Bach, Johann Sebastian

Arranger & Composer

b Eisenach, Thuringia, central Germany 1685, d Leipzig, Germany 1750. Beginning as a choirboy, cared for by musical elder brother and with initial training at Ohrdurf, Lüneburg and Lübeck (under Buxtehude), he advanced to positions as an orchestral violinist, church organist and Kapellmeister (Weimar 1708–17), chief court musician (Cöthen, 1717–23), and (in Leipzig 1723–50) Cantor of a municipal school with responsibility for the music of neighbouring churches. With skill in many instruments, he was the supreme keyboard player of his generation, excelling on the clavichord (his favourite), harpsichord and organ. As well as his compositions for organ, alone or with orchestra, he produced for the church cantatas, passion music and (since the Lutheran church retained RC traditions at this point) masses. His last years were troubled by blindness; several of his 20 children (by two successive wives) were also noted musicians. In Bach’s lifetime he was known mainly as a learned composer, fine organist, keyboard improviser and teacher, though ‘he always shrank from popular applause’; even after his death, and the profound respect given him by Haydn, Mozart and Handel, his achievements were hardly recognised until Mendelssohn in Germany and S S Wesley in England revived an appreciation of them, which has steadily grown since the 19th century. His chorales in particular have been valued as the basis of several enduring hymn tunes. He has come to be seen generally as ‘the father of modern music’, and ‘the most distinguished musician of the most distinguished family in the history of music…His faith commitment is reflected in the words he wrote at the close of nearly all of his works: Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be praise)’ (Harry Eskew, USA). Nos.119D*, 329, 407*, 439*=659*, 556*, 602=709, 730*, 888*, 961.