Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 31, 1685, is one of the world’s greatest composers. Defined by the Baroque era (church and instrumental music), his work consists of many masterpieces such as the “Brandenburg Concertos” and the “Mass in B Minor.” Bach was also an accomplished organist, harpsichordist, and violinist. He crafted many masterpieces, which did not have the recognition they have today. He only became recognized as one of the greatest Western composers at the beginning of the 20th century. Bach’s death in 1750 was a defining year in music history as it marked the end of the Baroque era.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685 into a prominent musical family. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a string player, and taught Bach, his youngest child, to play the violin and the harpsichord. By 1695, both of Bach’s parents died, and his elder brother, Johann Christoph, took care of him. Johann Christoph was an organist in Ohrdruf and gave Bach his first formal keyboard lessons. Bach attended the prestigious grammar school Michaelskirche in Lüneburg and learned to play the organ. In 1703, at 18 years old, he became an organist at Neue Kirche’ in Arnstadt.
In June 1707, he joined St Blasius in Mühlhausen, also as an organist. There, he fell in love with and married his cousin Maria Barbara. During his time here, he composed one of his great works — ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’ (BWV 565. Bach went on to become a court organist in the private orchestra for the Duke of Saxe-Weimar.
He relocated to Köthen in 1717, and worked as music director for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen and became good friends with the prince. In 1720, Maria, Bach’s wife, died suddenly, leaving him with four children. A year later, he married Anna Magdalena. The couple seemed happy, and Bach produced most of his work during this period, including the six Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046–51). Bach finally settled in Leipzig in May 1723 as the Kantor of the Thomas School, where he remained until his death in July 1750, before he could complete his ‘The Art of the Fugue.’ 50 years after his death, Bach’s music was considered old-fashioned. It was only around 1900 that his musical genius was recognized, and his works were published, making them accessible for study. Bach’s influence on the Baroque era was monumental and is recognized today.
Bach is granted a scholarship at the St Michael's School in Lüneburg for his beautiful singing voice, joining the boys’ choir.
Bach becomes an organist at Neue Kirche in Arnstadt at the age of 18, his first official job as an organist.
Bach joins St Blasius in Mühlhausen as an organist and composes his famous work ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor.’
Bach’s first work is officially published by the city council, entitled ‘God is My King,’ and he starts to work for the Duke of Saxe-Weimar.
Bach becomes Prince Leopold’s musical director and relocates to Köthen, where he composes six of the Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046–51).
Bach settles in Leipzig and becomes Kantor of the Thomas School, where he composes a large portion of his secular and religious cantatas and produces 62 cantatas in a year, 39 of which were completely new.
Bach dies in 1750, and for 50 years his work is neglected.
In 1900, all of Bach’s work is published and becomes both widely accessible and immensely popular.
Why We Love Johann Sebastian Bach
His music is seen as mathematical
Bach’s music is seen as mathematically precise, or ‘pure’ due to his symmetrical arrangements as well as many repetitions that occur in his work. Maths and music, meet Bach.
His deep religious faith was admirable
Bach was religious and most of his music depicts his love and yearning for God. In many of his secular works he would put the Latin abbreviation “I.N.J” on his manuscripts which means “in the name of Jesus.”
Bach was devoted to his music
Bach was so incredibly devoted to writing his music that it got in the way of his job, and caused one or two employers to have a firm ‘talking-to’ with Bach. We admire such dedication.
5 Surprising Facts
Four of Bach’s sons became famous musicians
Four out of the six sons Bach sired became musicians and composers in their own right.
Bach had 20 children
Bach had more than 20 children from his two marriages. Only 10 survived into adulthood — six boys and four girls.
Bach was thrown into jail
Bach wanted to resign from Duke Weimar’s court orchestra to work for Prince Leopold, and this angered the Duke so much that in 1716, Bach was arrested and thrown into jail for several weeks.
Prince Leopold was godfather to Bach's child
Bach became Prince Leopold's music director, and the two became close friends; so much so that Bach named Prince Leopold godfather to one of his children
Bach became blind
Bach’s eyesight started to decline, and he went for eye surgery but soon after, Bach developed several postoperative infections and eventually became blind.
Johann Sebastian Bach FAQs
Was Bach a good student?
Bach got a scholarship to sing in the boys’ choir of St Michael’s school in Luneburg and was very dedicated to learning the organ as well as learning organ construction.
Which works of Bach are the most well-known?
Bach has many widely popular works, but many know his ‘Brandenburg Concertos,’ ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier,’ and the ‘Mass in B Minor.’
Was Bach also a teacher?
Yes, Bach was also a teacher, however, he was very strict. He was so strict in his class that he had one student hit him with a bassoon.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday dates