1685 – 1750

Four phases to his life – youth at Arnstadt, then Weimar, Cothen, and Leipzig

Born at Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach. Youngest child of Johann A Bach, director of town musicians and Maria Lammerhirt. Dad taught him to play violin and harpsichord. One uncle (JS Bach) was famous and taught him to play organ

His Mom died in 1694, and his Dad 8 months later. He then lived with his eldest brother at Ohrdurf till 1700.  Age of 14 scholarship to study at St. Michael’s school Luneburg. Here he was introduced to numerous musicians and organists

1703 Became court musician in chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar. There for 7 months. Here he started to compose organ preludes. Then moved to Muhlhausen to be the organist.  Here he renovated the organ. Married his second cousin Maria Bach. They had 7 children, 4 surviving , including his second Carl Phillipp Emanual (CPE), and Wilhelm Frienemann.

Weimar 1708 – 1717

Patron – Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar

Here court organist and concertmaster. Big salary.  The start of big time composition for keyboard and orchestra. Many fugues. The well-tempered Clavier, The little organ book for son Wilhelm, Lutheran Chorales

Cothen 1717 – 1723

Patron – Prince Leopold

Kapellmeister  here. Prince was calvanist, so much of Bach’s work here is secular. Orchestral suites, including Brandenburg, Six suites for cello, Sonatas and Partitas for violin.

Here Bach’s wife died suddenly. Bach met Anna Magdalena Wilcke a gifted soprano. They married.  Had 13 more children, 6 surviving to adulthood

Leipzig 1723 – 1750

Patron – Leipzig town council

His job to teach students at Thomasschule in singing and music.

He wrote five annual cantata cycles. He took over directorship of Collegium Musicum, composed Kyrie and Gloria, Mass in b minor

1747 At court of Frederick II of Prussia in Potsdam, where his son Carl Philip Emanuel was  the Prince’s accompanyist

He developed the Art of Fugue

Musical style – He was amazingly good at contrapunctal style, and improv. He used the Italian’s drama, clear contours, sharp outlines.  He noted down everything, leaving very little to performer improv.

Sacred music at the center of his life. He became a leading virtuoso and improvisor of his day, particuarly on the organ.

In his late years, from 1749, his health was in decline. He developed cataracts, and became blind. He had a major stroke, and several operations on his eyes.  An unsuccesful operation by the then celebrated Eye Surgeon John Taylor was said to be the cause of his death, though other sources suggest it was pneumonia.

Large forms – Brandenburg concertos, large scale choral works

Contrapunctal – Goldberg variations, Art of Fugue

Italian influence – Italian Concerto

French influence – French Suite (harpsichord)

English influence – English Suite

Religious influence – (huge) 200 Church cantatas, Motets, Passions, Latin Service Music

Harmonic language – rooted in tonal harmony, full of drama


Bach’s Works and my analysis of his first Prelude/Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier are now posted.

The links to these are to the right of this page……….

No changes with the RCM syllabus 09

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