Johann Sebastian Bach - Well loved Baroque Composer | Sunday Observer

Johann Sebastian Bach - Well loved Baroque Composer


Johann Sebastian Bach is considered to be one of the great if not the greatest composer of the Baroque era.

He was born on March 31, 1865 in the Duchy of Saxe-Eisenach, Germany. His family was extremely musical and had been so for generations. Many of his uncles and other relatives were professional musicians, such as violinists, town musicians and organists. Johann Sebastian’s father, Johann Ambrosius Bach was employed as a musician at the Court of Saxe-Eisenach, and he taught young Johann Sebastian the violin and harpsichord at an early age. One uncle, Johann Christoph introduced the young Bach to the organ and he became a very good organist too.

Bach started schooling when he was seven years and studied subjects, such as religion and Latin. By the time he was ten, tragedy had struck his life as both parents died. Bach was left at an orphan and the task of his upbringing fell to an older brother, Johann Christoph, who was a church organist in Ohrdruf. He enrolled Johann Sebastian in a local school and continued to teach him music.

Johann Sebastian lived with his brother and his family till he was 15 years old. At this time, his beautiful soprano voice won him a place at a prestigious college, St. Michael’s in Luneburg to continue his musical studies. After a while at Luneburg his voice changed and Johann Sebastian changed over to playing the organ and harpsichord.

In 1703, Bach got his first job as a musician at the court of Duke Johann Ernst in Saxe - Weimar. He served as a violinist and sometimes filled in for the official organist. There was an organ in the chapel and many of Bach’s great works for organ was composed while he was here. Bach’s fame as an organist spread, and he received many invitations to play in other big churches. He was also considered as an authority on organ building and his advice was often sought on this topic.

In 1714, the Duke made him Konzertmeister (Concertmaster) with a larger salary. In 1717, Bach received a better paid job offer at the Court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt – Cothen in the town of Cothen. Duke Johann Ernst was angry about this and did not want to let Bach go. Bach insisted on going, and the angry Duke imprisoned him for a month but finally let him go.

Prince Leopold was very musical and Bach worked as his Kappellmeister (Director of Music). He was in charge of the orchestra and practically all of his orchestral works were written during this time.

Bach’s music was very heavily influenced by his religious beliefs and he often wrote the letters I.N.J. on his sheet music which stood for the Latin In Nomine Jesu (in the name of Jesus).

In 1721, Prince Leopold got married and his new bride discouraged his interest in music. The Prince dissolved his orchestra in 1723, and Johann Sebastian Bach had to look for a new job. He got a post as an organist and music teacher at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

Bach had 20 children from two marriages, and some of them became well known composers. Johann Christian Bach was one of them.

Bach died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750 and his remains now lie at the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) Leipzig.

Bach is thought to have written over 1,100 pieces of music.

The Brandenburg Concertos written by Bach in 1721 as a tribute to the Duke of Brandenburg is one of his most famous and popular works.

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, The Well Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor and the St. Matthew Passion are other much loved works.

A part of his cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leblen is sung in English as ‘esu, Joy of man’s desiring and is a much beloved piece among modern audiences. His Christmas Oratoria which contains six cantatas is also a major work.

Baroque music

The Baroque period in music history extends from 1600 to 1750 approximately. Baroque music is tuneful, very organised and have melodies which are highly decorated and elaborate. Conflict and contrast between sections in a piece and between instruments are common in Baroque music and the music itself can be quite dramatic. In Baroque music, the concept of two contrasting groups was very much in use.

The idea of two contrasting groups was used a lot in Baroque music. Composers wrote concertos which were pieces for orchestra and a solo instrument. A concerto contrasted a group of soloists with the rest of the orchestra at times and they are known by the Italian name Concerto Grossi. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos are good examples of this.