Johann Sebastian Bach
Professor Craig Pilant
HIS 113 (46210)
Early Modern Europe
Throughout the experimental times in music history, many composers sought out fame during their lifetimes. Though some had success, others such as Johann Sebastian Bach were not as fortunate. Once his time had reached an end, the many works composed became sacred to the new musicians born. Johann Sebastian Bach was one composer who had not been known for his lyrical genius until a century after his death. More recognized as an organist during his lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach still became one of the most influential composers of the revival period. (Getzinger, Donna, and Daniel Felsenfeld)
In 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenbach, Germany. His family was mostly composed of performing organists. His father prepped him at a young age to follow the family trade. Bach faced hardship at young age though; both of his parents would pass away while he was nine years old. He would be cared for during the rest of his childhood by his siblings. The most important sibling was Johann Christoff, as he acted more of the father figure in his life. When Johann Sebastian reached the age of fifteen, Bach’s musical career began. Bach would acquire a position as a choirboy at Luneberg. His time at Luneberg, Bach received musical training and singing, playing instruments, and composing. Inspiration came to Bach at Luneberg, due to the presence of Georg Bohm. Bohm’s talent and skill inspired Bach to broaden his study in Organ playing. With the help from his mentor, Bach succeeded in being sought out as an organist. He would go on to being hired as an organist in the town of Arnstadt. After receiving tenure at Arstadt, Bach took leave to learn the style of Dietrich Buxtehude. Upon returning three months later to Arnstadt, Bach surprised his church audience for adopting Buxtehude’s style as it was interpreted as being more radical. (Getzinger, Donna, and Daniel Felsenfeld)
Bach obtained his first long-term employment, in 1708. He took his position in Weimar at the Ducal Chapel. He spent nine years as an orchestral player. He quickly rose to the ranks of a master player. Bach was overlooked for the position of “Kapellmeister,” or orchestral director. He became disappointed and left Weimar and took a position in Cothen. He had success in leading a professional orchestra in Cothen, but after six years of employment, Bach realized that secular works added no fascination to his musical desires. He sought out to follow more of a religious route in his musical career. He would spend the remaining seventeen years of his life at the St. Thomas-schule in Leipzig. His position was headmaster of the musical school. His work was difficult as teaching young boys lead to long hours of work and unruly behavior from the students. Bach would pass away in 1750. His works would gather little appreciation, until another century when they became rediscovered. His works were mostly underappreciated because of the success of both his sons, Carl Philip Emanuel and Johann Christian, who adopted more modern Italian-influences styles.
Bach’s most appreciated and famous compositions after his death were the six Brandenburg Concertos. They are based on the Italian concerto grosso form, and also feature newly written innovations. In recent compositions of Italian works, the concertinos, or soloists, were often consisted of two violins and a bass. When Bach expanded the range of soloists, he included woodwinds and brass, and even strings to the orchestral accompaniments. This generated each instrument to have it’s own characteristics when played all together in contrary motion. When Bach had written the Brandenburg concertos, a standard form of writing in which three movements, a minuet, a conclusion, and the third were recognized. The parts were played separately to distinguish the pitches that were also played to fill gaps in between song structure. This writing formation resulted in very little silence in accompaniment as the music was played. While many of the Italian concerti grossi were mechanically written, Bach had fulfilled the intention of interplay between the soloists and the orchestra. These virtuosic parts became vital to the thematic development of each work. The most performed concerti of the Brandenburg concertos is the fifth. This composition is scored for violin, flute, and harpsichord. It is popular mostly for its harpsichord solo that is truly a wondrous selection of the piece. The melodies that follow in the lower octave sections of the harpsichord are evenly played with the higher octaves. (Kozinn, Allan) Another piece that brought a significant amount of attention was the solo trumpet part in the second concerto by the Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico’s. (Kozinn, Allan) In Bach’s time composing, he frequently added simple arpeggios to accompany the melody. Virtually every instrument on the planet tried its hand at the Brandenburg Concertos, even the odd sounding synthesizer who was played by Wendy Carlos in 1968 for her classic Switched-On Bach album for CBS in 1968. (Kozinn, Allan) Although the fifth is the most often performed of the concerti’s, all six Brandenburg’s virtue equally in listening. Very few of the Brandenburg recordings are considered the best. A select few of the set are truly recognized as being the best in formal organization. The Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Orchestra is known to be the “Double Concerto”. The name of the composition refers to the extra violin added to the orchestra. This piece originally came from Bach’s Cothen period. The complexion between the two soloists is quite intriguing. Today it is known to be a favorite classical showpiece for the virtuosi of current musical compositions. Bach’s orchestral suites, which consist of popular dance melodies, are now arranged for a widened orchestra. These strong compositions influenced the French composer Couperin because of their light, and easy listening qualities. Bach’s in depth keyboard developments were quite the contrast between the two musically. The third suite and best known of Bach’s melodies was known as the “Air for the G-String”. While these works were known to be the best in musical history, this was just the beginning of the composer’s works. (Carlin, Richard)
To show the advantages of equal temperament, Bach wrote “The Well-tempered Clavier” which created a tuning system for keyboard instruments that would allow playing through a variety of keys, without hitting notes that would sound disjunct by ear. In the early days there were no agreements as to standard tuning. In the essence of this newly created temperament, Bach used the forty-eight compositions written in all twenty-four major and minor keys. This advantage showed the equal temperament between how each composition was played in different keys. The popularity of these works proved convincing in demonstration of the advantages of equal temperament. In the nineteenth century, the new innovation lead to the final acceptance, as the standard tuning system for keyboards.
