Probably the best known composer in a family of seven generations of musicians bearing the same name (there are over 50 who were musicians of some kind or another).
He was born in Eisenach in North Germany in 1685, in the same era as George Frederic Handel, who also was influenced by the Protestant background of the area. Music played a large part in the life of the upper class, municipal life, and the Church. He took full advantage of this and was in turn, a choir-boy, violinist in a Prince’s orchestra, organist in various town churches, and chief musician at a court. This last post was in Leipzig as cantor of St Thomas’sChurch and school, including all the musical oversight. It was here that he produced his major output of ‘Church’ music, and when he gained his vast experience from studying the technique of others.
He passed-on his skills to others by the ‘Goldberg Variations’ and ‘The Art of Fugue’, and catalogued all his own compositions for future generations. His return to Church life was not without its problems as his musical temperament and opinions would often clash with the clerics…..no change there then!
Despite his vast output of composition, he was known in his own day as a keyboard player of extraordinary talent, and often was a guest at the builing and dedication of a new Church organ.
He was twice-married, with some 20 children, (how did he have time?) and many of them gained high positions in the music profession. Towards the end of his life, his eyesight failed, and the last months were in total darkness. He died in Leipzig in 1750, only 65 years old.
From a choir point of view we remember him best probably from the number of Chorales which he wrote. He did not invent them, because Martin Luther almost exactly two hundred years before, had written many hymns, and not a few hymn tunes for his Reformed Church. What Bach did was provide high-quality tunes with superlative harmonies. He of course also wrote pieces like ‘St Matthew Passion’.
The compexity of his music ranged from extremely simple (such as the Anna Magdalena Notebook) to complex organ solos. His music is not predictable in the same way as was Handel’s, and so is one of the great pillars of musical art. It was strange that on his death, his works were set aside, and it was only nearly 100 years later that Mendelsohn and Samuel Wesley brought him to the fore again. Now there is not a church in the land where the music cupboard and the organ stool has no music by Bach.
If you want something special by him, click on the link below……..