Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest composers in

Western musical history. More than 1,000 of his compositions
survive. Some examples are the Art of Fugue, Brandenburg

Concerti, the Goldberg Variations for Harpsichord, the Mass in B-

Minor, the motets, the Easter and Christmas oratorios, Toccata in F

Major, French Suite No 5, Fugue in G Major, Fugue in G Minor
("The Great"), St. Matthew Passion, and Jesu Der Du Meine Seele.

He came from a family of musicians. There were over 53 musicians
in his family over a period of 300 years.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany on

March 21, 1685. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a
talented violinist, and taught his son the basic skills for string
playing; another relation, the organist at Eisenach\'s most important
church, instructed the young boy on the organ. In 1695 his parents
died and he was only 10 years old. He went to go stay with his older
brother, Johann Christoph, who was a professional organist at

Ohrdruf. Johann Christoph was a professional organist, and
continued his younger brother\'s education on that instrument, as
well as on the harpsichord. After several years in this arrangement,

Johann Sebastian won a scholarship to study in Luneberg, Northern

Germany, and so left his brother\'s tutelage.

A master of several instruments while still in his teens,

Johann Sebastian first found employment at the age of 18 as a"lackey and violinist" in a court orchestra in Weimar; soon after, he
took the job of organist at a church in Arnstadt. Here, as in later
posts, his perfectionist tendencies and high expectations of other
musicians - for example, the church choir - rubbed his colleagues
the wrong way, and he was embroiled in a number of hot disputes
during his short tenure. In 1707, at the age of 22, Bach became fed
up with the lousy musical standards of Arnstadt (and the working
conditions) and moved on to another organist job, this time at the

St. Blasius Church in Muhlhausen. The same year, he married his
cousin Maria Barbara Bach.

Again caught up in a running conflict between factions of his
church, Bach fled to Weimar after one year in Muhlhausen. In

Weimar, he assumed the post of organist and concertmaster in the
ducal chapel. He remained in Weimar for nine years, and there he
composed his first wave of major works, including organ
showpieces and cantatas.

By this stage in his life, Bach had developed a reputation as a
brilliant, if somewhat inflexible, musical talent. His proficiency on
the organ was unequaled in Europe - in fact, he toured regularly as a
solo virtuoso - and his growing mastery of compositional forms,
like the fugue and the canon, was already attracting interest from
the musical establishment - which, in his day, was the Lutheran
church. But, like many individuals of uncommon talent, he was
never very good at playing the political game, and therefore suffered
periodic setbacks in his career. He was passed over for a major
position - which was Kapellmeister (Chorus Master) of Weimar - in

1716; partly in reaction to this snub, he left Weimar the following
year to take a job as court conductor in Anhalt-Cothen. There, he
slowed his output of church cantatas, and instead concentrated on
instrumental music - the Cothen period produced, among other
masterpieces, the Brandenburg Concerti.

While at Cothen, Bach\'s wife, Maria Barbara, died. Bach
remarried soon after - to Anna Magdalena - and forged ahead with
his work. He also forged ahead in the child-rearing department,
producing 13 children with his new wife - six of whom survived
childhood - to add to the four children he had raised with Maria

Barbara. Several of these children would become fine composers in
their own right - particularly three sons: Wilhelm Friedmann, Carl

Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian.

After conducting and composing for the court orchestra at

Cothen for seven years, Bach was offered the highly prestigious
post of cantor (music director) of St. Thomas\' Church in Leipzig -
after it had been turned down by two other composers. The job was
a demanding one; he had to compose cantatas for the St. Thomas
and St. Nicholas churches, conduct the choirs, oversee the musical
activities of numerous municipal churches, and teach Latin in the

St. Thomas choir school. Accordingly, he had to get along with the

Leipzig church authorities, which proved rocky going. But he
persisted, polishing the musical component of church services in

Leipzig and continuing to write music of various kinds with a level
of craft and emotional profundity that was his alone.

Bach remained at his post in Leipzig until