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Johann Sebastian Bach Essay, Research Paper

Biography

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia. Thuringia is a central province of Germany. He was born into a family that had a history and a future of prominent composers. Johann Ambrosius, a town musician and father to Johann Sebastian, was the first to get Bach interested in music. He learned how to play many instruments at a young age from his father. When his father died he moved to Ohrdruf to live with his brother Johann Christoph.

Early Years

In 1700 Bach began to earn his own living at the Church of Saint Michael in L neberg as a chorister. In 1703 he became a violinist in the chamber orchestra of Prince Johann Ernst of Weimar, but moved later to Arnstadt to become a church organist. Bach traveled to L beck to study with the German composer Dietrich Buxtehude in 1705. When Bach returned the church criticized him for the strange harmonies he had learned. He was not dismissed from the church because he was already too highly respected.

In 1707 Bach married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach, and moved to M lhausen as the organist for the Church of Saint Blasius. They stayed in M lhausen for a year when Bach was offered a job as a violinist and organist at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst where they remained for nine years. Bach also became the concertmaster of the court orchestra in 1714. While in Weimar he composed about 30 cantatas. Bach then began to travel throughout Germany as an organ virtuoso and as an organ consultant.

In 1717 Bach became employed as chapel master and director of chamber music at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-K then. During this time Bach ensembles and solos and music books which his children used.

In 1720 Bach s wife died, and the following year he married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, who was a daughter of a court musician. He had 13 children with her in addition to the 7 he had with his first wife.

Later Years

In 1723 Bach moved to Leipzig where he spent the remainder of his life. He gained the position of director and choirmaster of Saint Thomas s church. While in Leipzig Bach wrote 295 cantatas, 202 of which are still in existence. In this period Bach wrote mostly religious pieces like cantatas and oratorios. This is also the period where he wrote many of his fugues and canons. In the last year of his life Bach began to go blind. The day following an eye operation Bach had a stroke, which was followed by a fever causing him to die about a quarter to nine in the sixty fifth year of his life.

The Revival

Following Bach s death he was remembered more as an organist than as a composer. Because of the new classical period coming up Bach s compositions were forgot about for over 80 years. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven were a few of those who admired Bach, and helped to revive his music. In 1850 the Bach Gesellschaft formed and devoted itself to finding, editing, and publishing Bach s works.

Style

Bach lived and composed during the baroque period in music s history. He was very passionate about his music. His cantatas mostly open with a section for chorus and orchestra, continue with alternating recitatives and arias for solo voices and accompaniment, and conclude with a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn. The music is at all times closely bound to the text, ennobling the latter immeasurably with its expressiveness and spiritual intensity. +

The Leipzig Years

1723 1729 – The Cantata Years

Leipzig was the center of the German printing and publishing industries, an important European trading center, and site of a progressive and famous university. Bach moved here on May 22, 1723, where he was to live as Cantor of the Thomasschule for the remaining 27 years of his life.

The school of St. Thomas was situated on the Western Wall of the town, near the Pleissenburg fortress with its large tower on the southwestern corner of the town wall. The school had around 60 students between the ages of 11 and 23, and provided the choirs for at least four city churches.

Bach s duties of the school were to organize the music in the four principal churches of Leipzig, and to form choirs for these churches from the pupils of the Thomasschule. He was also to instruct the more musically talented students in instrumental music so they might be available for the church orchestra, and to teach students Latin.

Out of the 54 boys Bach had for use in the different choirs he says 17 are competent, 20 not yet full, and 17 incapable. The best of the group were selected to form the choir, which sang the Sunday cantata. A second choir of the same size but less talent would sing at the church without the cantata.

In Leipzig there was none of the aristocratic ease of the Court of K then, where Bach could make music as and when he liked. Here he had to keep strictly to his duties within the organized life of church and school. Singing classes were held from 9 to 12 am on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. On Thursdays Bach was free to do as he pleased, and on Fridays he only taught in the morning. Rehearsals for the Sunday Cantatas were held on Saturday afternoons.

The Sunday service began at 7am with a motet, hymns, and an organ voluntary. The cantata preceded the hour-long sermon. The main service finished at about mid-day, after which there followed a communion service.

