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Essay/Term paper:  johann sebastian bach

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Culture

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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH



Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685 in the town of Thuringia, Germany where

he was raised and spent most of his life. Due to a shortage of expenses, he was confined

to a very limited geographical space, as was his career. This greatly affected his, in that

his music was not as widley known as other composers of the time. On traveling he never

went farther north than Hamburg or farther south than Carlsbad. To look back on the life

of Bach many have referred to him as "one of the greatest and most productive geniuses in

the history of Western music", particularly of the baroque era.

Born to a family that produced at least 53 prominent musicians within seven

generations, Bach received his first musical instrument from his father. Johann studied

music with his father until his father"s death in 1695, at which point he moved to Ohrdruf

to study with his brother, Johann Christoph. In the early 1700"s Bach began working as a

chorister at a church in Luneburg. In 1703, he became a violinist in the chamber orchestra

of Prince Johann Ernst of Weimar, but later that year he moved to Arnstadt where he

became church organist.

In 1705, Bach took a one month leave to study with the renowned Danish-born

German organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehude who was staying in Lubeck. Later,

Buxtehude"s organ music would greatly influence that of Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach"s

stay was so rewarding that he overstayed his leave by two months to be greatly criticized

for his breach of contract by the church authorities. Fortunately, Bach was too highly

respected to be dismissed from his position.

In 1707, Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, he also moved to

Mulhausen as organist for a church there, but, 1708 brought him back toWeimer. He

came back as an organist and violinist at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, where he

stayed for the following nine years to become concertmaster of the court orchestra in

1714. In Weimer he composed about 30 cantatas, including his well-known funeral

cantata "God"s time is the best", and also wrote organ and harpsichord works. Bach also

began traveling throughout Germany as an organ virtuoso and a consultant to organ

builders.

1717 found Bach beginning a six year employment as chapelmaster and director of

chamber music at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen. During this period he

primarily wrote secular music for ensembles and solo instruments, he also prepared music

books (including: Well-Tempered Clavier, Inventions, and the Little Organ Book)







for his wife and children with a purpose of teaching them keyboard technique and

musicianship. In 1720 Bach"s first wife died , a year later he married Anna Magdalena

Wilcken a singer and daughter of a court musician. Anna bore him 13 children in addition

to the 7 had to him by his first wife, and helped him by copying the scores of music for his

performers.

In his later years, Bach moved to Leipzig and spent the rest of his life there. He

was positioned as musical director and choirmaster of Saint Thomas"s church and church

school, this position was unsatisfactory to him. He continuously argued with the town

council, and neither the council nor the town people appreciated his musical genius. To

them all Bach was, was a stuffy old man who clung stubbornly to an obsolete form of

music. Nonetheless, the two-hundred and two cantatas surviving from the 295 that he

wrote while in Leipzig are still played today, where as much that was new at the time has

long since been forgotten.

Most of Bach"s cantatas open with a section with chorus and orchestra, continue

with alternating recitatives and areas for solo voices and occumpaning, and conclude with

a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn. The music is at all times closely bound to the

text, ennobling the latter immeasurably with its expressiveness and spiritual intensity.

Among these works are the Ascension Cantata and the Christmas Oratorio, the latter

consisting of six cantatas. The Passion of St. John and The Passion of St. Matthew also

were written in Leipzig, as was the epic Mass in B Minor. Among the works written for

keyboard during this period are the famous Goldberg Variations; Part II of the

Well-Tempered Clavier; and the Art of the Fugue, a magnificent demonstration of his

contrapuntal skill in the form of 16 fugues and 4 canons, all on a single theme.

Bach"s sight began to fail in the last year of his life, and he died on July 28,1750,

after undergoing an unsuccessful eye operation. After Bach"s death, he was remembered

less as a composer, and more as an organist and harpsichord player. His frequent tours

had ensured his redemption as the greatest organist of the time, but his contrapuntal style

of writing sounded old-fashioned to his contemporaries, most of whom preferred the new

preclassical styles then coming into fashion, which were more homophonic in texture and

less contrapuntal than Bach"s music.

Consequentially, for the next 80 years his music was neglected by the public.

Although a few musicians admired it, among them were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and

Ludwig Van Beethoven. A revival of interest in Bach"s music occurred in the mid-19th

century. The German composer Felix Mendelssohn arranged a performance of the







Passion of St. Matthew in 1829, which did much to awaken popular interest in Bach. The

Bach Gesellschaft, formed in 1850, devoted itself assiduously to finding, editing and

publishing Bach"s work.

Because the "Bach Revival" coincided with the flowering of the romantic

movement in music, performance styles were frequently gross distortions of Bach"s

intentions. Twentieth-century scholarship, inspired by the early enthusiasm of the French

Protestant, medical missionary, organist and musicologist Albert Schweitzer, gradually has

unearthed principals of performance that are truer to Bach"s era and his music. Bach was

largely self-taught in musical composition. His principal study method, following the

custom of his day, was to copy in his workbooks of the French, German and Italian

composers of his own time and earlier. He did this throughout his life and often made

arrangements of other composers" works.

The significance of Bach"s music is due in large part to the scope of his intellect.

He is perhaps best known as a supreme master of counterpoint. He was able to understand

and use resource every of musical language that was available in the baroque era. Thus, if

he chose, he could combine the rhythmic patterns of French dances, the gracefulness of

Italian melody, and the intricacy of German counterpoint all in one composition. At the

same time he could write for voice and the various instruments so as to take advantage of

the unique properties of construction and tone quality in each. In addition when a text was

associated with music, Bach could write musical equivalents of verbal ideas, such as an

undulating melody to represent the sea, of a canon to describe the Christians following

Jesus.

Bach"s ability to assess and exploit the media, styles and genre of his day enabled

him to achieve many remarkable transfers of idiom. For instance, he could take an Italian

ensemble composition, such as a violin concerto, and transform it into a convincing work

for a single instrument, the harpsichord. By devising intricate melodic lines, he could

convey the complex texture of a multivoiced fugue on a single-melody instrument , such

as the violin or cello.

The controversial rhythms and sparse textures of operatic recitatives can be found

in some of his own works for solo keyboard. Technical facility alone of course was not

the source of some of Bach"s greatness. It is the expressiveness of his music, particularly

as manifested in the vocal works, that conveys his humanity and touches listeners

everywhere. That is why Johann Sebastian Bach was considered one of the greatest

musical composers, but more specifically one of the greatest baroque composers of all

time.



 

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