Johann Sebastian Bach

Biography

Born: 1685   Died: 1750   Country: Germany   Period: Baroque
Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities of his compositional style -- which often included religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together in a Read more profound puzzle of special codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him the greatest composer of all time.

Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685. He was taught to play the violin and harpsichord by his father, Johann Ambrosius, a court trumpeter in the service of the Duke of Eisenach. Young Johann was not yet ten when his father died, leaving him orphaned. He was taken in by his recently married oldest brother, Johann Christoph, who lived in Ohrdruf. Because of his excellent singing voice, Bach attained a position at the Michaelis monastery at Lüneberg in 1700. His voice changed a short while later, but he stayed on as an instrumentalist. After taking a short-lived post in Weimar in 1703 as a violinist, Bach became organist at the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt (1703-1707). His relationship with the church council was tenuous as the young musician often shirked his responsibilities, preferring to practice the organ. One account describes a four-month leave granted Bach, to travel to Lubeck where he would familiarize himself with the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. He returned to Arnstadt long after was expected and much to the dismay of the council. He then briefly served at St. Blasius in Mühlhausen as organist, beginning in June 1707, and married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, that fall. Bach composed his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV 565) and his first cantatas while in Mühlhausen, but quickly outgrew the musical resources of the town. He next took a post for the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar in 1708, serving as court organist and playing in the orchestra, eventually becoming its leader in 1714. He wrote many organ compositions during this period, including his Orgel-Büchlein. Owing to politics between the Duke and his officials, Bach left Weimar and secured a post in December 1717 as Kapellmeister at Cöthen. In 1720, Bach's wife suddenly died, leaving him with four children (three others had died in infancy). A short while later, he met his second wife, soprano Anna Magdalena Wilcke, whom he married in December 1721. She would bear 13 children, though only five would survive childhood. The six Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046-51), among many other secular works, date from his Cöthen years. Bach became Kantor of the Thomas School in Leipzig in May 1723 and held the post until his death. It was in Leipzig that he composed the bulk of his religious and secular cantatas. Bach eventually became dissatisfied with this post, not only because of its meager financial rewards, but also because of onerous duties and inadequate facilities. Thus, he took on other projects, chief among which was the directorship of the city's Collegium Musicum, an ensemble of professional and amateur musicians who gave weekly concerts, in 1729. He also became music director at the Dresden Court in 1736, in the service of Frederick Augustus II; though his duties were vague and apparently few, they allowed him freedom to compose what he wanted. Bach began making trips to Berlin in the 1740s, not least because his son Carl Philipp Emanuel served as a court musician there. In May 1747, the composer was warmly received by King Frederick II of Prussia, for whom he wrote the gloriously abstruse Musical Offering (BWV 1079). Among Bach's last works was his 1749 Mass in B minor. Besieged by diabetes, he died on July 28, 1750. Read less
Bach: Transcriptions of Concertos by Vivaldi & Marcello / Sophie Yates
Release Date: 05/28/2013   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 796   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Lutheran Masses / Rilling
Release Date: 05/27/2008   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 7027   Number of Discs: 2
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Bach: Secular Cantatas Vol  4 - Academic Cantatas  / Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 2001   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Six Trio Sonatas / Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players
Release Date: 06/24/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 803   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach - La Fantasia Della Ragione / Quadro Hypothesis
Release Date: 01/27/2009   Label: Profil  
Catalog: 8034   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Brandenburg Concerto no 1

 

About This Work
The Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046, is the first of six great concertos which, taken in combination, add up the most complex and artistically successful failed job application in recorded history. They were written around 1721 and Read more dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg in March of the same year. Bach's position at Cöthen was becoming less desirable to him; his wife had died in 1720 while Bach accompanied his employer, Prince Leopold of Anthalt-Cöthen, to Carlsbad. The prince was also reallocating funds from music to his palace guard, no doubt because the prince's new wife was not a music lover.

Christian Ludwig probably heard Bach perform in 1719, or perhaps earlier at the spas in Carlsbad, where Prince Leopold would have Bach accompany him. Bach sent a beautifully rendered score of the concertos to the Margrave in 1721, suspecting that the royal might be interested in giving him a job, but there is no known response to Bach's political overture.

The first concerto is, like all of Bach's concertos, indebted to the methods of the Italians. Vivaldi was particularly attractive to the German composer, who eagerly copied out Vivaldi's scores in order to understand his use of contrast, rhythmic propulsion, and orchestration. The Brandenburg Concertos were not as unusual as was once thought; Italian composers created concertos for widely varying combinations of instruments, and Bach's shifting textures have their parallels in works by other composers. But the handling of the Italian concerto material went unmatched throughout the Baroque era. One unique, perhaps non-Italian idea in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 is Bach's use of hunting horns. The concerto also calls for three oboes and a bassoon, as well as continuo strings and the violino piccolo. The sound of the horns stands out, but the composer manages to make them blend into the ensemble through the use of multiple winds.

Though the first movement does not have a tempo marking, performances of the four-movement work are about 20 minutes in duration. Each movement has a brisk pace and extraordinary counterpoint that inventively shades and blurs the contrast between the small concertino group and the tutti ensemble. Along with the horn, the violino piccolo seems to have been included in order to draw more attention to the innovative qualities of the music. The Brandenburg Concertos contain some of Bach's most brilliant counterpoint, and the attention-grabbing orchestration of the first concerto has not diminished the work's value at all. It is among Bach's best works.

-- John Keillor Read less

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