Johann Sebastian Bach

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Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 in the town of Thuringia, Germany where

he was raised and spent most of his life. Due to a shortage of expenses, he was confined

to a very limited geographical space, as was his career. This greatly affected his, in that

his music was not as widley known as other composers of the time. On traveling he never

went farther north than Hamburg or farther south than Carlsbad. To look back on the life

of Bach many have referred to him as “one of the greatest and most productive geniuses in

the history of Western music”, particularly of the baroque era.

Born to a family that produced at least 53 prominent musicians within seven

generations, Bach received his first musical instrument from his father. Johann studied

music with his father until his father’s death in 1695, at which point he moved to Ohrdruf

to study with his brother, Johann Christoph. In the early 1700’s Bach began working as a

chorister at a church in Luneburg. In 1703, he became a violinist in the chamber orchestra

of Prince Johann Ernst of Weimar, but later that year he moved to Arnstadt where he

became church organist.

In 1705, Bach took a one month leave to study with the renowned Danish-born

German organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude who was staying in Lubeck. Later,

Buxtehude’s organ music would greatly influence that of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach’s

stay was so rewarding that he overstayed his leave by two months to be greatly criticized

for his breach of contract by the church authorities. Fortunately, Bach was too highly

respected to be dismissed from his position.

In 1707, Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, he also moved to

Mulhausen as organist for a church there, but, 1708 brought him back toWeimer. He

came back as an organist and violinist at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, where he

stayed for the following nine years to become concertmaster of the court orchestra in

1714. In Weimer he composed about 30 cantatas, including his well-known funeral

cantata “God’s time is the best”, and also wrote organ and harpsichord works. Bach also

began traveling throughout Germany as an organ virtuoso and a consultant to organ



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...sical equivalents of verbal ideas, such as an

undulating melody to represent the sea, of a canon to describe the Christians following


Bach’s ability to assess and exploit the media, styles and genre of his day enabled

him to achieve many remarkable transfers of idiom. For instance, he could take an Italian

ensemble composition, such as a violin concerto, and transform it into a convincing work

for a single instrument, the harpsichord. By devising intricate melodic lines, he could

convey the complex texture of a multivoiced fugue on a single-melody instrument , such

as the violin or cello.

The controversial rhythms and sparse textures of operatic recitatives can be found

in some of his own works for solo keyboard. Technical facility alone of course was not

the source of some of Bach’s greatness. It is the expressiveness of his music, particularly

as manifested in the vocal works, that conveys his humanity and touches listeners

everywhere. That is why Johann Sebastian Bach was considered one of the greatest

musical composers, but more specifically one of the greatest baroque composers of all

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