Johann Sebastian Bach holds a singular position in the history of music. A uniquely gifted musician, he combined outstanding performing virtuosity with supreme creative powers and remarkable intellectual discipline. More than two centuries after his lifetime, Bach’s work continues to set musical standards.
The noted Bach scholar Christoph Wolff offers in this book new perspectives on the composer’s life and remarkable career. Uncovering important historical evidence, the author demonstrates significant influences on Bach’s artistic development and brings fresh insight on his work habits, compositional intent, and the musical traditions that shaped Bach’s thought. Wolff reveals a composer devoted to an ambitious and highly individual creative approach, one characterized by constant self-criticism and self-challenge, the absorption of new skills and techniques, and the rethinking of riches from the musical past.
Readers will find illuminating analyses of some of Bach’s greatest music, including the B Minor Mass, important cantatas, keyboard and chamber compositions, the Musical Offering, and the Art of Fugue. Discussion of how these pieces “work” will be helpful to performers—singers, players, conductors—and to everyone interested in exploring the conceptual and contextual aspects of Bach’s music. All readers will find especially interesting those essays in which Wolff elaborates on his celebrated discoveries of previously unknown works: notably the fourteen “Goldberg” canons and a collection of thirty-three chorale preludes.
Representing twenty-five years of scholarship, these essays—half of which appear here in English for the first time—have established Christoph Wolff as one of the world’s preeminent authorities on J. S. Bach. All students, performers, and lovers of Bach’s music will find this an engaging and enlightening book.
Johann Sebastian Bach Essay
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 relation, the organist at Eisenach's
most important church, instructed the young boy on the
organ. In 1695 his parents died and 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 was a professional organist, and 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 left his brother's
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 later posts, his perfectionist
tendencies and high expectations of other musicians - for
example, the church choir - rubbed his colleagues the wrong
way, and he was embroiled in a number of hot disputes during
his short tenure. In 1707, at the age of 22, Bach became 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 Maria Barbara Bach.
Again caught up in a running conflict between
factions of his church, Bach fled to Weimar after one year
in Muhlhausen. In Weimar, he assumed the post of organist
and concertmaster in the ducal chapel. He remained in Weimar
for nine years, and there he composed his first wave of
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