Bach s cantatas were greatly influenced by his surroundings. He mostly sat in his room on the second floor of the school overlooking to south-western wall of the city, and looking into the green fields of central Germany found peace to write freely as he liked. The church also greatly influenced him in this time, as he wrote more to religious standards. He mostly did this on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday mornings.

1729 1741 – The Collegium Musicum

Bach had many disputes with the school council. The council did not appreciate or even care to have Bach as their music teacher any longer. Bach then began to devote more time to activities outside Leipzig. Neither Bach nor the council wanted him to stay as the music teacher in Leipzig. After leaving his teaching duties to his junior colleague Petzold the council reprimanded Bach in August 1730. Bach did not try to justify and so the council tried to diminish his income. Bach asked a friend in Danzig to find him a post where he could escape the envy and persecution, which he had to face in Leipzig.

If it were not for Bach s good friend Gesner Leipzig would have lost Bach forever. Gesner had taken over as headmaster of the Thomasschule in 1729 and he used his influence to settle the situation between Bach and the council, and help to secure him with better working conditions.

In 1733 Gesner left Leipzig to take an appointment as professor of the University of G ttingen. His successor was Johann August Ernesti who was a former member of the council. Ernesti had new ideas on education. He said Classic and Theology were out of date, and there must be more stress on subjects that would be useful in secular life. This led to disputes with Bach who particularly wanted more time to train his choirs and musicians.

The renewal of disputes with the school and church authorities, along with the bad feelings associated was too much discouragement for Bach to be an eager teacher of music at the Thomasschule. The Collegium Musicum was a form of salvation for Bach. He became its permanent director in 1729. Secular musical organizations, such as the Collegium Musicum, were run mainly by the students of the city s famed university.

Bach made very good friends with a coffee shop owner by the name of Gottfried Zimmermann. He began giving concerts at his close friend s shop weekly. Two types of concerts were given, these being ordinaire and extraordinaire. The first were for everyday occasions, and the second for special celebrations.

Bach remained the director of the Collegium Musica until the death of Zimmermann in 1741. During this period Bach wrote some of his greatest works such as the Goldberg Variations, The Passions of Saint John and Mathew, and the Christmas Oratorio.

1741 1750 – The Introspective Years

During the latter years of his life Bach gradually withdrew inwards, producing some of the most profound kinds of baroque musical form.

In 1747 on his way to visit his son and daughter-in-law in Berlin, Bach stopped in Potsdam. He was invited to attend at Sans Souci, the Royal Palace of King Frederick the Great of Prussia, where another of his sons was the Court Harpsichordist. On Bach s arrival, Frederick was about to begin his evening concert, in which he himself played the flute with his orchestra. Frederick cancelled the concert, and said to his orchestra Gentleman, old Bach is here. The King gave Bach a tour of his court, and asked him to play his new fortepianos. The King then asked Bach to play along a theme he would give. Bach jumped at the occasion, and gave an astonishing performance.

When returning to Leipzig Bach decided to take the Frederick s theme and turn it into a composition. He added a sonata for violin and flute and entitled it A Musical Offering. He sent it to the Court with a letter of dedication.

After joining the Mitzler society Bach decided to use a canonic variation on the Christmas hymn Vom Himmel hoch as his opening dedication.

In 1749 Bach began to lose his sight. The Leipzig Council began looking around for a successor. After two cataracts operations were performed on Bach s eyes in March and April of 1750 he got a serious infection which brought his health to an all time low. Bach spent the remaining months of his life in a darkened room revising his chorale fantasias with the aid of Altnikol, his son-in-law. It was under these circumstances that he composed his final chorale fantasia Before Thy Throne O Lord I Stand. Bach also revised many of his fugues until his passing in July of 1750.

Conclusion

Overall Bach was one of the most influential, and greatest composers of all time. He set new standards for all composers following him. He lead a happy life in which he was able to make a good living, and help provide for many children which would also make a good life in music. Bach has been listened to since his death, and will be listened, admired, and copied for years and maybe centuries to come.

Bibliography

Volume Library, Vol. 1, Pg. 997 1999

Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 3, Pg. s 15-18 1989

+ Microsoft Encarta 95, 1995

http://www.temple.edu/music/composers/bach.html

http://www.jsbach.org

http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Strasse/9570/bach/index.html

http://www.astro.umd.edu/ sgeiger/xB.html


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