Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

By Jo Ann Vick


Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most influential and celebrated composers in the history of Western classical music, was born on March 31, 1685, in the small town of Eisenach, in the German state of Thuringia. He hailed from a family of musicians that boasted several generations of skilled musicians, and his ancestors played a crucial role in shaping his passion for music.

Early Life and Education:

Bach's father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a talented violinist and court trumpeter, while his uncles and brothers were accomplished organists and composers. This musical heritage deeply impacted young Johann's upbringing, fostering an early appreciation for music. Tragedy struck the Bach family when Johann was only nine years old, as both of his parents died within a year of each other. He and his younger brother, Johann Jakob, moved to live with their eldest brother, Johann Christoph, an organist in Ohrdruf. Here, Bach's musical talents were nurtured, and he received a formal education in music.

Bach's Early Career:

Bach's musical prowess became apparent at an early age. By the time he was fifteen, he was proficient enough to be appointed as an organist in the town of Arnstadt. Over the years, he held various prestigious positions in several cities, including Mühlhausen and Weimar, where he composed extensively and honed his skills as a virtuoso organist and a talented composer.

A Turning Point:

The Weimar Years: In 1708, Bach moved to Weimar, where he assumed the role of the court organist and concertmaster. It was during this time that he delved into composing sacred vocal music, crafting magnificent cantatas and choral works that displayed his exceptional talent for polyphony and counterpoint. Bach's compositions at Weimar showcased his ability to blend intricate harmonic structures with emotionally resonant melodies, earning him recognition as a rising star in the world of music. The Cöthen Period: In 1717, Bach accepted the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Here, he thrived in an environment that prioritized instrumental music, and he composed some of his most renowned works during this period. Notable among these were the Brandenburg Concertos, the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. The Cöthen years marked a turning point in Bach's career, as he embraced the then-emerging galant style while remaining rooted in the intricate counterpoint and structures of the Baroque era.

The Leipzig Years:

In 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig, where he would spend the remaining years of his life as the Cantor of St. Thomas Church and Director of Music for the city. This was a demanding and prestigious position, and Bach's responsibilities included composing music for church services, teaching choirboys, and directing performances at the city's principal churches. The St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, and the Mass in B minor were among the works composed during his time in Leipzig. These masterpieces exemplified Bach's exceptional ability to convey profound religious messages through his music, uniting emotional depth with compositional brilliance.

Bach's Legacy:

During his lifetime, Bach was renowned primarily as an organist and a respected music educator. His compositions were often considered challenging and intellectually demanding, and some critics perceived them as old-fashioned in the face of the rising galant style. However, after his death in 1750, Bach's music gradually gained more recognition and appreciation.

The Revival of Bach's Music:

In the 19th century, a revival of interest in Bach's music emerged, largely due to the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn, who conducted a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829. This pivotal event led to a rediscovery of Bach's masterpieces, elevating him to the status of a revered musical genius. Bach's musical legacy has only grown over the centuries, with his works becoming an essential part of the classical music repertoire. His compositions continue to inspire and influence musicians and audiences alike, and his name stands as a symbol of musical excellence and artistic brilliance.

Johann Sebastian Bach's life and music embody the essence of the Baroque era, and his genius continues to be celebrated today. His unparalleled mastery of counterpoint, rich harmonic language, and expressive melodies make him a composer whose influence will endure for generations to come. Bach's legacy serves as a testament to the enduring power of music to transcend time and culture, touching the hearts and souls of people around the world.

Jo Ann Vick is a private piano instructor with 20 years of training and performing experience
and has a home based studio in Frisco, Texas. Her mission is to develop in others, a love
for playing the piano. Her website is located at