Bach descended from a long line of distinguished musicians, and, after his death, several of his sons achieved musical prominence. He received his first musical training from members of his family, including his father, who was also a musician. He learned a great deal by studying the scores of other composers, assimilating the best musical practices of Germany, Italy, Austria, and France. Early on, he exhibited the work ethic that made him an extremely prolific composer. One story illustrates the extent of his devotion to his craft: at the age of 20, he walked a distance of 200 miles to hear Dietrich Buxtehude, Northern Europe's most renowned organist at the time, play the organ at Lübeck.
Throughout his career, Bach relied on the established system of patronage for employment, holding posts as court organist to the Duke of Weimar, court composer to the Prince of Cöthen (1717-1723), and cantor of St. Thomas's Church in Leipzig (1723-1750).
At Weimar he married his first wife, who died just a few years later. Bach remarried in 1721, and eventually fathered 19 children, many of whom did not survive childhood. The type of music that Bach wrote was mostly determined by the position he held. For instance, while at Cöthen, he wrote a great deal of instrumental music, since this is what the Prince wanted; it was there that he wrote his six Brandenburg Concertos and the suites for solo cello. At Leipzig, his duties required producing music for church services, so he wrote most of his over 200 cantatas during his employment in that city.
Bach's Musical Style
Bach's musical style can be viewed either as centuries ahead of its time or as a relic of the polyphonic music of an earlier period. Polyphony permea...
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...s most clearly heard in the Crucifixus, the section of the mass dealing with the crucifixion of Jesus.
When Bach died in 1750, some of his keyboard works survived, but much of his music, including the cantatas and the Passions, disappeared from public consciousness. It wasn't until well into the 19th century, that his music began to emerge again, thanks largely to the romantic composer, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), who, in 1829, conducted the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion since Bach's death. Today, he is universally recognized as one of the greatest composers of all time.
As we will see in his instrumental music, Bach was adept at imposing his own complex musical style on any form of composition. A man whose music is simultaneously beautiful and complex, Bach stands as one of the greatest minds and talents in the history of music.
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