Johann Sebastian Bach, arguably Germany’s greatest composer of all time, was born in the third month of 1685 in Eisenach, a small town in the Province of Thuringia. The Bachs were a big family of musicians. Johann’s father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was the chairman of the Musicians’ Union in Eisenach. Bach’s mother, Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt, was the daughter of a wealthy pelt dealer.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s most famous instrumental compositions include the Goldberg Variations and the Brandenburg Concertos. His best-known vocal music works are the Mass in B minor and the St. Matthew’s Passion.
Johann Sebastian Bach Facts
1. J. S. Bach descends from a family of musicians
Historical evidence has been found that Bach’s great-grandfather was a bagpipe master. His paternal grandfather was a court musician, while his father, Johann Ambrosius, was a gifted violinist. He could also play the organ, the trumpet, and the kettledrum. An interesting fact about Bach is that his five brothers all went by the first name Johann. Two of them died in infancy, but the surviving three became renowned musicians.
2. At the age of 10, Bach lost both his parents
In 1694, when Bach was just ten years old, his mother, Maria, suddenly died, and his father Johann Ambrosius followed her in death less than a year later. The exact cause of The Bachs’ death is unknown, but they are likely to have died of some infectious disease.
Johann Sebastian’s eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach, became his guardian and continued his musical training. Before he died, Bach’s father had taught his youngest son some basic music theory and had instructed him how to play the violin and the harpsichord.
At that time, Johann Christoph was the organist at St. Michael’s Church in Ohrdruf. So, young Johann Sebastian had little choice but to start learning the organ, too. Bach’s eldest brother also gave him some clavichord lessons.
J. C. Bach acquainted his younger brother with the works of Johann Pachelbel, who had been his mentor for a long period of time. In addition to music, young Bach received formal schooling in Greek, Latin, and Religious Studies.
3. Johann Sebastian Bach walked 450 kilometers from Arnstadt to Lubeck and back
The year was 1705, and Bach had been employed as the chief organist of the Protestant Church in Arnstadt. There, he enjoyed light responsibilities, a generous salary, and had at his disposal a state-of-the-art organ, whose music was absolutely divine.
Yet, he gradually fell out with his employers over the poor professional qualities of the church’s choir. One day, he asked for a month’s leave of absence. Once his request was granted, he left Arnstadt and returned after four months.
An interesting fact about Johann Sebastian Bach is that he had walked all the way from Arnstadt to Lubeck in Northern Germany and back, 450 kilometers in total, to visit fellow composer Dieterich Buxtehude. Not surprisingly, he was dismissed from office a year later.
4. Bach had two wives and 20 children
In 1706, J. S. Bach got a job as an organist at the Divi Blasii Church in Mühlhausen. The higher salary and the better conditions he received there made him an eligible bachelor. The following year, he married his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach.
Johann and Maria’s first child, Catharina Dorothea, was born in 1717. Then, the couple had three sons: Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Gottfried Bernhard. Unfortunately, their next three children died in infancy.
Barbara Bach died in the summer of 1720, and next year Johann Sebastian married Anna Magdalena Wilcke, who was sixteen years his junior at the time. Johann and Anna had thirteen children altogether, but only six of them survived into adulthood. Of them, only Johann Christian came close to his father’s talent and fame.
5. Bach was quite short-tempered
While serving as the church organist in Arnstadt, one of Bach’s duties was to teach vocal skills and music to the members of the church’s choir. However, J. S. Bach had neither the patience nor the devotion that the task required.
One day, he had a heated argument with a certain bassoonist by the name of Johann Geyersbach. Blinded by a fit of rage, Bach threw a grave insult into his student’s face. Some days late, Geyersbach ambushed him with a huge wooden stick and demanded an apology. When Bach brought the issue to the town council, they took the student’s side.
6. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar sent Bach to prison for 30 days
In 1708, Johann Sebastian Bach received an appointment as a chamber musician under the Duke of Saxe-Weimar. He had to put up with a long series of tedious responsibilities. However, he dealt with them with a stiff upper lip, hoping that one day he’d become the Duke’s kapellmeister or chief musician.
Unfortunately, when the original Kapellmeister passed away, his office was inherited by his son. This foul play threw Bach into a sheer rage. He furiously confronted the Duke and demanded explanations. However, all that Bach got from his former employer was a thirty-day jail sentence, an interesting fact about J. S. Bach.
7. Bach was crazy about coffee
Johann Sebastian Bach’s favorite drink was coffee, and he preferred it black and strong. He even dedicated a humorous jingle to the black beverage he was so infatuated with. The song titled Be still, stop chattering was performed for the first time at the famous Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig. It soon became an instant hit all over Germany.
8. Bach fell victim to a charlatan eye-surgeon
In March and April 1750, J. S. Bach underwent two eye surgeries believing that they will help him regain his vision. The operations were performed in Leipzig by notorious British surgeon John Taylor, who is now believed to have blinded hundreds of people. Not only did Taylor’s interventions fail to remove Bach’s cataracts on both eyes, but they also left him completely blind.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the man who defined German Baroque in Music, died on July 28th, 1750, following complications from his eye surgery. Taylor had reportedly prescribed him eyedrops that contained mercury and pigeon blood.
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