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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, to Johann Ambrosius Bach, the director of the town musicians, and Maria Elisabeth Lammerhirt, in the year 1685. He was the 8th child and was almost immediately thrown into the world of music. Several family members were either musicians or taught music, including all of his uncles, his cousin, and his older brother, whom was 14 years older than he. At a very early age, Johann Sebastian Bach was taught how to play several instruments, such as the violin, the harpsichord, the organ, and the clavichord by his uncle, brother, and father. Sadly, his parents died just 8 months apart when he was 10, leaving Johann Sebastian Bach an orphan. He and another sibling then moved in with their older brother, Johann Christoph Bach, whom had just gotten married. Johann Christoph Bach taught music also and years later, his 5 children would all be involved in music, as well.

Johann Sebastian Bach was also a singer and it was said that he had a nice soprano voice. He began attending the St. Michael’s School in Luneburg, at age 14 on a scholarship. While there, he sang soprano in the choir until his voice began to change so his focus shifted to the violin. He played the school’s 3 manual organ and harpsichord and remained at the school for about 2 years. The older he got, Johann Sebastian Bach held several violin and organ posts throughout Germany, including being a Kapellmeister, which was the highest rank given to a musician during the Baroque age. He was also a Cantor and a Royal Court Composer. He was pronounced in his abilities to compose music in not only German but in French and Italian styles. In his numerous jobs, he put in requests for many organs to be rebuilt and had basically became known as an expert on the construction of them. These skills and expertise attracted many pupils from all over wanting him to test their organs and to determine if they were up to standard or needed to be rebuilt.

Johann Sebastian Bach went on to marry two women in his lifetime. His first wife was, in fact, his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. The couple went on to have 7 children but only 4 lived to reach adulthood, and 2 of which became composers as well. During his marriage, Johann Sebastian Bach was working for the Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. It was during this time that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote much of his music for keyboards, sonatas, violin concertos, and others. It was a very informal environment with all the court musicians being treated as equals by the young price, who was around 25 years old. He and the other musicians often went on journeys with the prince for months at a time, during one of which he returned to find out his wife, Maria Barbara Bach, had died and been buried. Though heartbroken, he continued to work for the Prince and took care of his 4 children on his own until he met a young singer with a lovely soprano voice. Her name was Anna Magdalena and she was around 17 years younger than he was. She was 20 and he was 37 when the two married and they went on to have 13 children with only 6 reaching adulthood, 3 of whom also became musicians. He and Anna were married for 28 years.

Johann Sebastian Bach had a great talent for taking music and creating something unique. He used a blend on music from all over to compose something different that stood out from others. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music for choirs, orchestras, organs, keyboards, and many other different instrumental combos. He was known as one of the greatest German organists and was even appointed the leader of an orchestra. The last 27 years of his life were spent in Leipzig where he held the post of Cantor. He worked at the School of St. Thomas and the position required many responsibilities. He was in charge of teaching the children to play instruments, organizing all the music, teaching the children Latin, and to form 4 choirs which were used for local events such as singing in the churches, singing at funerals, and performing at other local events. He was a very religious man and used all the arts help had learned to create spiritual music that would inspire the congregation. As time went on, his eyesight began to fail him, due to years of working in very badly lit areas. He received two cataract surgeries to help try to repair his vision but it is said that he actually caught an infection from it. While in bed in his last days, he wrote what would be, his last music, in the present of one of his pupils and his son in law. This work was thought to be way ahead of its time and it is said that Johann Sebastian Bach himself said he had not done such work before in fear that it would be seen as arrogance. This may be one of the reasons it was left unfinished.

Due to the decline in health and the possibility of having caught pneumonia, Johann Sebastian Bach died at the age of 65. He, like most greats of their time, did not receive the full recognition and popularity he deserved until over 100 years after his death. He was buried in Old St. Hopkins Cemetery in Leipzig and his grave actually went unmarked for around 150 years. His remains were located in 1894 and moved into a vault in St. John’s Church. Subsequently, the church sustained damage from enemy fire in World War II. His remains were then moved to its present grave in St. Thomas Church. Johann Sebastian Bach has been remembered for his composition of music of the Baroque period. His compositions include the Mass in B minor, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Brandenburg concertos, Keyboard Works, two Passions, Cello suites and more than 300 cantatas. His music reached a depth that others of that time period were not able to reach, he paved the way for many other composers, and was referred to as the “original father of harmony” by Beethoven.

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