- NAME: Johann Sebastian Bach
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter
- BIRTH DATE: March 21, 1685
- DEATH DATE: July 28, 1750
- EDUCATION: St. Michael's School (Luneburg, Germany)
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany
- PLACE OF DEATH: Leipzig, Germany
- Full Name: Johann Sebastian Bach
- AKA: Johann S. Bach
- AKA: Johann Bach
Best Known For
A magnificent classical composer, Johann Sebastian Bach is revered through the ages for his work's musical complexities and stylistic innovations.
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Watch a short video about the final days of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
Raised in a family of musicians, Johann Sebastian Bach played the harpsichord and organ from an early age. Deeply religious, he composed sacred music to be played in churches.
Richard Wagner wrote his first opera, "The Fairies," at the age of 21. He used all elements of theater, from music to lighting, to create "total art work."
Franz Liszt is regarded as possibly the greatest piano virtuoso of all time. A child prodigy, he toured as a concert pianist until he began teaching and composing.
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After a year in Mühlhausen, Bach won the post of organist at the court of the Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. He wrote many church cantatas and some of his best compositions for the organ while working for the duke. During his time at Weimar, Bach wrote "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor," one of his most popular pieces for the organ. He also composed the cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat," or Heart and Mouth and Deed. One section of this cantata, called "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in English,
has become especially famous.
In 1717, Bach accepted a position with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. But Duke Wilhelm Ernst had no interest in letting Bach go and even imprisoned him for several weeks when he tried to leave. In early December, Bach was released and allowed to go to Cöthen. Prince Leopold had a passion for music. He played the violin and often bought musical scores while traveling abroad.
While at Cöthen, Bach devoted much of his time to instrumental music, composing concertos for orchestras, dance suites and sonatas for multiple instruments. He also wrote pieces for solo instruments, including some of his finest violin works. His secular compositions still reflected his deep commitment to his faith with Bach often writing the initials I.N.J. for the Latin In Nomine Jesu, or "in the name of Jesus," on his sheet music.
In tribute to the Duke of Brandenburg, Bach created a series of orchestra concertos, which became known as the "Brandenburg Concertos," in 1721. These concertos are considered to some of Bach's greatest works. That same year, Prince Leopold got married, and his new bride discouraged the prince's interest in music. Bach completed the first book of "The Well-Tempered Clavier" around this time. With students in mind, he put together this collection of keyboard pieces to help them learn certain techniques and methods. Bach had turn his attentions to finding work when the prince dissolved his orchestra in 1723.
After auditioning for a new position in Leipzig, Bach signed a contract to become the new organist and teacher at St. Thomas Church. He was required to teach at the Thomas School as a part of his position as well. With new music needed for services each week, Bach threw himself into writing cantatas. The "Christmas Oratorio," for example, is a series of six cantatas that reflect on the holiday.
Bach also created musical interpretations of the Bible using choruses, arias and recitatives. These works are referred as his "Passions," the most famous of which is "Passion According to St. Matthew." This musical composition, written in 1727 or 1729, tells the story of chapters 26 and 27 of Gospel of Matthew. The piece was performed as part of a Good Friday service.
One of his later religious masterworks is "Mass in B minor." He had developed sections of it, known as Kyrie and Gloria, in 1733, which were presented to the Elector of Saxony. Bach did not finish the composition, a musical version of a traditional Latin mass, until 1749. The complete work was not performed during his lifetime.
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