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Bach, Johann Sebastian

(March 21, 1685–July 28, 1750). B. Eisenach; son of Johann Ambrosius Bach and his wife, Elisabeth, nee Lämmerhirt. His parents died before the end of his 10th year; he then lived with an older brother, Johann Christoph, a former pupil of J. Pachelbel.* At 15 he became chorister at Lüneburg in the Michaelisschule, where he spent 3 yrs. and studied clavichord, violin, and composition and was probably a pupil of G. Böhm.* In 1703 Bach became organist in Arnstadt, having spent some time in Weimar. In 1705 he was granted a month's leave of absence to become acquainted with D. Buxtehude* and his work in Lübeck. Bach overstayed his leave by 3 months, incurring the displeasure of his superiors at Arnstadt. But his contacts with Buxtehude proved to be of great benefit. In 1807 he became organist at Mühlhausen and married Maria Barbara Bach, a distant cousin. Maria bore him 7 children, including 2 talented sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Karl Philipp Emanuel. Intense strife had developed in Mühlhausen between orthodox Lutherans and Pietists. Bach was a profound believer in confessional Luth. orthodoxy, but had friends among the Pietists; a number of embarrassing situations developed that prompted him to leave the service of the ch. 1708 to become organist at Weimar at the court of Duke Wilhelm, a profoundly religious man, whose motto was “Alles mit Gott” and who was very devoted to his subjects. Bach wrote much organ music and many cantatas (see Cantata) at Weimar. In 1717 he became Kapellmeister at Köthen at the court of Prince Leopold. Here Maria died in July, 1720, during Bach's absence from Köthen; December 3, 1721, he married Anna Magdalena Wülcken, who had a beautiful soprano voice and a genuine appreciation of her husband's musical genius. In Köthen Bach composed his Brandenburg Concertos, much music for the clavichord, violin, and other instruments, and some ch. music. But the court at Köthen was Ref., not congenial to ch. music. Desiring again to compose more ch. and organ music and to send his older sons to a university, Bach left Köthen 1723 for Leipzig to become cantor of the Thomasschule and dir. of music at the Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. Here, despite many adversities and lack of appreciation and understanding on the part of his townspeople, he wrote much of his greatest music, including several cycles of ch. cantatas, his greatest organ music, the Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John, the Christmas Oratorio, several motets (see Motet), the B Minor Mass, the Musical Offering, and The Art of the Fugue. In his own fields Bach has never been excelled or even equaled. Contrapuntal music found in him its greatest master; coupled with his skill and artistry one soon discovers a Luth. religiosity and theol. acumen that are astounding and that manifest themselves particularly in his music based on texts of the Bible, of Luth. chorales (see Chorale), and of Christian liturgies. Though at times the musicians' musician, Bach is today regarded as one of the great musicians of the people; he enjoys a popularity that surpasses that of any other great composer. He became blind in 1749. His greatness was not appreciated fully until more than a c. after his death. Bach is one of the most outstanding geniuses of Lutheranism, and his work, like that of Luther, is universal and timeless. Pupils include J. C. Altnikol,* J. F. Doles* Sr., G. A. Homilius,* J. C. Kittel,* J. L. Krebs,* J. T. Krebs,* J. M. Schubart.*

See also Fauxbourdon; Franck, Salomo; Froberger, Johann Jakob; Fugue; Gounod, Charles François; Neumeister, Erdmann; Oratorio; Passion, The; Ricercar(e); Schemelli, Georg Christian; Toccata.

The Bach Reader, eds. H. T. David and A. Mendel (New York, 1945); W. Gurlitt, Johann Sebastian Bach: the Master and His Work, tr. O. C. Rupprecht (St. Louis, 1957); F. Hashagen, Johann Sebastian Bach als Sänger und Musiker des Evangeliums und der lutherischen Reformation (Emmishofen, Switz., 1925); G. Herz, Johann Sebastian Bach im Zeitalter des Rationalismus und der Frühromantik (Bern, 1935); H. Kretzschmar, Bachkolleg (Leipzig, 1922); C. H. Parry, Johann Sebastian Bach, rev. ed. (New York, 1934); A. Schweitzer, Johann Sebastian Bach, 10th ed. (Leipzig, 1934); P. Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach, tr. C. Bell and J. A. Fuller-Maitland, 2 vols. in 1 (London, 1951); C. S. Terry, Bach: A Biography, 2d ed. (London, 1933) and Bach: The Historical Approach (New York, 1930); P. Wolfrum, Johann Sebastian Bach, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1910); F. Blume, Two Centuries of Bach (New York, 1950) and “Johann Sebastian Bach,” in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. F. Blume, I (Kassel, 1951), 962–1047; F. Hamel, Johann Sebastian Bach: Geistige Welt (Göttingen, 1951); F. Smend, Bach in Köthen (Berlin, [1951]); The Little Bach Book, ed. T. H. Nickel (Valparaiso, Indiana, 1950); W. Schmieder, Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs (Leipzig, 1958).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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