(JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH)
One of the finest composers of classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach, was born in 1685. He was a master of counterpoint, which is a compositional technique that uses two or more independent melodic voices. This made his music complex and unique. Bach’s work consists of over 1,000 compositions, including The Well-Tempered Clavier, Mass in B Minor, and Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. He is also known for his Brandenburg Concertos and his Goldberg Variations. Bach’s music has been influential to many other composers throughout history. Beethoven once said, “I would gladly write a hundred such symphonies.” Moreover, Brahms remarked that Bach was “the father of us all.”
Bach was born into a musical family in Eisenach, in the duchy of Saxe-Eisenach. Johann Ambrosius Bach, his father, served as the town’s music director; his uncles were all professional musicians. His cousin Johann Christoph Bach was an organist at Liebfrauenkirche, Eisenach. Bach’s mother died when he was ten; his father remarried soon afterward to Anna Maria Luisa Schmieg (1646–1720), who came from a musical family herself: her brothers were employed as court musicians in Weimar and Eisenach.
Bach’s education began at age six with his elder brother Johann Christoph teaching him basic keyboard techniques and introducing him to the compositional style of Pachelbel and Froberger; by fourteen, he had started working on chorale harmonization independently. After being orphaned at age ten, he lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph (1671–1721), after which he attended St Michael’s School in Lüneburg for two years.
BACH’S LIFE AND MUSIC
Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in the year 1685. He began learning to play the violin at age six and the harpsichord at age seven. His family was musical, and his father taught him to play the organ. Bach attended St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg for two years. After his voice broke, he returned home to study music with his father.
Bach married his cousin Maria Barbara in 1707. Four of their seven offspring died in infancy, leaving just three. Bach worked as a court musician for Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar from 1708 to 1717. He served as Kapellmeister (music director) to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen from 1717 to 1723.
In Cothen, Bach had more time for composition and completed many works, including The Well-Tempered Clavier (a collection of keyboard pieces), the Brandenburg Concertos (a set of six concertos), and several cantatas (religious vocal works).
Bach’s wife died in 1720, and he remarried two years later. His second wife was Anna Magdalena Wilcke, a singer who bore him 13 more children. Many of Bach’s children were musically talented, and several became professional musicians like their father.
Bach became increasingly blind during the last years of his life but continued to compose music until his death on July 28, 1750. He was buried in Leipzig, Germany on July 31, 1750, St. Thomas Church Leipzig.
WHY IS BACH THE GREATEST?
Bach is regarded as one of music history’s most well-known composers. His music is characterized by its complex polyphony, intricate counterpoint, and innovative formal and tonal structures. Bach’s works span various genres, including instrumental concertos, suites, sonatas, cantatas, passions, oratorios, Masses, and motets. He is particularly well-known for his harpsichord and organ compositions.
Bach’s mastery of counterpoint was particularly evident in his fugues style of contrapuntal composition. A fugue features a subject which is introduced in one voice (usually the soprano) and then imitated by one or more other voices in a strict imitation. The subject will often be played in a different key (or mode) than the original, making it sound like a new melodic idea. Bach’s fugues are some of the most complex and masterful examples of this type of composition.
In addition to his contrapuntal brilliance, Bach was also an expert at using musical forms to structure his compositions. He often took existing musical forms and refined them or created entirely new ones. For example, he helped develop the “chaconne” form, which became one of his signature pieces.
BACH’S MAJOR WORKS:
- The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722)
- The Brandenburg Concertos (1721)
- The Mass in B minor (1733)
- The St Matthew Passion (1729)
- The Goldberg Variations (1741)
Bach was a true innovator, not only in terms of his musical style but also in terms of instrumentation. His work has influenced countless other composers and continues to be performed and studied today.