Johan Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in present-day Germany on either 21 March or 31 March (depending on the calendar) in 1685. His father was Johann Ambrosius Bach, and his mother was Maria Elisabeth Lammerhirt. He was the eighth and youngest child in the family. Bach’s mother and father died eight months apart when he was 10 years old, and he went to live with his brother, Johann Christoph Bach.
Bach was born into a family of musicians. His father was the director of the town musicians and most likely taught him basic music theory and to play the violin and harpsichord. An older brother taught him to play the clavichord and “exposed him to much contemporary music.” His uncles were also in the music profession as church organists, court chamber musicians, and composers, one of which taught Bach to play the organ. A second cousin was well-known as a composer and violinist.
Bach studied theology, Latin, Greek, French, and Italian at the local school and he later attended St. Michael’s School in Luneburg for two years.
Bach enriched established German styles through his mastery of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organization, and his adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach’s compositions include hundreds of cantatas, both sacred and secular. He composed Latin church music, Passions, oratorios and motets. He often adopted Lutheran hymns, not only in his larger vocal works, but for instance also in his four-part chorales and his sacred songs. He wrote extensively for organ and for other keyboard instruments. He composed concertos, for instance for violin and for harpsichord, and suites, as chamber music as well as for orchestra. Many of his works employ the genres of canon and fugue.
Throughout the 18th century Bach was primarily valued as organist, while his keyboard music, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, was appreciated for its didactic qualities. The 19th century saw the publication of some major Bach-biographies, and by the end of that century all of his known music had been printed….
Bach composed more than 1000 musical works. They include cantatas, motets, masses, Magnificats, Passions, oratorios, four-part chorales, songs and arias. “His instrumental music includes concertos, suites, sonatas, fugues, and other works for organ, harpsichord, lute, violin, cello, flute, chamber ensemble and orchestra.”
Bach held several musical positions in Germany. He was Kapellmeister or director of music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen. He was Thomaskantor or music director at the main Lutheran churches in Leipzig as well as an educator at the Thomasschule. He received the title of “Royal Court Composer” from Augustus III in 1736.
In 1749 Bach’s vision and health began to decline, and he died at age 65 on 28 July 1750 in Leipzig.
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