Johann Sebastian Bach

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Synopsis[edit]

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was one of the greatest and most influential composers to ever live. His father was his first instructor, teaching him the violin. Both his parents passed away when he was only ten, so he went to live with his brother Johann Christoph, who gave him his first keyboard lessons; it wasn't long until Bach surpassed is older brother's abilities. In 1700 he left for Lüneburg as a choirboy at St. Michael's Church. In this developmental period of his life, Bach was fortunate to be exposed to the music of other masters, including George Böhm, organist at St John's Church in Lüneburg. He also occasionally walked to Hamburg to hear J.A. Reinken play, or to Celle to hear the court music.

Bach held many positions throughout his career. He became the organist at Arnstadt in 1705. In 1707 he was appointed organist of St. Blasius Church in Mulhausen. He retained this post only one year before moving to Wiemar as the court organist to the Duke. This period was a particularly prolific one for organ composition. In 1717 Bach became the Kappellmeister and director of "Kammermusik" to Prince Leopold of Anhaldt at Cöthen. After six years there, Bach settled in Leipzig, where he remained until his death. There he served as Cantor of the Thomas School while also playing the organ and directing the Choirs for the two principal churches in town-the St. Thomas church and the St. Nicholas Church.

Bach exerted tremendous influence over musicians both in his day and afterwards. His students included Johann Friedrich Agricola, Philipp Kirnberger, Johann Christian Kittel, Johann Tobias Krebs, and Johann Ludwig Krebs, as well as his own sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, and Johann Christoph Friedrich. Bach was one of the first to write specifically for the organ, not merely for "keyboard". His music is the apogee of many forms, including the Prelude and Fugue, Chorale, Organ Trio, and Partita. His works represent the synthesis of many regional styles, including North German, South German, French, and Italian. His music marks the culmination of the Baroque Period.

Other items of interest:

  • While young, Bach wanted a particular manuscript containing many composers' works. Owing perhaps to jealousy of Sebastian's musical prowess, his older brother Johann Christoph would not let him have one. Bach obtained a copy and spent many late evening hours secretly hand-copying the music into his own notebook. The project was discovered by his brother and taken away. Bach did not recover it until after his brother's death.
  • The story is told that Bach once traveled 200 miles on foot to hear Buxtehude play.
  • It is presumed that Bach once considered applying for Buxtehude's position in Lübeck, deferred only because of the marriage clause which stated he would have to marry Buxtehude's daughter.
  • Louis Marchand was one of France's finest Baroque organists. He and Bach happened to be in Dresden, Germany at the same time, and decided to have a sight-reading contest before a jury to see who was the better organist. However, at the prescribed time, Marchand refused to come. It was rumored that the hour before he had heard Bach warming up on the church organ.
  • Johann Sebastian married Maria Barbara Bach, his cousin, in 1707. They had seven children, only four of whom lived. She passed away suddenly in 1720. Bach later married Anna Magdelena Wülken. They had thirteen children.

Selected organ works:

  • Chorale Based Collections:
  • Kirnberger collection
  • Orgelbüchlein
  • Clavier-Übung
  • Leipzig chorales
  • Schübler chorales
  • Six Trio Sonatas
  • Numerous Preludes/Toccatas/Fantasias and Fugues
  • Eight "Little" Preludes and Fugues (authenticity is questionable)[1]

Periods of composition:

  • 1703–08 Arnstadt
  • 1708–17 Weimar
  • 1717–23 Köthen
  • 1723–50 Leipzig


For additional details, see the Wikipedia article.

List of Pieces[edit]

Click to sort by BWV number, Name of Collection or Set, or Genre
BWV Collection/Set Genre
525-30 Trio Sonatas trio
531-52 Preludes (Toccatas/Fantasias) and Fugues prelude & fugue
553-60 8 Short Preludes and Fugues prelude & fugue
561-63 Fantasias and Fugues prelude & fugue
564-66 Toccatas and Fugues prelude & fugue
567-69 Preludes prelude
570-73 Fantasias prelude
574-81 Fugues fugue
582 Passacaglia prelude & fugue
583-86 Trios trio
587-91 Various prelude
592-97 Concerto transcriptions transcription
598 Pedal Exercitum misc
599-644 Orgelbüchlein chorale
645-650 Schübler Chorales chorale
651-68 Leipzig Chorales chorale
669-89 Clavierübung III chorale
690-713 Kirnberger Chorales chorale
714-64 Misc. Chorales chorale
765-71 Partitas variations

General Perspectives on Performing Bach Organ Works[edit]

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Registration and Organs[edit]

Quentin Faulkner, "Information on Organ Registration From a Student of J.S. Bach."

Translation and commentary by Quentin Faulkner on a 1758 article[2] by Agricola, student of J. S. Bach, on organ registration.

Stephen Roberts, "A Visit to Arnstadt."

A detailed description of the organ at which Bach presided at the beginning of his career as organist, a report of the restoration of the organ in 1999, and the author's conclusions on registration for that organ.

Fingering and Pedaling[edit]

Faulkner, Quentin. J. S. Bach's Keyboard Fingering: New Evidence. Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska, 1980.

An analysis of three early fingering sources.

Articulation and Phrasing[edit]

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Ornamentation[edit]

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Tempo and Meter[edit]

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Scores and Editions[edit]

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Recordings[edit]

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Free Online[edit]

J.S. Bach - 8 Short Preludes & Fugues, performed by Ton Koopman

Johann Sebastian Bach. Organ Concert in St. Thomas Church, performed by Ullrich Bohme

J. S. Bach : Organ Complete Works, performed by Marie-Claire Alain

Bach - Orgelbüchlein (complete), performed by René Saorgin

Pay to Listen[edit]

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Other Resources[edit]

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Notes[edit]

  1. Organ Composer Database [1]
  2. Marpurg, Friedrich Wilhelm. Historisch-Kritische Beytriige zur Aufnahme der Musik (Historical and Critical Contributions to the Reception of Music), Volume 3, Part 6. Berlin: Gottlieb August Lange, 1758.

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