Johann Sebastian Bach

Regarded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time,
Bach was known during his lifetime primarily as an
outstanding organ player and technician. The youngest of
eight children born to musical parents, Johann Sebastian
was destined to become a musician. While still young, he
had mastered the organ and violin, and was also an
excellent singer. At the age of ten, both of his parents died
within a year of each other. Young Sebastian was fortunate
to be taken in by an older brother, Johann Christoph, who
most likely continued his musical training. At the age of
fifteen, Bach secured his first position in the choir of St.
Michael\'s School in Lüneburg. He travelled little, never
leaving Germany once in his life, but held various postitions
during his career in churches and in the service of the courts
throughout the country. In 1703 he went to Arnstadt to
take the position of organist at the St. Boniface Church. It
was during his tenure there that Bach took a month\'s leave
of absence to make the journey to Lübeck (some 200
miles away, a journey he made on foot) to hear the great
organist Dietrich Buxtehude. One month turned into five,
and Bach was obliged to find a new position at Mülhausen
in 1706. In that year he also married his cousin, Maria
Barbara. Bach remained at Mülhausen for only a year
before taking up a post as organist and concertmaster at
the court of the Duke of Weimar.

In 1717, Bach moved on to another post, this time as
Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Cöthen.
During the years Bach was in the service of the courts, he
was obliged to compose a great deal of instrumental music:
hundreds of pieces for solo keyboard, orchestral dance
suites, trio sonatas for various instruments, and concertos
for various instruments and orchestra. Of these, the most
famous are the six concerti grossi composed for the Duke
of Brandenburg in 1721, and the Brandenburg Concerto
no. 3 exemplifies the style of the concerto grosso in which
a small group of instruments (in this case a small ensemble
of strings) is set in concert with an orchestra of strings and
continuo. Of Bach\'s music for solo instruments, the six
Suites for violoncello and the Sonatas and Partitas for
solo violin are among the greatest for those instruments.
The Violin Partita no. 3 contains an example of a popular
dance form, the gavotte.

Maria Barbara died suddenly in 1720, having borne the
composer seven children. Within a year Bach remarried.
The daughter of the town trumpeter, Anna Magdalena
Bach would prove to be an exceptional companion and
helpmate to the composer. In addition, the couple sired
thirteen children. (Of Bach\'s twenty off-spring, ten died in
infancy. Four became well-known composers, including
Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian.) Soon after his
second marriage, Bach began looking for another position,
and eventually took one in Leipzig, where he became
organist and cantor (teacher) at St. Thomas\' Church. He
remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.

A devout Lutheran, Bach composed a great many sacred
works as his duties required when in the employ of the
church: well over two hundred cantatas (a new one was
required of him every week), several motets, five masses,
three oratorios, and four settings of the Passion story, one
of which, The St. Matthew Passion, is one of western
music\'s sublime masterpieces. Bach also wrote vast
amounts of music for his chosen instrument, the organ,
much of which is still regarded as the pinnacle of the
repertoire. One such work is the tremendous Passacaglia
and Fugue in C minor.

Towards the end of 1749, Bach\'s failing eyesight was
operated on by a traveling English surgeon, the catastrophic
results of which were complete blindness. His health failing,
Bach nevertheless continued to compose, dictating his
work to a pupil. He finally succombed to a stroke on July
28, 1750. He was buried in an unmarked grave at St.
Thomas\' Church.

Bach brought to majestic fruition the polyphonic style of
the late Renaissance. By and large a musical conservative,
he achieved remarkable heights in the art of fugue, choral
polyphony and organ music, as well as in instrumental
music and dance forms. His adherence to the older forms
earned him the nickname "the old wig" by his son, the
composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, yet his music
remained very much alive and was known and studied by
the next generation of composers. It was the discovery of
the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 by Felix Mendelssohn
that initiated the nineteenth century penchant for reviving
and performing older, "classical" music. With the death of
Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, music scholars
conveniently mark the