Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Mh Bach Js

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

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The Life of J.S. BachBorn in Eisenach, Germany, which was also the birthplace of Martin Luther. Bach’s family supplied musicians.

Musician’s agent, or broker.Orphaned at age of ten, raised by his older brother.Brother was an organist and Bach’s first music teacher (family apprenticeship)

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BackgroundJ. S. Bach is one of the most well-researched composers with more each year











1800 1850 1900 1950 2000

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The Bach family was made up of more than 70 composers and performers in Germany from the 16th to the early 19th centuries.

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His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach (1645-1695), was a renowned violinist and was employed as a court trumpeter and music director in the town of Eisenach. Bach probably learned to play the violin at an early age from his father.

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His mother, Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt (1644-1694), also came from a musical family.

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Bach as a young man

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Johann Sebastian BachOver 1000 musical pieces in every genre except operaCantatas (1 per week for 8 years)Public complained for his flowery musicProtestant themes (in search of God)Musicians felt his

music too difficult

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Bach’s Signature

J.S.Bach (musical) cross. Bach signed himself with a single note (using 4 different pitches)

B: Left staff (treble clef) A: Upper staff (tenor clef) C: Right staff (alto clef) H: Lower staff (treble clef)

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Bach’s WorkChurch Musician

Write music for servicesPlay organTeach choirsTeach soloistsConduct orchestra, choirs

Court MusicianWrote music for entertainmentWrote commissioned pieces

School teacherOrgan teacherOrgan construction consultantComposer—sacred & secular musicHusband/father

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Bach’s CareerEarly positionsArnestadt, Germany 1703-07



These were not significant positions but rather churches with small forces for music.A good starting point for his career.

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Bach became an organist in Arnstant in 1703 and stayed there until 1707, when he went to Muhlhausen until 1708. He showed a bit of his temper, having arguments with both employers.

In 1707, he married his cousin, Maria Barbara.

They went on to have 7 children, before she died in 1721.

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The Big ThreeWeimar, Germany

Secular positionEmployed by the Duke of WeimarThere were many differences between the Duke and J. S. Bach.

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WeimarBach serves as an organist to the Ducal Chapel and as a chamber musician.Duke preferred the older style of hymns and accompaniment in worship. He was not interested in Bach’s innovations. Bach was resolved not to change his personal style of composition.

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WeimarBach, as a member of the patronage system was in fact considered the “property” of the Duke.He was imprisoned for almost a month for trying to leave the Duke’s employment without the Duke’s permission.Finally he was allowed to leave after Bach simply made the life of the Duke miserable.

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Bach’s second position: Cothen.1717-23Secular position for the Prince of Anhalt-Cothen (cousin to the Duke of Weimar)Here Bach wrote his famous suites, concerti, sonatas, and a large amount of keyboard music.The six Brandenburg Concerti for the Margrave of Brandenburg.

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Leipzig: The third great positionLeipzig was a musical and cultural center of southeastern Germany.St. Thomas Kirche (church) was the center of religious music in Leipzig.Bach’s position.

Music directorOrganistCantorResponsible for all of the music for every large Lutheran church in the district.Director of the “collegium musicum”

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Bach at LeipzigSt. Thomas Church and School

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“Since the best man could not be obtained, mediocre ones would

have to be accepted.”

-Leipzig town council member commenting on the hiring of Bach

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Bach composed many pieces of music and they are often listed with the letters BWV followed by a number. Such as: BWV #212 or such.

BWV is an abbreviation for Bach Werke Verzeichniss, which is a catalog of Bach's works. The catalog is organized by genre, not in the order the pieces were composed.

During the earlier years at Leipzig, Bach’s work demonstrated his ability of storytelling using dramatic melodies or chords to represent different events of life.

Example of this style include:The Passion of St. John (1723)Magnificant (1723) The Passion According to St. Matthew (1729)Christmas Oratoro (1734)

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In 1721, Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilken, who was a professional singer. They ended up having 13 more children during their marriage.

This brings Bach’s total of children to 20!!!

Bach made a final move to Leipzig in 1723. There he became the Director of Music at the St.Thomas School and the Cantor for the St. Thomas Church. He was responsible for all music in all 4 churches in the town.

It is interesting to see that Bach did not travel much during his lifetime and stayed within a small area of Germany.

