March 24, 2015

Bach's 330th Birthday

When I moved to Hawaii from Connecticut in 1959 I met Diane Baker, a  young woman from Florida who had lived in Honolulu for a couple of years. We became friends and shared an apartment together. I had always been a Mozart fan. Her passions were Bach and chorus music. She introduced me to both and since then Bach has  been a great favorite of mine. In celebrating his 330th birthday it seems fitting to dedicated this to my friend Diane, who died a number of years ago.

Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21, 1685-July 28, 1750) a German Baroque composer  was to me and many music lovers one of the greatest composers of all time, but not widely known during his life, other than being an organist.  His mother, Maria Elisabetha, and his father died within a year of each other (in 1694 and 1695, respectively). Orphaned at age 10, Bach moved in with his an older brother, Johann Christoph, who was the organist at St. Michael's Church, Ohrdruf. This brother probably taught Bach much about the organ.  He composed  in a variety of musical forms; cantatas, concertos, oratorios and others. Of over 1000 pieces each were complex and every one was divine and magnificent.  

Bach spent his life in his native Germany playing the organ, teaching and composing the music that is still played and conducted by the greatest conductors in the world.  He had over 20 children, including four who became famous musicians in their own right, including Carl Philipp Emanuel, Wilhelm Friedemann, Johann Christoph Friedrich, and Johann Christian.

In 1717, Bach became Kapellmeister (the chapel master, who directed and/or composed music for a church or chapel) in the court of the music-lover Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen.

During this period, Bach's major works included the Brandenburg Concertos (1721), The Well-Tempered Clavier (first book, 1722). In 1721, the Prince married a woman who did not share the Prince's interest in music, and the Prince's support of Bach lessened. Bach would soon leave.

Bach's wife Maria had died in 1720. In 1721, he married Anna Magdalena Wilcke (the daughter of the town trumpeter); they would have 13 children together (including Johann Christian Bach). 
Bach left Anhalt-Cothen in 1723 for Leipzig, there he  became a teacher and director of music of St. Thomas's in Leipzig and remained in Leipzig for the rest of his life.

During this period, Bach's major works included St. John Passion (1723), St. Matthew Passion (1727), Suite No. 3 in D (1729), Magnificat in D Major (1731), Christmas Oratorio (1734), Italian Concerto (1735), Goldberg Variations (1741-1742, originally called "Aria With Diverse Variations," but later nicknamed after Bach's student Johann Gottlieb Goldberg), The Well-Tempered Clavier (second book, 1742), the Musical Offering (1747), and The Art of the Fugue (unfinished, 1749).

By 1740, Bach's eyesight was failing. Two eye operations resulted in Bach's complete blindness; these operations also damaged his health and may have hastened his death. He died of a stroke on July 28, 1750. Bach is buried at St. John's cemetery, Leipzig. Bach's widow Anna lived for another ten years, dying in poverty in 1760. Bach's death in 1750 marked the end of the Baroque period in music.