Title Of Paper : J.S. Bach Essay, Research Paper
Grade Received on Report : 88
Johann Sebastian Bach
Since the dawn of music, there have been many great
composers throughout the world. However, no composer had a
greater impact to music than Johann Sebastian Bach from the
Baroque era (1600 ad. -1750 ad.). Johann Sebastian Bach was a
forefather to music as the author Homer was a forefather Western
literature. Yet, unlike Homer’s uses of words and verses in his
literature, J.S. Bach used notes and chords in his music which to him
was an apparatus of worship.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, in
Eisenach, Thuringina, into a family that over seven generations
created at least 53 outstanding musicians. He first received musical
training from his father, Johann Ambrosius, a town musician. Stricken
by his father’s death at the young age of 10, he went to reside and
study with his older brother, Johann Christoph, an organist in Ohrdruf.
In 1700, Bach began to earn his own living as a chorister at the
Church of Saint Michael in Luneburg. Later in 1703, he became a
violinist in the chamber orchestra at the Church of Prince Ernst of
Weimar, but later moved to Arnstadt, where he became a church
organist. In October 1705, Bach went to Lubeck to study with the
distinguished Danish-born German organist and composer Dietrich
Buxtehude which largely affected Bach. Bach was then criticized for
the new lavish flourishes and bizarre harmonies in his organ
accompaniments to congregational singing. He was already too
highly respected, nevertheless, for either objection to result in his
dismissal. Then in 1707, he went to Mulhausen as an organist in the
Church of Saint Blasius. The next year, he went back to Weimar as
an organist and violinist at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst and abide
there for the next 9 years, becoming concertmaster of the court
orchestra in 1714. In Weimar he composed about 30 cantatas, and
also wrote organ and harpsichord works. In 1717, Bach began a 6-
year employment as chapelmaster and director of chamber music at
the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen. During this time he
basically wrote secular music for ensembles and solo instruments. In
addition, he prepared music books with the intent of teaching
keyboard technique and musicianship. These books include the Well-
Tempered Clavier, the Inventions, and the Little Organ Book.
In 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig were he spent the rest of his
life. At Leipzig, he became the music director and choirmaster of
Saint Thomas’s church. Life at Leipzig however was unsatisfactory.
He continually quarreled with the town council, and neither the council
nor the critics appreciated his musical genius. They saw him more a
stifling elderly man who clung stubbornly to obsolete forms of music.
Regardless, the 202 cantatas surviving from the 295 that he wrote in
Leipzig are still played today, whereas a lot that was new and in craze
at the same time has been forgotten. Nearly all of the cantatas start
with a section for both chorus and orchestra, continue with alternating
recitatives and arias for solo voices and accompaniment, and end
with a chorale based on a simple Lutheran hymn. Among these works
are the Ascension Cantata and the Christmas Oratorio, the following
including of six cantatas. The Passion of St. John and the Passion of
St. Matthew also were composed in Leipzig, as was the momentous
Mass in B Minor. Among the works written for keyboard during this
period are the famous Goldberg Variations, Part II of the Well-
Tempered Clavier, and The Art of the Fugue, a grand exhibition of his
contrapuntal ability in the form of 16 fugues and 4 canons, all on a
single theme. Bach’s sight began to deteriorate in the concluding year
of his life, and he died on July 28, 1750, following undergoing an
failed eye operation.
J.S. Bach’s greatest impact to music was his own music. The
importance of Bach’s music is due in a big part to the magnitude of
his intellect. He is the best recognized as a ultimate master of
counterpoint. He was able to understand and use every resource of
musical language that was available in the Baroque era as Homer did
with the Greek language of Archaic Greece. At the same time, he
could compose for voice and the different instruments so as to take
advantage of the peculiar characteristics of the make up and tone
quality in each. Also, when a text was associated with the music, J.S.
Bach could compose musical equivalents of verbal concepts, such as
expanding melody to characterize the sea, or a canon to depict the
Christians following the teachings of Jesus.
In addition, Bach’s capability to access and utilize the media,
styles, and genre of his day let him to accomplish many astonishing
transfers of idiom. For example, he could take an Italian ensemble
composition, such as a violin concerto, and convert it into a
persuasive work for a single instrument, the harpsichord. By devising
elaborate melodic lines, he could communicate the complex texture
of a multivoiced fugue on a single-melody instrument. The
conversational rhythms and sparse on a textures of operatic
recitatives can be found in some of his works for solo keyboard.
After J.S. Bach’s death he was remembered less as a
composer that an organist and harpsichord player. His numerous
tours had guaranteed his reputation as the greatest organist of all
time, but his contrapuntal style of writing sounded old-fashioned to his
contemporaries, most of whom preferred the fresh pre-classical styles
then coming into fashion, which were more homophonic in subject
and less contrapuntal than J.S. Bach’s music. Thus, for the next 80
years his music was overlooked by the public, although a few
musicians admired it, among them Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and
Ludwig van Beethoven. A revival of interest in J.S. Bach’s music
occurred in the mid-19th century. The German composer Felix
Mendelson arranged a performance of the Passion of St. Matthew in
1829, which led to a popular interest in J.S. Bach.
Technical expertise alone, of course, was not the origin of J.S.
Bach’s greatness. It is the expressiveness and emotion of his music,
especially as revealed in the vocal works, that portrays his humanity
and that reaches listeners everywhere.