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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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Bach: St. John Passion / Kozena, Padmore, Rattle
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Berlin Philharmonic  
Catalog: 140031   Number of Discs: 3
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Work: Suite for Orchestra no 2 in B minor, BWV 1067

 

About This Work
In is unknown when exactly Johann Sebastian Bach wrote his Suite for Orchestra No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067. It is a vibrant and fast-paced work, leaning towards the entertainment side of pure music. This suite is one of four such works that the Read more composer wrote in his lifetime. Bach was not even slightly opposed to writing music for more money or power, but was less forthcoming with light music; he did not like it much. All of the lighter music he wrote was never published, including these overtures. (Telemann, the most famous composer working in Germany at the time, wrote over 130 surviving suites for orchestra, and probably wrote over 1000 in his lifetime.) These works were good for business, but Bach was more comfortable writing church music or works featuring striking fugal challenges. This suite gave him a chance to write for transverse flute, which had just begun to be in fashion. These four works are fine examples of a lighter style and display some of the interesting ways that Bach would use to approach the festive side of music making. The suite is a form derived from a collection of French ballets and operas. They usually begin with an overture, regal and poised, followed by a collection of dances. French music and culture was the rage for much of Germany and other European countries. However, Bach's ear seems to have been more easily fixed on Italy. The music of Vivaldi and the Scarlattis (father and son) are constantly asserting themselves in Bach's music. He seems to have been attracted to the Italian brilliance of harmony, and the way they could make speedy ostinatos inject more excitement into an already lively beat. It was simply the most visceral music in Europe at the time, and when Bach added it to anything, sparks flew. In his Suite for Orchestra No. 2 one can hear Vivaldi's concerto style in the Sarabande and the Minuet. Nothing is turgid about this piece. It was probably written around 1720, certainly before 1723, when he began work at Leipzig. He was usually too busy to write much secular music, unless it was of very high quality. Listeners should not shy away from these orchestral suites because they are not aching with the profundity of Art of Fugue; they are simply charming, summery pieces.

-- AllMusic.com Read less

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