburg Concerto No 2 Songfacts

1723 St John Passion: Whenever it was performed, The St John Passion was accompanied by sermons often up to three hours in length to which Bach’s musical settings were a diversion and a compliment. All of which added up to a liturgical event of a considerable magnitude.

1729 St Matthew Passion: The manuscript for for this masterpiece only came to light when it was bought as wrapping paper from the estate of a deceased cheese-monger. It was eventually premiered 100 years later when Mendelssohn conducted the Passion in Berlin.

1731 Cantata no 140 (Sleeper’s Awake): Originally a late 16th century Lutheran hymn. The middle chorale was used in the 1980s for a series of Lloyds Bank adverts.

1742 Goldberg Variations: Quite a long, boring piece but a certain Count Keyster appreciated it. In gratitude he gave Bach a golden goblet filled with 100 gold pieces, hence it's name. The Count was an insomniac.
Aria Da Capo Songfacts

1747-49 Mass in B Minor: Began in 1724, a work of great power and subtleness and a monument of the baroque era, it was too long to be performed in an ordinary service. Incidentally if you're wondering why this ardently Protestant composer wrote such a Catholic work it was because at that time he was after the job of court composer for the Catholic King of Saxony. He didn't get it.

The last piece Bach composed was Before Thy Throne, which he wrote sick and blind days before he died.

Bach has had many admirers down the ages. Beethoven called him, “The immortal god of harmony” and even the anti-Christian Nietzsche heard in Bach’s music “a higher order of things”.

LITERATURE Bach wrote music books with his impeccable, elegant writing. They included:
The Well Tempered Clavier" (1722), which was intended to teach his first wife and children keyboard technique.
Little Organ Book (1717), which he dedicated "For the glory of the most high God alone. And for my neighbour to learn from."
In addition his second wife, Anna, wrote "The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach" which chronicled the last 27 years of her husband's life.
An inventory of Bach's personal library strongly suggests that he came to those discussions well prepared. It included 80 volumes (52 titles), all of them theological. At the top of the list is the three-volume Calov Bible — Luther's translation of the Bible with parallel commentary selected from Luther's works by Abraham Calov—followed by two sets of the complete works of Luther.

NATURE Well, the Baseni dog found in central Africa has no bark. Which has nothing to do with Johann Sebastien except for being a very weak pun.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Bach liked walking. As a youngster, he walked 50 kilometres from his Lüneburg school to Hamburg to see J A Reincken , the organist perform. On another occasion he walked a mere 25 miles to Halle in the hope of meeting Handelbut arrived just after he had left the town by coach. Doh!
Bach also had a hobby of glassblowing.

SCIENCE AND MATHS Bach believed that baroque music helped protect people from the advance of doubt bred by the 18th century craze for scientific rational enquiry.
Bach believed in the spiritial significance of numbers. The nimber 14 was especially important to him. If A+1, B=2 etc, when you add up the cardinal numbers that correspond to the letters of his surname, you get 14.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Bach produced a great deal of religious music, which include his Mass in B Minor, four smaller masses, a Magnificat, three Passions and 202 Church Cantatas. His Cantatas were mostly written for Sunday services that began at 7.00am & lasted 4 hours. A devout member of the Lutheran Church, his sympathies lay in particular with the Pietist movement.
The German composer believed he could best serve his church and the people around him through his music. Bach defined music as "An agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul." He inscribed the scores of his religious music with the letters “JJ”, (“Jesus, Juva” meaning “Jesus help”) at the beginning and “SDG” (“Soli Deo Gloria” meaning “to God alone the glory”) at the end.
"Bach almost persuades me to be a Christian." Roger Fry (1866-1934)

SCANDAL In 1705 when Bach was organist in Arnstradt, he got into a street fight with the bassoon player of the church’s school choir after JSB called him names. Their brawl took place in the market square in Arnstradt.
Bach was criticised in his younger days by the church authorities for his lavish flourishes and unusual augmentations in his organ accompaniments to congregation singing.
"Though full of great musical lore
Old Bach is a terrible bore
A fugue without a tune
He thought was a boom
So he wrote sixteen thousand or more." Musical Herald 1884 (3)

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS His sight failed in his later years due to his hard work and the wear & tear on his eyes when in his childhood he copied his brother’s music volume in the dark. The famous London based eye surgeon, John Taylor, operated on Bach's failing sight along with Handel's and Edward Gibbon's. All three were unsuccessful.

