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Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest composers in Western musical history. More than 1,000 of his compositions survive. Some examples are the Art of Fugue, Brandenburg Concerti, the Goldberg Variations for Harpsichord, the Mass in B-Minor, the motets, the Easter and Christmas oratorios, Toccata in F Major, French Suite No 5, Fugue in G Major, Fugue in G Minor ("The Great"), St. Matthew Passion, and Jesu Der Du Meine Seele. He came from a family of musicians. There were over 53 musicians in his family over a period of 300 years.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany on March 21, 1685. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a talented violinist, and taught his son the basic skills for string playing. Another relative, the organist at Eisenach's most important church, instructed the young boy on the organ. In 1695 his parents died, he was only 10 years old. He went to go stay with his older brother, Johann Christoph, who was a professional organist at Ohrdruf. Johann Christoph being a professional organist, continued his younger brother's education on that instrument, as well as on the harpsichord. After several years in this arrangement, Johann Sebastian won a scholarship to study in Luneberg, Northern Germany, and so he left his brother's tutoring.
A master of several instruments while still in his teens, Johann Sebastian first found employment at the age of 18 as a "lackey and violinist" in a court orchestra in Weimar. Soon after, he took the job of organist at a church in Arnstadt. Here, as in times before, his perfectionism and high expectations of other musicians - for example, the church choir - rubbed his friends the wrong way, and he was caught up in a number of quarrels during his short stay. In 1707, at the age of 22, Bach got fed up with the "lousy musical standards" of Arnstadt (and the working conditions) and moved on to another organist job, this time at the St. Blasius Church in Muhlhausen. The same year, he married his cousin (now that's just wrong!) Maria Barbara Bach.
Again caught up in a running conflict between parts of his church, Bach fled to Weimar after one year in Muhlhausen. In Weimar, he assumed the post of organist and concertmaster in the chapel. He remained in Weimar for nine years, and there he composed his first wave of major works, including organ showpieces and cantatas.
By this stage in his life, Bach had developed a reputation as a brilliant, yet inflexible, musical talent. His qualities on the organ was unequaled in Europe, in fact, he toured regularly as a solo virtuoso. His growing mastery of compositional forms, like the fugue and the canon, was already attracting interest from the musical establishment - which, in his day, was the Lutheran church. But, like many people of great talent, he was never very good at playing the political game, and consequently suffered drawbacks in his career. He was passed over for a major position, which was Kapellmeister (Chorus Master) of Weimar, in 1716. Partly in reaction to this situation, he left Weimar the following year to take a job as court conductor in Anhalt-Cothen. There, he slowed his writings of church cantatas, and instead concentrated on instrumental music. His time Anhalt-Cothen in period produced, along with other masterpieces, the Brandenburg Concerti.
While at Cothen, Bach's wife, Maria Barbara, died. Bach remarried soon after to Anna Magdalena and went ahead with his work. He also went ahead in the baby making department, producing 13 children with his new wife - six of which survived childhood. That plus the four children he had raised with Maria Barbara. Several of these children would become fine composers in their own right, especially three of his sons: Wilhelm Friedmann, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian.
After conducting and composing for the court orchestra at Cothen for seven years, Bach was offered the highly prestigious position of cantor (music director) of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, after it had been turned down by two other composers.
The job was a demanding one; he had to compose cantatas for the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches, conduct the choirs, oversee the musical activities of numerous churches, and teach Latin in the St. Thomas choir school. He had to get along with the Leipzig church authorities, which proved to be difficult. But he persisted, polishing the musical component of church services in Leipzig and continuing to write music of various kinds with a level of skill that was his alone.
Bach remained at his job in Leipzig until his death in 1750. He was creatively active until the very end, even after numerous heart problems virtually blinded him in 1740. His last musical composition, a chorale prelude entitled "Before They Throne, My God, I Stand", was dictated to his son-in-law only days before his death.