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Bach: Life and Music

He was a musical genius with thousands of musical compositions written in his lifetime. He spent his life in Germany, primarily Leipzig, and worked at a school for the city. He is considered to be one of the greatest musical composers, and composed till the day he died. An unruly youth who greatly disliked authority, he had a strong will and mind of his own. Well liked with many friends, yet no one really knew his inner workings, or how he thought. Of the thousands of musical pieces he composed, few were published in his life. This was a man who composed in great numbers, had reasons for doing so, and lived a rather simple, middle class ife.

Johann Sebastian Bach (J. S. ) was born March 21st 1685, in Eisenach, Germany. His father was Johann Ambrosius, a court trumpeter for the Duke of Eisenach and the director of the musicians of the town of Eisenach. His family had been well known for many generations as a very musically talented family. He started school when he was eight and when he was nine he was sent to live with his older brother. His parents had died after losing two other children, a son and a daughter. His brother, Johann Christoph Bach, let J. S. live with him in Ohrdruf, Germany.

Under the teachings f his brother Bach quickly mastered the organ and harpsichord. During his stay with his brother, Bach attended school and was encouraged by his older brother to study composition. Soon Bach could no longer stay with his brother, for his brothers family was getting too big. Bach traveled with a school friend, on foot, to a North-German musical center in Luneberg, Germany. At this time J. S. was 15-years-old, and had a beautiful soprano voice which helped him get into the school. It was his violin playing, which he developed while there, that kept him at the school after he lost his soprano voice.

He stayed in Luneberg until he was nearly eighteen. He was now looking for a job. He wanted the post as organist of Arnstadt where a new organ was being built. After a short period as a violinist in Weimar he was indeed offered the post in Arnstadt. However, problems arose when Bach composed a piece full of “strange” new sounds for a church service. The Council decided to be lenient with him until he refused to work with the boys choir and was found to have a complaint against him for entertaining a young woman in the organ loft of the church. Thus was the end of his first job.

He moved on to Muhlhausen and married his cousin Maria Barbara on October 17, 1707. He got a job in Muhlhausen and set to work on the poor facilities he had to work with there. His efforts here brought about his first cantata Gott ist Mein Konig (God is My King), the only one of his cantatas to be published in his life time. This was thanks to the Councils desire for publicity and prestige. A religious controversy soon arose and the music in Muhlhausen was in a state of decay. Bach. was off to find another job. On June 25, 1708, the Duke of Weimar offered Bach a post among the Dukes Court hamber musicians.

Bach and his wife moved to the small town of Weimar. While in Weimar Bach composed music exclusively for the organ, which he played. By 1714 Bach had moved up in status and was now the leader in the orchestra, second only to the old Kapellmeister. When the old Kapellmeister died Bach had hoped to get his position, but when he was passed over for the job, he started looking elsewhere for work. Bach was introduced the Court of Anhalt-Kothen, and then offered him the post of Kapellmeister, which he accepted. When he put in his request to leave the Weimar Court the

Duke of Weimar was so infuriated that he had Bach put in jail. He stayed there only a month, but while there he composed. He prepared a cycle of organ chorale preludes for a whole year, later published as the Orgelbuchlein. His master at the Court of Anhalt-Kothen was Prince Leopold, a lover of music who had traveled all over Europe enjoying the many types of music of that time. During his time at Kothen Bach wrote most of his chamber music: violin concertos, sonata, keyboard music. Bach and the Prince shared a companionship because of the Princes talents and willingness to treat all he musicians of his Court equally.

Bach began traveling with the Prince, but on one of these trips he returned to find his wife had died while he was away. Leaving Bach with four motherless children. Bach continued his work with Prince Leopold, composing and performing cantatas for the Princes birthday and the New Year. Two cantatas or sung dramas for each event, one sacred and one secular. In December 1721, Bach remarried a soprano, Anna Magdalena. She was very kind to his children, a good housekeeper, and she took interest in his work, often helping him by neatly copying out his manuscripts.

They remained married for twenty-eight happy years, and had thirteen children. Unfortunately few of their children lived to become adults. A week after Bach was married his master, Prince Leopold also was married. This caused a lot of friction in the Court, because the Princes new wife was not as interested in music as the Prince had been. Bach decided to look elsewhere for work again. This also had to do with the concern for his sons education, there being no formal education in Kothen. Bach moved his family to Leipzig. Bach spent a large part of his life and career in Leipzig, Germany.

He was there from the age of thirty-eight in 1723, until his death in 1750, when he was 65 years old. He came to Leipzig to be the new cantor or director of church music, leaving behind a more prestigious position as kapellmeister or orchestra leader of Cothen. The reasons for his leaving were that J. S. had been told favorably about Leipzig and there would be necessary educational facilities for his sons there. His arrival to Leipzig was a major event. There was an article published in one North German newspaper that described the event. Last Saturday at noon, four carts laden with goods nd chattels belonging to the former Kapellmeister to the Court of K then arrived in Leipzig and at two in the afternoon, he and his family arrived in two coaches and moved into their newly decorated lodgings in the school building”. (internet) Bach did not have a good start in Leipzig. The home they lived in was not as nice as you would think it would be. They only had sixty boarders at the school, and most of those were poor and staying there on a charitable basis. The students were supposed to make up the choirs for the churches in at least four of the surrounding cities.