HOMES Bach was a rover, moving around and settling wherever there was work. He finally settled in Leipzig in 1723 and spent the rest of his life there. Opposite the St Thomas Church, Leipzig where he worked can be found today the Bach museum.
1685 Born & brought up in a house in Lutherstrasse Eisenach, Thuringia.
1695 After his father died in 1695 he moved to brother Johann Christoph’s house in Ohrdruf on the corner of Johann Sebastian Bach-Strasse. The building no longer exists.
1700-02 His brother could no longer support them so moves with his school friend Georg Erdmann to St Michael’s church and school at Lüneburg. He lived in the buildings of the monastery there.
1702 Worked for Prince Johann Ernst at Weimar.
1703 Lived for a while in family member & mayor Martin Fieldhaus’ house, close to Maria Market Square in Arnstradt.
1707 Due to new job moved to Mülhausen.
1708-17 Lived a few hundred yards away from the Schloss next to the Hotel Elephant on the market place in Weimar.
1717 Lived in Wallstrasse 25, Kothen
1723 Moved to Leipzig.
TRAVEL Bach never travelled outside a 200 mile radius from his home in his lifetime.

DEATH The last major work he wrote before his death was a fugue with a counter-theme B-A-C-H. He died of a paralytic stroke after his unsuccessful eye operation aged 65 in 1750. This arguably greatest of all baroque composers was buried in the chancel of Saint Thomas Church, Leipzig and after years of composing, his body started decomposing.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1.Bach's music has been used in various adverts, such as his Air on a G String, which was used for years in those laid back Hamlet cigar commercials. Also his Sleepers Awake cantata was the theme used in those 1980s Lloyds Bank advert with that bloke from Rumpole (Leo McKern).
Here's two more. Ad for Audi A8 cars, the music used: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major.
Strongbow cider commercial, the music used: Toccata and Fugue
2. Many pop songs have been based on Bach's compositions, including:
Lady Lynda by The Beach Boys-based on Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.
A Lovers Concerto by The Toys- Based on Minuet in G.
Brandenburger by Nice was based on, yes that's right, his Brandenburg Concertos.
Whiter Shade of Pale by Procul Harum based on Air on a G String. If Herr Bach had been of a litigious nature and more pertinently not rather dead, his lawyer would have been kept exceedingly busy by these tunes.

3. The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena was filmed in 1968. Bach was played by Gustav Leonhardt.

4. Albert Schweitzer's 1905 biography, Johann Sebastian, emphasised the religious nature of Bach's music.

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Bach was revolutionary in his mixture of free forms with dance forms such as the Minuet and developed the Chorale prelude, (Do I have to explain what that is again? see the section on Music and Arts if you have forgotten). based upon a chorale or hymn tune. He also instigated the novel practice of using the thumb more as the little finger on the keys of the organ, but I've already told you that..
2. The numero uno composer of all time for the organ. His best work has lasted for centuries, well his more boring pieces seem that way. In a 1999 poll of music lovers he was voted Britain’s 3rd fave composer of the Millennium.
3. Wrote the The Well Tempered Clavier, a collection of 48 fugues and preludes composed in every minor and major key. He established for the first time in the history of the keyboard music a tuning procedure that made all the keys equally usable.
4. After years of drifting he finally worked out how to hold down a job.
5. Beethoven was a devotee of Bach, learning the Well-Tempered Clavier as a child and later calling Bach "Urvater der Harmonie" ("original father of harmony") and "nicht Bach, sondern Meer" ("not a stream but a sea", punning on the literal meaning of the composer's name).

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