Though Bach was known to be the “Godfather of Baroque music” many questioned his popularity after his death. There’s no doubt whether to one studying classical music would know if Bach was the best composer who had ever lived. If Bach was known as the greatest composer, he would be known the least in a company of other well known composers of the Baroque era. After Bach, there would be a series of other composers who would follow in his inspiration in composing. His more prolific contemporaries are Telemann and Vivaldi; both who would collectively written five times as much as Bach did. When it came to influential work, no one had equally written the same amount of superiority in their compositions. Before Bach started his grand career, he would have to take a long leave before he continued his treasures. He even walked over 500 miles away from his home to watch one of his most favored composers Buxtehude perform Abendmusik. Bach earned the respect of each new generation primarily because his music is heard in various performances, such as movies, classical performances, restaurants, and other public events in which have music entertainment. (Smith, Timothy) Bach’s musical works of art are depended untimely on the willingness of the audiences who are playing, or who are listening. Bach restricted himself from known genres and stylistic phrases. The only exception was of the viola pomposa, and his two and three part inventions. Though Bach did not invent anything, his music was matchless for its inventiveness. When the newly discovered chorale preludes in Bach’s youth came upon him, each composition Bach had written was characterized highly and easily recognizable. He made very little use with the referential phrases of his day, but his music would always be fresh, highly created, and never copied. (Hanford, Jan, and Jan Koster)
Bach’s music represented the apotheosis of the Baroque style. The integration of structural features, and the organization of Bach’s style were highly recognized by other composers during his time. Musically it is written similarly to the parts that are linked, and no other part is equally heard. Bach’s music withstood a complex test in its time, because of its compelling and soundly structure. As for the form, counterpoint, melody, and harmony, the balance and completeness of the temporal elements are intriguing to the ear. These principles were practiced by the western world for half a millennium. The new modernization of classical composing created a new way for Baroque composers to express their arts for years to come. While Bach has truly been an inspiration to all musicians alike, his compositions and works will live on for centuries to come.
Getzinger, Donna, and Daniel Felsenfeld. Johann Sebastian Bach and the Art of Baroque Music. Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds Pub, 2004. Print. The authors research a lifetime of information from the beginning to Bach’s glorious musical career, to the rough ending near the death from the virtuoso of Baroque music. By knowing this substantial information, any individual having any concern of Bach and his creation of musical movements can learn the age of the era in which he had dominated. In conclusion, key points to Bach’s past history are frequently cited in current examination. His versatile creations and impeccable career as a Baroque composer were truly defined his works.
Kozinn, Allan. The New York Times Essential Library: Classical Music: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings. 1st Ed. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2004. Print. Is an essential classical music critic’s guide, to one hundred of the most important recordings, which include 4 original Bach compositions. As a prolific composer of the Baroque era of music, J.S. Bach produced many classical pieces still popular today. The importance of critiquing Bach’s musical creations, are vital in producing enjoyable classical music for different audiences. Though choosing between over a thousand of Bach’s compositions was quite unlikely for one book. In theory, the four pieces chosen are identically selected for not how they sound, but for how pleasing they are to hear. Beyond Bach’s compositions lie an immaculate amount of tasteful part writing; any one of Bach’s various compositions is not truly ruled as “the best”.
Carlin, Richard. Classical Music an Informal Guide. Chicago: A Cappella Books, 1992. Print. A reading of one classical giant to another, the author includes a small biography of the composer. More importantly, the addition of recommended listening is recommended when studying Bach’s musical pieces. Stating the six Brandenburg concertos to an uninformed audience opens up a vast amount of constant listening between every composition written. Any individual considering listening to many of the recordings agree that it is impossible to choose a favorite.
Hanford, Jan, and Jan Koster. The J.S. Bach Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Jun 2013. . A website formally dedicated to J.S. Bach and all his glory. It was chosen due to the enormous amount of information regarding the timeline of Bach’s life. The dispositions of each piece written, the year it was written, and what instruments were used. The viewing of such details includes important aspects and dates throughout the life of Bach.
Smith, Timothy. The Canons and Fugues of J. S. Bach. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Jun 2013. . The author states the study of three fundamental techniques in Bach’s miscellaneous analyses, which were a critical movement in Baroque music. The requirement in producing these techniques defined many of Bach’s compositions.