Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period regarded by many as the greatest composer of all time. His music is revered for its technical command, artistic beauty, and intellectual depth.
Bach was born into a very musical family. His father, who probably taught Bach the violin and harpsichord, was the director of music in Eisanach, and all of his uncles were professional musicians. His brother taught him to play the clavichord and introduced him to contemporary music. He was a brilliant keyboard player and it is difficult to comprehend now that during his lifetime, he was known more as a virtuoso organist than a composer.
After graduating from St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg he held several musical posts across Germany: he served as Kapellmeister (director of music) to Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen; and as Thomaskantor in Leipzig, acting as music director at all the main Lutheran churches and in charge of music education at the Thomasschule. He received the title of “Royal Court Composer” from Augustus III in 1736.
Bach’s most famous compositions include the Brandenburg Concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Mass in B minor, two Passions, and over three hundred cantatas of which approximately two hundred survive.
He enriched established German styles through his mastery of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and his adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad. The complexities of his compositional style, often including religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit perfectly together, still amaze musicians today.
In 1705, Bach walked 200 miles to hear organist Dietrich Buxtehude play. He was only granted four weeks leave from his position as organist in Arnstadt but ended up taking off four months, without permission.
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