Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Meet Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose ecclesiastical and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instrumentalists united all the components of the Baroque period, escalating the era to its ultimate musical maturity. Bach’s innovative style enriched traditional German music with robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivaled control of harmonic and motific organization, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly Italy and France.

Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command, and artistic beauty, Bach’s works include the Brandeburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations, Mass in B Minor, Magnificat, The Musical Offering, and The Art of Fugue.

Bach received no formal musical training as a child, but developed his skills from observing and mirroring the talents of his uncles and older brother, all professional musicians. His self-schooling proved worthwhile when he earned a scholarship to study at St. Michael’s School in Luneburg, near Hamburg. This opportunity introduced Bach’s music throughout European culture.
In January 1703, shortly after graduating from St. Michael’s School, Bach took up post as court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimer, and large town in Thuringia. As Bach’s reputation as a keyboard player spread, he received various commissions including presenting the inaugural recital on the new organ at St. Boniface’s Church in Arnstadt. The following August, he accepted the position as the church’s official organist. This time of Bach’s career fostered a multitude of organ preludes. Following continued tension between Bach and his employer, as well as an infamous scuffle and unauthorized sabbatical to visit Dieterich Buxtehude, Bach left his position in Arnstadt to accept cantor duties at the Thomasschule, in Leipzig. He also served in his very first government position as Director of Music for the town churches, a fine change from his usual employment under aristocratic control.
This final post, which he held for 27 years until his death, brought him into contact with the political machinations of his employer, the Leipzig Council. The Council comprised two factions: the Absolutists, loyal to the Saxon monarch in Dresden, Augustus the Strong, and the City-Estate faction, representing the interests of the mercantile class, the guilds and minor aristocrats. Bach was the nominee of the monarchists, in particular of the Mayor at the time, Gottlieb Lange, a lawyer who had earlier served in the Dresden court. In return for agreeing to Bach's appointment, the City-Estate faction was granted control of the School, and Bach was required to make a number of compromises with respect to his working conditions. Although it appears that no one on the Council doubted Bach's musical genius, there was continual tension between the Cantor, who regarded himself as the leader of church music in the city, and the City-Estate faction, which saw him as a schoolmaster and wanted to reduce the emphasis on elaborate music in both the School and the Churches. The Council never honored Lange's promise at interview of a handsome salary of 1,000 talers a year, although it did provide Bach and his family with a smaller income and a good apartment at one end of the school building, which was renovated at great expense in 1732.
Bach’s abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognized as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of Baroque, and one of the greatest of all time. 
 Photos courtesy of Wikipedia

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