The 1748 Haussmann portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685 - 28 July 1750) was an outstanding German composer of the Baroque who represents the peak of the Bach family. His father, Johann Ambrosius, was a town musician in Eisenach who had given to Johann Sebastian the chance to create a unique bond with music. Bach was orphaned when he was only 10 and he had as a foster father for five years Johann Christoph Bach, an elder brother who was organist at Ohrdruf. In addition to receiving musical education from this capable musician, Bach was also a great student in the Ohrdurf Lyceum. He completed his general education in St. Michael’s School in Luneburg, where he earned his keep as a soprano singer at the church choir. In 1703, at the age of 18 Bach took a brief job as a violinist at Weimar and then he held more responsible post as organist at Arnstadt and Muhlhausen.

In Weimar he worked as court organist and chamber musician to the devout Duke of Saxony. There, the majority of Bach’s duties were connected with religious services. To this period (1708-1717) belong the most of his major works for organ such as Fugue in C Minor, and some church cantatas. When the position of music director became vacant, Bach did not receive the appointment, a fact that made him to apply for a release from his post. Because of this act the Duke placed him in confinement for a month. Upon his release Bach moved to a more attractive position.

In the establishment of the Prince of Anhalt-Gothen, Bach composed chamber music almost exclusively. During this period (1717-1723) his work contains harpsichord music, sonatas, violin concertos and other instrumental forms.

In 1723 Bach applied for the post of cantor at St. Thomas’s school in Leipzig. The cantor’s duty was not only to teach at the school but also the supervision of the music in four churches to which the school furnished choristers. Bach found time to direct a local music society, the Collegium Musicum, for which he composed a great amount of concertos and other secular music. Furthermore he produced a few important keyboard works, such as the remarkable Clavierubung (“Keyboard Studies”)a four-volume series. In 1749, Bach was blind but he managed to compose the “Art of Fugue” and he worked out with great care the 18 chorals for ecclesiastic instruments. When he died (1750) he was buried to St. John church.

Bach stands out in the world of music as a workmanlike genius who led a completely normal rather uneventful life. His music preferences were conservative but he showed a little interest in opera. Bach seems to have been less ambitious than most musicians of his caliber and he apparently viewed himself modestly as a competent rather than a remarkable musician. Related to the curiosity about music in general was his open- minded approach to teaching: his emphasis on independence and originality.

During his own life Bach was known primarily as a keyboard virtuoso, and few of his compositions were published or played. In the competition for the Leipzig post was a third choice, appointed after refusals by Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner. During the half-century after his death his reputation grew slowly but steadily, as may be seen from the gradual spread of editions of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” across Europe. Bach’s work was revived by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Suman from this time on, a fuller appreciation of his stature has placed him in the first rank of composers.