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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: The Art of Fugue / Angela Hewitt
Release Date: 10/14/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67980   Number of Discs: 2
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Glenn Gould - The Complete Bach Collection
Release Date: 10/30/2012   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 196114   Number of Discs: 44
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Bach: St. Matthew Passion / Kozena, Padmore, Rattle
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Berlin Philharmonic  
Catalog: 140021   Number of Discs: 3
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Bach: The Six French Suites / Sergey Schepkin
Release Date: 11/11/2014   Label: Steinway & Sons  
Catalog: 30046   Number of Discs: 2
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Vivaldi, Bach: Magnificats, Concerti / Savall
Release Date: 12/09/2014   Label: Alia Vox  
Catalog: 9909   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Suite for Orchestra no 3 in D major, BWV 1068

 

About This Work
Johann Sebastian Bach probably wrote his Suite for Orchestra No 3 in D major, BWV 1068 in 1731. This was not the sort of music he normally wrote; it is lighter fare than his normally more rigorous, sacred or fugal fare. Suites for orchestra were also Read more called overtures, and they were an all-purpose form of entertainment, featuring some pretensions of French culture, which was the most sought-after affectation among the royals of Europe in the eighteenth century. The genre was a collection of excerpts from French ballets and operas, and the arrangement of the form was an overture (the beginning of a stage work) followed by a collection of dances. Garden parties, trade fairs, and every other sort of celebration were good spots for these pieces. Bach wrote only four of these works; it was not the sort of thing he did naturally. However, the local groups of players in Leipzig, called Collegium Musicum, required music; he had been appointed its director in 1729, on top of his normal duties at the Thomas School. His political position in Leipzig was usually tenuous because he was frequently petitioning the city council for a better wage, better teaching and conducting conditions, and more money for music in general. For this he probably needed to commit to acts of good faith, and music such this Orchestral Suite in D major would have been exactly what the city council and citizens enjoyed. This work was most likely revived from a similar piece he wrote around 1720 in Cöthen. Its Leipzig premiere probably took place "at the Zimmermann Coffee House in the Cather-Strasse from 8 to 10 on Friday." This unearthed advertisement for the concert features the D major Orchestral Suite. For someone who stood back from the world of light, entertainment music, Bach was good at writing it. This suite uses a rich blend of timbre, featuring oboes, trumpets, timpani, strings, and continuo. Its second movement, Air, (also known as "Air on the G String") centers around one of the most well known melodies he ever wrote. Bach approaches the music with his personal instincts intact, and leans as much toward Italy as much as France in this material. The visceral, propulsive nature of Vivaldi's concertos find their way into all these orchestral suites. BWV 1068 is a total five joyous movements, about 19 minutes in duration.

-- AllMusic.com Read less

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