Composer of the Week: Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685. He was born into a very musical family, with his father being a director of musicians in their town. His uncles were all professional musicians. His uncle Johann Christof Bach introduced him to the organ, an instrument on which he became very skilled later in life. After his mother died, Bach enrolled in the famous St. Michaels School, where he learned harpsichord and studied music of all kinds.
In 1703, Bach took the post of court musician under the Duke of Weimar. Despite his reputation as a great keyboardist (organ and harpsichord), he became dissatisfied with his duties and eventually left. However, he returned in 1708, this time to take the position of Concert Master. While there, he composed nearly full-time, writing pieces for organ, choir, orchestra, harpsichord and more. Once of his greatest achievements was a collection of pieces for the harpsichord called “The Well Tempered Clavier,” which was written for the new tuning system that allowed pieces to be written in all 24 major and minor keys. Eventually, Bach left Weimar for good, going to work for Prince Leopold, and later became a music director of a famous church in Leipzig.
Bach is one of the most famous composers of the Baroque Period of music, as well as one of the greatest organists of all time. His most famous pieces are Little Fugue in g minor (organ), the Brandenburg Concertos, the harpsichord collection The Well Tempered Clavier, Toccata and Fugue in d minor (organ), as well as 300 choral cantatas (chorus music with accompaniment). Bach was well-known, but not a “superstar” during his lifetime, nor was he particularly rich. It was only many years after he died (1750) that his music was rediscovered, causing him to become world-famous.
Map of Eisenach, Germany (present day)
Map of Europe in 1700