Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685.
While he was alive, he was known more for being a great harpsichord player and organist than as a composer. Most of the beautiful music that he wrote did not become popular until about 100 years after he died.
Bach (who was usually called Sebastian) came from a very large family of musicians. More than 70 of his brothers, cousins, uncles, and other relatives worked as musicians, composers, or choirmasters.
His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a town musician and probably taught Sebastian how to play the violin, the basics of music theory, and introduced him to some other instruments.
At that time in Germany, there were so many people from the Bach family who were well-known for being musical that in some areas, being a “Bach” meant the same thing as being a musician. (Bach and musician had almost become synonyms.)
The Bach family would get together every year for a family reunion. Some of their favorite things to do at these reunions was to play their favorite music and then make up funny songs that would keep them laughing for hours.
A very sad time started for Sebastian when he was only 9 years old, though. His mother passed away. Then only 8 months later, his father passed away. A sad Sebastian had to move to another town and live with his older brother, Christoph in Ohrdruf.
Christoph was well-known as a church organist. He was probably the one who taught Sebastian how to play the harpsichord and organ. Christoph taught him how to tune and repair broken organs. One of the many ways that Sebastian made money throughout his life was by testing and repairing organs in different towns around Germany.
When Sebastian was 15 years old, he left his brother’s home to look for a job. He walked 200 miles to the town of Luneburg.
Take a look at the graphic on the right. It shows the distances between the places where Bach lived at different times in his life. Can you imagine walking all of that way by yourself for a job when you are only 15? Sebastian traveled and moved around a lot during his lifetime. Be sure to come back to this graphic as I mention new locations.
When Sebastian arrived at Luneburg, he joined the church choir and attended school there. This was the first of many trips that he would take looking for the best music job he could get.
His music jobs sometimes came with chores that were very unpleasant! When he was 17 years old, Sebastian got a wonderful job as a violinist in the royal court at Celle (pronounced să lă ), Germany. This job; however, included having to remove the garbage from the kitchen every morning. YUCK!
As Sebastian moved to different towns, working as a choirmaster or church organist, he kept learning more about music. He also liked to take other little trips to listen to well-known organists and composers to get ideas for his own music. One time, he heard a famous organist named Dietich Buxtehude play. Sebastian was inspired by the imaginative music so much that he started composing new and exciting music in his own style, too.
One of Sebastian’s most famous organ pieces during this time is called Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It is filled with huge and powerful sounds. It was like nothing anyone had ever heard before. Many of Sebastian’s organ piece’s have been known to cause church rafters and windows to shake!
Bach lived and composed during the Baroque period of Classical Music. If you have been doing the Music Adventure Lessons in order, you probably remember in the lesson “What is a Concerto?” when I introduced the Baroque Period and recognize the style of architecture and the music in the video below.
To sum it up: The Baroque period is complicated and full of fancy and frilly details and exaggeration.
Let’s listen to Toccata and Fugue in D minor now. The church pictured in this video is also a wonderful example of Baroque architecture.
There is so much to learn about Johann Sebastian Bach that our study of his life has been broken down into 2 parts. We will continue with Part 2 of his life tomorrow (or the next day you have a Music Adventures Lesson), so be sure to check back for the rest of his story!
If you are new to the Music Adventures Lessons, please click on the graphic below for an introduction and more information.