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Places Bach lived

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Born 1685




GermanyBach’s life and work

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Bach and Symmetry

1. Choral Fugue Chorus and Orchestra2. Aria, duet Sop. Bass.3. Recitative/Arioso Bass4. Aria Soprano5. Chorale Chorus and Orchestra6. Recitative/Arioso Tenor7. Aria, Duet Alto and Tenor soloist8. Chorale Chorus and Orchestra

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The Late Baroque Concerto of J.S. Bach

Absolute Music: music written for music’s sake. Void of poetic, prosaic, or mental images.Emotion gleaned from this type of music is taken from the sheer beauty, conflict, key, tempo, rhythm, of the music.MUSIC FOR MUSIC’S SAKE

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Chorale Prelude: Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott. J.S. Bach

Same theme as the cantata.A Mighty fortress is our God.Piece for organ using different registrations.

Different sets of pipes within the organDifferent manuals (keyboards) and pedals (feet) play different combinations of pipes.

Listen for how Bach develops the chorale melody.

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The CantataA multi-movement work for the Lutheran worship service that is a musical statement backing the text of the current day’s liturgy.Based upon famous hymn or chorale tunes.AriaRecitativeInstrumental accompaniment (small orchestra)

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Fugue Form- A – B – A1

A – Exposition – Exposes the subject in all voices

Voice 1-Subject

Voice 2-Answer

Voice 3-Subject





Fugue Form

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Subject inalto Subject

intenor Subject



Picture this fugue:

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The Fugue: Components

Exposition: the opening section of a fugue.

Displays the subject in all voices.Details the melody in each voice so that the listener clearly understands the subject material. The countersubject will also be displayed here.

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The Fugue: ComponentsSubject: the original melody of a fugue Countersubject: a counter-melody. Normally this is another independent melody.Answer: the imitation of a subject or a countersubject in another voice.

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The Fugue Episode: a section of music in contrapuntal style that simply develops the subject’s motives, or displays freely composed new music. The episode is an area of contrast which balances out the exposition.Stretto: a section of a fugue where tension is built up through the quick imitation of the subject in all four or more voices.

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Other Instrumental FormsFrench overture: slow-fast (Handel’s Sinfony to Messiah.Italian overture: fast-slow-fast (opera overture standing alone. Precursor to the symphony in the classical period.

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The Fugue VoicesEach melodic line. Compared to the soprano, alto, tenor and bass of a choir. Each hand and each foot can play one or more melody or “fugal voice” at one time.

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Notice the difference between a Free Prelude and the Fugue.Bound to rules vs. free improvisation.The Genius of Bach: The fugue was also improvised and then written out later.

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The ChoraleA hymn sung in 4 part harmony with organ accompaniment.Form: AABStollen IStollen IIAbgasangFulfills Martin Luther’s reformationist views that the congregation should be allowed to join in the music of the liturgy.

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Innovations in Orchestra

ConcertosSolo instrumentsGrosso led to orchestra works

Composers notation:Specified instrumental partsDynamic markings and speedKey signature in the title

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Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, From the Well Tempered Clavier

J.S. Bach, Cothen, 1722Prelude

Perpetuum Mobile: Perpetual MotionArpeggiated chords over a single note melody.


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Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F Major: First and Second Mvts.

Concerto grossoConcertino: violin, oboe, recorder, trumpet.Solos by each instrument occur during tutti statements.Solos are bound together by a ritornelloForm: ABACADA……

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Two forms of improvisation: Figured Bass (cello and harpsichord) and Ornamentation (decorating a melody with additional notes)

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J.S.Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations Theme (original melody) and

32 variations of the melody. Written around 1730 Exploited capabilities of new

keyboards by using many different playing techniques

Glenn Gould’s 1956 recording is the #1 ‘classical’ piano recording of all time

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By 1748 Bach was nearly blind from cataracts.In March and April of 1750, he was operated on by the English oculist John Taylor. The operations and the treatment that followed them may have hastened Bach's death. Johann Sebastian Bach died on July 28, 1750.

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Did you know?

Bach shares his birth year with G.F.Handel. Handel also had cataract surgery performed by oculist John Taylor. American composer, Edward MacDowell said, "Bach and Handel were in every way quite different, except that both were born in the same year and killed by the same doctor”.