Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) - Biography

Johann Sebastian Bach, a German baroque organist and master of the art of counterpoint and chorale, is one of the most prolific composers in the history of classical music. Bach's music as a whole goes well beyond the synthesis of stylistic tendencies in baroque music: it is indeed of universal value for all modern Western music.

The youth of Johann Sebastian Bach

Coming from an exceptional family of German musicians from the 15th century until 1840,Johann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the greatest geniuses of all time. Born in March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, he is the youngest of a family of eight children. His father Ambrosius Bach introduced him to the violin very early on. When he was still very young he lost his parents and it was his older brother Johan Christophe Bach, organist of Ohrdruf, who would act as his father and teach him the organ.

At the age of fifteen, after having passed his exams at the Ohrdruf boarding school, the young Johann Sebastian Bach returned to Lüneburg where he acquired a complete training. He is passionate about Latin and theology. It was at Celle's court that he learned some rudiments of French, the language of the European aristocracy, the music being conducted by the French. At the church of St Michael in Lüneburg he discovered polyphonic vocal music. He met in Hamburg the best artists of his time in particular Rieken.

Prince of baroque music

Appointed successively as organist in Armstadt in 1703 and then in Mulhausen in 1707, he will amaze with his musical virtuosity. That same year he married, at the age of twenty-two, his distant cousin Maria Barbara Bach, with whom he had seven children. He took up the post of choirmaster at the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, then that of director of the Duke's concerts. From 1714 to 1723 he again held the post of master of the chapel, but this time at the court of Prince dAnalt-Goeten. Sad news awaits him on his return: the death of his wife. Eighteen months later, he remarried the singer Anna Magdalena Wilcken with whom he would still have fourteen children. In 1723 Bach requested the succession of Kuhnau as Cantor to St Thomas of Leipzig which is a very honorary title and also directs the Musicum collegium, a musical society founded by Téléman, official musician of the court of Saxony.

Bach will make a famous meeting in 1744 in the person of Frederick II during which he will improvise a fugue for four voices, on a theme proposed by the royal flautist.

Despite a few oil portraits, the physiognomy of the great musician remains enigmatic. All his life he worked in harsh conditions, suffered by the loss of eleven of his children and was blind for the last three years of his existence. Extremely simple and very modest, he will affirm: "I have worked diligently, whoever applies as well as me will do the same"

“Work for God” is his motto as a Christian, as a mystic, and in all his works we find not only the constructor of genius but also the poet and the believer. He died of a stroke on July 28, 1750, aged sixty-five.

An invaluable musical heritage

His many vocal, secular and religious works alone would be enough to sum up all his art. If all forms are represented there, cantatas, motets, oratorios, passions, masses, the chorale and the fugue dominate. The melody and the aria and the aria alternate with the recitative and the chorus, while the Latin words (magnificat, masses) are of less importance than the German texts (cantatas, passions).

Composed in Liepzig in 1733, the Mass in B minor is one of the peaks of Bach's vocal production thanks to its breadth, its brilliance, the ardor of its religious inspiration (it was given in many concert halls at the end of of the Second World War, it is to say its true power of healing on the souls).

Organist and harpsichordist, his two favorite instruments, are endowed with a literature never equaled by the quality and quantity of his works, but he does not disdain string and wind instruments (violin, cello, flute), nor music. orchestral.

Bach's multiple works synthesize the resources of polyphony and harmony: choruses, preludes, fugues, concertos, quartets, suites, sonatas, constitute the solid framework supporting the edifice of the entire work (including some biographers believe, however, that a large part has been lost).

If the composer, who writes above all for the church and princely courts, hardly innovates in terms of form, he gives each of them a perfection signed by his profound genius. For him, greatness consists in "speaking the language of all". An admirable synthesis of two centuries of constant effort, its innovative message in the field of rhythm and harmony looks to the future.

This great musical architect, this sculptor, this painter, this poet could be compared to the creator of the tomb of the Medici, of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and of so many summits: Michelangelo. But in the vocal and instrumental creation of Johann Sebastian Bach it is the man of faith who speaks, the believer who rises and the mystic who exalts himself.

'' Music owes to Johann Sebastian Bach as much as a religion to its founder. '' Robert Schuman.

Some works

- The Brandenburg concertos

- The Passion according to St John

- Mass in B minor

- Passacaglia and fugue for organ in C minor

- Toccata and fugue in D minor (organ)

- Passion according to St Mathieu

- The art of running away

For further

- Bach in his time, by Gilles Cantagrel. Fayard, 1997.

- Jean-Sébastien Bach, biography of Roland de Candé. Threshold, 2000.

Video: What Made Bach Great? Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750 edit (January 2022).