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 / Joshua Bell
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 308779   Number of Discs: 1
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Bach: Orchestral Works & Concertos / Kuijken, La Petite Bande [5-CD Set]
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Dhm Deutsche Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 7683852   Number of Discs: 5
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Bach: Partitas / Igor Levit
Release Date: 08/25/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 307630   Number of Discs: 2
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Bach: Complete Edition
Release Date: 09/02/2014   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 1116165   Number of Discs: 142
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Glenn Gould Plays Bach
Release Date: 06/12/2012   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 683932   Number of Discs: 6
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Work: Suite for Cello solo no 2 in D minor, BWV 1008

 

About This Work
The Suite in D minor is one of two minor-key suites among the six for solo cello. With this suite, Bach seems to aspire to an almost Beethovenian mixture of tragedy and defiance, all within his usual framework of strict procedures. There are six Read more movements: a Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, double Minuet, and Gigue.

The Prelude reminds this listener of a great Bach organ toccata (and some observers, indeed, have speculated on links between Bach's organ improvisations and his string writing). Bach uses a simple arpeggio figure to build phrases of ever-increasing complexity, as in the parallel passage in the first suite. But here the minor-key arpeggio that sets the tone for the work is used to gradually build tension as it climbs through the cello's range in a series of rising waves. The movement builds to a high-pitched, tense climax, followed by an improviser's silence while the echoes die out. Finally we return to the low strings for a coda that sums up the movement in small, intimate terms.

Each of the movements that follow offers its own take on tragedy and defiance, but the moments that best characterize this suite include the unusual and dramatic double Minuet and the resigned Sarabande. Mstislav Rostropovich memorably described the latter movement as an essay in "white-hot solitude," and its stylized dirge and ringing open fifths recall the laments of the great masters of the French viol tradition. This suite, perhaps above all the others, compels the listener's attention through the contrast between the graceful and courtly language of the French dances that constitute the suite form and the dark, sinewy meat of Bach's own compositional thinking. At the end the Gigue wraps things up with angular rhythms and violent, unrelenting passions. But Bach isn't done with us yet; this movement prepares for the sunniness of the next suite in the set.

-- AllMusic.com Read less

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