Johann Christian Bach Biography

(1735–1782)
Johann Christian Bach was a galant-style German composer of Italian opera during the early Classical period, and the youngest son of famed Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach.

Synopsis

Johann Christian Bach was born on September 5, 1735, in Leipzig, Germany, to famed Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach and his second wife, Anna Magdalena. In 1760, Johann Christian Bach was appointed organist at the Cathedral of Milan and began composing Italian operas in his spare time. In 1762, he was appointed opera composer of the King's Theater in London, England. In 1764, he and a friend developed the Bach-Abel Concerts, which ran until 1782. He became known for popularizing the galant style of music, a return to more classical aspects after the lavish Baroque period, and became one of the most popular composers in England during the 18th century. Today, he's one of the highest regarded composers in history. Bach died on January 1, 1782, in London, England.

Early Years

Johann Christian Bach was born on September 5, 1735, in Leipzig, Germany. He was the youngest of his parents' surviving sons. Johann Christian Bach's father was famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Christian Bach's mother, Anna Magdalena, was his father's second wife.

When Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, Johann Christian Bach relocated to Berlin, where he studied music under his much older half-brother, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach. A keyboardist for Frederick the Great (Frederick II of Prussia), Carl helped Johann hone his clavier-playing skills and also taught him how to compose. By the end of his stay in Berlin, Bach was performing his own compositions to public acclaim.

Italy

In 1756, when he was 20 years old, Johann Christian Bach moved to Italy and became a private performer for Milanese nobleman Count Litta. A patron of the arts, Litta funded Bach's further musical education. Under teacher Padre Martini of Bologna, Bach strove to achieve a greater maturity in his compositions.

Bach converted to Catholicism in 1760. His family, being Lutheran, strongly objected to his conversion, and stopped speaking to him because of it. But Bach's conversion also led to a new opportunity, as he was afterward appointed organist of the Cathedral of Milan. Since his hours at the cathedral were reasonable, Bach had free time to work on other projects, and he began composing Italian operas in his downtime. , His Artaserse made it to the stage in Turin in 1760. Two years later, Bach's opera Alessandro nell'Indie was produced in Naples.

England

In 1762, Bach left Italy when Director Signora Mattei offered him an appointment to the King's Theater in London, England. There, he succeeded Cocchi as the theater's opera composer. Bach's first opera to be produced in London was Orione, which premiered in 1763 and met with great success. That same year, Bach's opera Zanaida was equally well-received, resulting in his appointment as Queen Charlotte's music master. In addition to writing Italian operas for the King's Theater, Bach composed chamber and orchestral music, along with the occasional cantata. He became known for popularizing the galant style of music, a return to more classical aspects after the lavish Baroque period. By this time, Johann Christian Bach had become one of the most popular composers in England during the 18th century.

Bach met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1764, when Mozart was just 8 years old, following a performance by the child musical prodigy at the English court. The two musicians became fast friends. Mozart would later cite Bach as an instrumental influence in his work. Also in 1764, Bach joined forces with his childhood friend, musician and composer Carl Friedrich Abel. Together, Bach and Abel developed a series of public concerts—aptly called the Bach-Abel Concerts—consisting of 10-15 shows performed at the same time every week. Their series, which ran until 1782, established the classical concert series format that is still largely used today.

Later Life and Death

As Bach's work gradually fell out of style in London, he kept performing, mainly for free and at benefit concerts. Near the end of his life, Bach went broke when his housekeeper ran off with most of his money.

With more than 90 symphonies to his name, Johann Christian Bach died in debt on January 1, 1782, in London, England. Mostly forgotten by the Londoners who had once lauded him, he was buried in a mass grave at the St. Pancras churchyard in Somers Town, central London. Today, Johann Christian Bach is one of the highest regarded composers in history.

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