THE DIVINE MUSIC OF J.S. BACH Toccata und Fuge D minor duminică 7 iunie 2009 05:27:54
Born in Eisenach (Thuringia) on March 21st 1685, Johann was the youngest child of eight. His father was a court trumpeter. It is assumed that he learned violin and basic musical theory from his father at an early age. The Bach family had produced musicians for generations and little J.S. was not going to be an exception. As a young child Bach attended the same school that Luther did 190 years before. By age nine he had lost both of his parents, who died within a year of each other, so the orphaned child went to live with his eldest brother Johann Cristoph who was an organist in Ohrdruf. Here Johann had his first lessons on the keyboard. In the spring of 1700 it was decided that his brother could no longer support him and he left for Lueneburg, 200 miles away, with his friend George Erdmann. J.S.Bach 1685-1750
Back then children of poor parents were allowed to attend the Latin school (St.Michel’s) in Lueneburg free of charge provided they sang in the church choir and at weddings, festivals, etc. There was one small catch - this was allowed as long as they could maintain a treble voice. Bach’s voice was the first to change but luckily he was allowed to play in the orchestra. Soon after being dropped from the choir Bach ended his studies. Dropping out of school did not hinder his musical education because Lueneburg boasted a city library of more than 1000 manuscripts by over 180 composers. In addition to the massive library Bach was exposed to French music at the Ritteracademie, the sister school to St.Michels. Either Bach was tired of school or he could no longer afford it, but in 1703 he applied for the position as organist at the Jacobikirche near Halle. Due to his fast growing fame in the region he was hired immediately. But at the last minute the position was revoked by the local Duke. From Halle he went to Weimar where he received an appointment as court musician by the duke. This meant playing violin in the private chapel and behaving more or less like a servant. The position of bowing down to a duke did not interest Bach all that much; after a few weeks he requested a new placement as organist, was denied and moved on.
Most of Bach's working life was spent as a Kapellmeister of various important churches. This meant he was responsible for the music performed at Sunday services in addition to teaching Latin a task he did not readily accept. Arnstadt was his next town of residence where he took on the position of organist in a small church with a spiffy new organ. Here he came into conflict frequently with the church administration, the boy’s choir and even was involved in a street fight with the bassoon player. Obviously Bach needed some time off. He was granted four weeks leave and took a walk over to Luebeck (200 miles away). He met up with Dietrich Buxtehude who ended up influencing him greatly in vocal church works later on. Instead of four weeks Bach returned four months later to Arnstadt to a highly unamused pastor. With him Bach brought a new concept of virtuoso organ to the church services this did not go over well with the rest of his crew who had been given no heads up on this new technique. Feeling like he was not being given the full artistic freedom he desired, Bach applied to a position in Muehlhausen.
In 1707 he was appointed head organist of the city. A small inheritance from his uncle also gave Bach the chance to marry his longtime sweetheart - second cousin Maria Bardra. Eventually Bach became agitated with the various priests and decided to leave the town but this time he left on good terms with the city and its pastors. Forty miles north was Weimar where Bach moved to become an organist and member of the orchestra. His pay increased and he was living the life. At 23 Bach fathered his first child, Catharina. A few more followed quickly and Bach had a family in no time. Bach encountered some conflict due to the fact that Weimar had two dukes who likes to one up each other. Unfortunately Bach was in the middle of many of these situations until Duke Wilhmen Ernst doubled his salary and made him Konzertmaster in 1714. In this position he had to write one canta per month. These were done in a new Italian style that Bach had taken on. He also took on students frequently to supplement his income. He helped them secure positions where they could apply what they knew. A pupil of Bach's found employment with a wealthy man that suffered from insomnia. The student was to play the harpsichord until the man fell sleep, but the student had to often play hours before he could stop. He begged Bach to compose something sleep-inducing for him to play. Bach did and piece was named for the student, Goldberg, and now known as the "The Goldberg Variations."
Soon Bach’s fame was extended beyond Weimar and with it conflict. The dukes were quarrelling again and somehow Bach got in the middle of it wanting to work for both and ended up being dropped all together. He did always find a good deal of drama regardless of where he was. In 1717 he started his new position as Kapellmeister in Koethen. Here he was given ample freedom. His new patron was Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Koethen. The prince loved music and frequently plaid violin with a group including Bach when he could. Naturally Bach was receiving ample compensation for his work at the time. Bach continued to write music – mostly chamber music. As the court was Calvinistic there was no demand on Bach to make church music The prince took his band during the summers on vacation to the Carlsbad waters. When he returned from one of these trips Bach found his wife had died in his absence (1720). He was left with seven children, three had died in infancy. Naturally Bach needed to find himself a new wife. Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a gifted court soprano sixteen years his junior became his wife in 1720. Together they had 13 children together.
Around this time the musical situation at the court changed due to the increased funding needed for the Prussian army and cuts had to be made financially. Bach realized another move should be made. He was searching for a position where he could also satisfy the education demands of his sons. Plus Kochen did not do much to excite his young family. They moved to Leipzig where Bach worked at the university. Having spent much of the 1720s composing weekly cantatas, Bach assembled a sizable repertoire of church music that, with minor revisions and a few additions, allowed him to continue performing Sunday music programs while pursuing secular music. At last he had found a permanent place to live with his large family. In his later years, Bach's reputation as a composer declined: his work was regarded as old-fashioned compared to the emerging classical style . None of his work had even been printed until he was 41 (in his life time he had composed over 1,000 pieces) and though he was known throughout Germany it took about 50 years after his death for his fame to spread further. To say the least he is much more widely known and respected now than during his time. It is believed that the final work Bach completed was a chorale prelude dictated from his death bed titled: ’ When in the hour of greatest need'. Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750. His sons Wilhelm Friedemann Bach , Johann Gottfried Bernhard Bach , Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach , Johann Christian Bach , and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach all became accomplished musicians, with Carl winning the respect of Mozart.
window of the Thomaskirche featuring Bach front and center.