"There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself."

Happy Birthday, Johann Sebastian Bach!


Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21, 1685 – 28 July, 1750) was a German composer, organist and violinist of the Baroque period. Bach was born into a large musical family, from whom he learned much about the art form. The music of Bach is revered for its beauty, complexity and technical prowess. In the 17th Century the world still measured time under the old Julian calendar. Until the current Gregorian calender was put into effect, the birthday of Bach would have been celebrated on the 21st of March but today, would technically fall on March 31st. Bach's contributions to music made him one of the world's most legendary classical musicians.

Bach5Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach. He was his parent's eighth child. His father was the director of the town's musicians. His whole family had a musical nature and his father first taught him music theory. His uncle, also a professional musician, taught Bach about the organ; his cousin was a well-known violinist. When Bach was merely a child, both of his parents died. He went to live with his brother Johann Christoph Bach, an organist. He studied his brother's work, often performing and copying it, and thanks to the mentoring of J.C Bach, was exposed to many other contemporary composers.

Bach was awarded a choral scholarship at the St. Michael's School in Lüneburg when he was fourteen. He sang on the school's prestigious choir and developed his knowledge of Europe and its culture. He also played the school's three-manual organ and harpsichords. Other professional organists at the time such as Georg Böhm and Johann Adam Reincken recognized his talent.

After finishing school in Lüneburg, Bach applied to be an organist at Sangerhausen but was turned down. Instead, he was appointed court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar and shortly thereafter was promoted to organist at St. Boniface's Church in Arnstadt. Despite being appreciated by his employer, Bach temporarily left to visit famous composer Dieterich Buxtehude in the Northern Lübeck. Bach's employer became frustrated with his unauthorized absence but the trip provided Bach with a firm foundation of style and inspiration for his work.


In 1706, Bach became an organist at St. Blasius's in Mühlhausen. This position was far more prestigious than his former one and compensated him generously. Bach met his first wife Maria Barbara Bach in the town of Mühlhausen and together they had seven children. Bach convinced the city to fund the renovation of the organ at the church. Bach then wrote his successful cantana Gott ist mein König, BWV 71 for the council.

Rosalyn Tureck plays Bach J.S. - Partita No. 6 (Tempo di Gavotta)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Sonata in D Minor BVW 964

Rosalyn Tureck plays Bach J.S. - Partita No. 6 (Sarabande)

Bach moved back to Weimar in 1708. He again played the organ but was later promoted to "Konzertmeister," or director of music. There, he worked with esteemed professional musicians at the ducal palace and resided nearby with his family. Bach began to compose keyboard and orchestral works during this time and studied the dramatic music and harmonies of Vivaldi, Corelli and Torelli. Bach was enamored with the Italian styles in which solo instrumental parts played one by one in an orchestra. Bach continued to compose for the organ and performed with the duke's ensemble. He began work on his distinguished Das Wohltemperierte Clavier and wrote the Little Organ Book, a text of organ hymns for his son. 

Bach Brandenurg Concerto #2 (mov. 1) Pablo Casals

Bach Brandenurg Concerto #5 (mov. 1) Pablo Casals

Bach Brandenurg Concerto #2 (mov. 2) Pablo Casals

In 1717, Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen hired Bach as his director of music. The position paid very well and the Prince respected Bach's growing talents. At this post, Bach wrote Orchestral Suites, the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, the Sonatas, Partitas for Solo Violin and the Brandenburg Concertos. This music was not religious as the Prince preferred not to combine worship with music. Bach also composed Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht, BWV 134a for the court. While Bach was abroad with Leopold, his wife suddenly died. He would later meet a young soprano singer whom he married in 1721.

Bach3Bach was appointed Cantor of the Thomasschule at Thomaskirche in Leipzig and director of music Nikolaikirche and the Paulinerkirche churches in 1723. He would stay at these positions for the remainder of his life. Through these positions, Bach was able to meet many of the town's political figures. He was also required to teach at the Thomasschule school and provide church music, namely a cantata for Sunday services. Starting with Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 75, Bach composed many cantatas for the church. He followed this with O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62, and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 1.



Bach: Prelude & Fugue No. 12 in F minor BWV881 (Daniel Barenboim)

Well-Tempered Clavier Book I, Prelude and Fugue in C Major

Anner Bylsma; Bach Cello Suite 6, Prelude

Bach's Cello Suite No. 6 -Courante + Sarabane (Rostropovich)

Bach directed the students from the school to perform at weddings and funerals. He also performed other composers' motets for the church. When he took over the dictatorship Collegium Musicum, Bach was able to broaden his composing. The Musicum was one of many growing private societies key in the country's music culture. Most of his work during the 1730s and 1740s were written for the Musicum including his violin and harpsichord concertos. Bach presented his Mass in B minor to August III who hired him as the Royal Court Composer. As part of this job, Bach wrote a mass taken mostly from his cantatas over the years. This mass would then be extended into one of the most renowned choral works of all time. Bach also joined the Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften. This was an extremely privileged membership.

Kantate "Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir", BWV 131 (Ton Koopman)

Kantate "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme", BWV 140 (Ton Koopman)

Bach became ill in his old age and even lost partial sight. He died on 28 July 1750, aged 65. Bach narrated his final work Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit to his son while on his deathbed. Many of his completed works would not be released until after his death. Bach was a major influence on later composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. He was outlived by nine children. Several of his sons became great composers in their own right.

Glenn Gould: Bach Goldberg Variations 1981 Studio Video (complete)

Bach / Harnoncourts / Concentus Musicus Wien, 1964: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048

Related Posts:

Glenn Gould: Two Portraits Of A Musical Genius

Notable Recordings:

Glenn Gould - Complete Bach

Rosalyn Tureck - Bach: Goldberg Variations

Wanda Landowksa - Bach: Goldberg Variations

Mstislav Rostropovich - Bach Cello Suites

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 21 March 2014
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