They also sang at funerals and in the ity streets for alms. Bach did not like the structured life that he was forced to lead there, and soon friction occurred between Bach and the town council. On a few occasions Bach left to visit his son in Potsdam. Upon returning he would find the council quite upset with him, but would refuse to explain himself. He almost quit, but a close friend persuaded him not to. Bach got into some trouble while he was at Leipzig. He went on many out of town trips and left one of his students in charge each time. When the school board got upset and asked him about it he refused to justify himself.

He would have been thrown out except for the help of a friend who had ties and had some strings pulled to keep Bach employed. After this friend left Bach quit. Bach composed many of his pieces for the specific groups that were to perform them. Thus he did a lot of chorale pieces when he worked at the school in Leipzig. He also did many organ pieces for himself to perform at the church in Arnstadt. In his later years he composed many violin pieces for himself and vocal pieces for his second wife, Anna Magdalena. He composed a piece for King Fredrich the Great of Prussia, with a flute solo for Fredrich.

Bach always had a reason for composing the pieces he did. He always had a performer or group in mind who he was composing for. Bach continued this work until 1741, when he went to visit his son again at the court of Fredrick the Great, and then returned to Leipzig. For a time he withdrew into himself and produced some truly profound music of the baroque musical form. He soon joined the Mitzler society, a society devoted to the promotion of musical science. Even after Bach retired he continued to live in Leipzig. He did musical works for the Mitzler society of which he had been persuaded to join.

This was when Bach started his work within the Collegium Musicum, in which he composed music for two types of concerts given in Leipzig: the ordinaire and extraordinaire. Not much is known about the ordinaire concerts, but there are many newspaper accounts about the extraordinaire concerts. These concerts charged admission and sometimes featured distinguished visiting artists. Bachs eyesight started to severely decline in the last few years of his life. This is thought to be due to the fact that he spent many nights working on his musical compositions by poor candlelight.

Even after two cataract surgeries his eyesight never improved much. His last piece was “Die Kunst der Fuge” (“The Art of the Fugue”). After that the deterioration of his eyesight inhibited him from composing on his own any longer. The two surgeries he had didnt help any, they in fact made his eyesight worse and he got an infection from one of the operations. He spent the last few years of his life going over his many compositions and perfecting them with the help of Altnikol, his son-in-law. He died while in the middle of composing a final fugue. Bach has created a huge multitude of musical compositions.

It has been said that it would take one of todays competent music copyists – writing continuously – some forty years to replicate the hundreds of works and thousands of manuscript pages which represent the totality of Bachs lifetime achievements. He created quite a few pieces on a whim. It is said that many of Bachs pieces were demanded, if not forced upon him to compose. The type of music he most often composed was refereed to as Gebrauchsmusik, or “music on demand”. Music was needed for entertainment, at parties, funerals, weddings, church services, and many other ccasions.

Bachs composing process was very impressive. If you look through his original copies you will see very little second guessing in judgment, unlike the frenzy, struggle, and strain that was apparent in Beethoven and Chopins works. Even Debussy made the observation: “We shall seek in vain for one fault in taste in all that amount of work. ” (qtd. in Bettmann 40) Giving his impression that all of Bachs music is tasteful and not a single piece is without its own beauty. Bach was a great composer, although not in the same way as other composers of his time.

Bach was a great composer, whose pieces where musically simple yet tended to comprehend Bach was a composer, whose pieces where musically simple, yettended to comprehend great emotional feeling to the audience, or listener. Bach may not have been a creative genius, but he was a great musical genius none the less. His pieces always had a focus or reason for being written. He did a lot of variations on other composers pieces. Bach did write a few great fugues and many great cantatas, and his musical abilities were unsurpassable in his time. Bachs compositions were written based on the time in his life and his station at that ime.

He wrote many secular pieces for the church and even a Fugue for someones death. Bach also tended to learn his different styles of music by copying works done by other composers such as Handel. He greatly admired the other composers of his time. Bach tended to write his pieces for a church service or special event rather than just because he felt like it. His pieces became progressively old fashioned. That was the only great criticism of his musical compositions. Most artistic familiars did not get any great acclaim for their works until after their death.

Bach on the other hand was critically acclaimed most of his musical career. He was well known for his composing capabilities and his musical playing talents. J. S. Bach was a man of great musical talents and composed in mass multitudes in order to fulfill the needs of the society around him. He also enjoyed the work with music and shall be forever immortalized for his abilities as a composer and a musician. Bach went beyond the norm for a composer and made music that could touch a persons emotional depths. He was by far one of the greatest artists to have ever made music.

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