Biography of German Composer Johann Sebastian Bach Part 2

About the famous German composer Johnan Sebastian Bach, history and biography of the organist and classical composer.



Bach's rising fame as an organist was almost equaled by his reputation for being a difficult, willful, and stubborn employee. He spent almost a month in jail in Weimar at the end of his appointment there because he had accepted the position offered him in Kothen without receiving permission from his patron, the Duke of Weimar, to leave. He carried this same propensity for trouble with him to his final appointment in Leipzig in 1723. After his death there in 1750, the town council visited revenge on the grieving Bach household by reducing the size of his widow's pension on the basis of a nit-picking technical grievance they had against Bach dating from 27 years earlier.

Despite his stormy confrontations with his patrons, Bach left a tremendous musical legacy. His religious music includes the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the B Minor Mass, two Magnificats, and at least 190 cantatas. There is much music, too, for keyboard and chamber groups, as well as for solo stringed instruments. Especially notable are the sonatas and concertos for violin and cello and the six Brandenburg concertos. Finally, there are the works written for the organ, about which it can be said that if Bach had not composed these, there would be little of consequence for an organist to play today.

Bach possessed a mind that worked in an extremely orderly and systematic fashion. His compositions reflect this to the highest degree, for he developed a style of composition based on a set of rules that was complete and inviolable. Once these rules were established, he relied on them exclusively. Theorists have analyzed and dissected his compositions searching for violations and exceptions to these rules, but literally none have been found. Consequently, his music has been used as a basis for teaching music theory and style for decades.

In his later years, Bach's work was affected by his health. Years of close copying had ruined his eyesight until he was quite blind. Two operations by the same surgeon who operated on George Frederick Handel failed to help him. The surgeon ordered six months of darkness for Bach. Then on July 18, 1750, the doctor decided to let light into the room. Bach was able to see his family. The excitement caused a stroke a few hours later. He went into a coma and died on July 28. The town council expressed its mild sympathy: "Herr Bach was a great musician, no doubt, but we wanted a schoolmaster, not a musical director."

Bach's surviving daughter lived out her life in a poorhouse. The Bach family was one of the most prolific musical families in history. From the first musician, Hans Bach, who lived in Weimar about 1561, down to the last descendant, who died on Christmas Day, 1845, there were 53 musicians named Bach.

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