Johann Sebastian Bach

The Bach Family was almost a musical industry. Over a span of 100 years there were 53 of them holding such posts as organists, cantors or town musicians. J.S.B. was born in 1685. At the age of 32 and gaining a reputation as a brilliant organist, he was appointed as Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Cothen, by which time he had composed many works. Three years later he became cantor of St.Thomas’, Leipzig, where he remained for the rest of his life. These were years of great creativity – it was normal for him to produce a new cantata for his protestant congregation every week (over 200 of them have been preserved and most of them have been recorded). He was very much a family man (he married twice) and had numerous children.

During his lifetime only a few of his works were published and as the new ‘enlightened’ aesthetic marked the end of the Baroque period of which he was the foremost exponent, some of his contemporaries regarded him as old fashioned and found his music too complicated (much of it certainly is very busy) and lacking in melodic appeal.

That opinion remained for some years and it wasn’t until the early eighteenth century that his worth began to be recognised by the musical world and his many compositions catalogued and published.

The allegation that his music lacks tunes is easily discredited, perhaps especially so when his music is arranged for full symphony orchestra by such people as the composer William Walton and the conductor Leopold Stokowski, although purists disapprove. The Passions of the four gospels are in the repertoire of all major choral societies, his keyboard music, concertos for many instruments and the famous six Brandenburg Concertos are played regularly and have been recorded many times. Plenty of tunes there.The BBC are going to devote ten days of ‘every note’ he composed on their third programme during Christmas as they did recently for Beethoven.

(Great for Bach devotees but hard on everyone else!)

Bach died in distressing circumstances – his eyes were failing and an unsuccessful
operation on them by John Taylor- a British oculist – in1750 caused his death. There is a
reverence given to Bach denied to most other composers. It is almost as if he
invented the musical tradition of which we are the fortunate inheritors.


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