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Johann Sebastian Bach


For almost two hundred years, the Bach family of central Germany had produced scores of young men who wrote, taught and sang music, played different instruments and repaired them. On March 21, 1685, the greatest of these, Johann Sebastian was born. He composed over one thousand works, including 6 Brandenburg Concertos, approximately 350 cantatas, passions, and much solo music for keyboard and strings. Yet in his day, he was considered a second rate composer, his fame coming from his organ and harpsichord virtuosity.

He was happily married twice and fathered twenty children, nine of whom survived into adulthood. He was a deeply religious man who saw music as a spiritual celebration and his works as serving God.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the personification of the Baroque style of music in the first half of the eighteenth century. This complex and exuberant style contrasted with the earlier Renaissance, and later Classical styles, which stood for order, clarity and restraint. During this time new musical forms developed that eventually led to the symphony, concerto, and sonata. Bach took these developments to their peak. His music was a synthesis of Italian melody, French dance, German musical complexity and Lutheran spirituality.

By the late 1720s Europe saw the rise of a new cultured middle class that favored musical concepts based not upon the intricacies of polyphony (two or more equal and simultaneous melodies), but the beauty of the single melodic line as in opera (homophony). Thus for the last twenty years of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach found himself to be an anachronism in the Age of Enlightenment. When he died in 1750, his music was valued and studied by other musicians, but generally ignored by the public. Only in 1829 with Felix Mendelssohn's Leipzig performance of the St. Matthew's Passion did the world realize the extent of his genius. Today his works occupy a central place in the concert repertoire.

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