Johann Sebastian Bach ~ Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of Johann Sebastian Bach, go do that lesson now.

Johann Sebastian Bach playing the organ Source: New York Arts

It wasn’t long before Sebastian became well-known for being a wonderful organist and composer of church music. This made it much easier for him to find better jobs. While he was working in Muhlhausen, Germany as an organist, he met and married Maria Barbara. They soon started a family. Maria and the children often traveled with Sebastian.

In 1708, Bach got an excellent job in the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. He wrote some of his most important organ works while here.

After a few years, Sebastian decided that he wanted to leave, because the duke was getting mean. When the duke heard about Bach’s plans, he got very angry and had him thrown into jail for a whole month!

Sebastian and his new boss, Prince Leopold of Cöthen, Germany, got along very well. He composed mainly instrumental music for the prince.

This is where he wrote the first book of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and “The Little Organ Book”. These two books, along with a few others are still played by music students today.

Let’s listen and follow along with the music as we watch the video below for The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1. (You obviously do not have to watch the entire video, but I highly suggest that you watch and listen to at least part of three of the selections, even if that means you fast forward through the video a bit. They get more difficult; and therefore, more entertaining as you progress.)

After 6 pleasant and productive years with Prince Leopold, things quickly changed for the worse. Sebastian’s wife passed away and the Prince got married. The prince’s new wife did not like music at all. The prince then began to lose interest in music, too. Sebastian felt that it was time to move on.

In 1723, Bach accepted a job as director of music in the city of Leipzig, Germany. He was extremely busy! He was responsible for composing and directing music for 4 churches, a school choir, a university choir, and any music the city may need for special events.

He had remarried just 2 years earlier to Anna Magdalena. Anna and Sebastian ended up having 13 children. With 4 children from his first marriage with Maria that made 17 children in all. Sebastian was very busy taking care of a large family.

One of the many things Sebastian had to do every week was to write down and make copies of the music he had written for all of the choir and orchestra members. This was long before anything like copy machines and was an extremely boring job. Anna and their children would often help Sebastian make the copies.

As busy as Sebastian was, he always found time for his large family and was known to be a loving father. He always made sure that all of his children got good grades, learned to play musical instruments, and helped around the house.

Four of Bach’s sons became famous composers and musicians.

I used pictures from Wikipedia to make this collage.

Sebastian spent 29 years in Leipzig and composed some of his greatest pieces of music there.

Later in his life, musical tastes began to change. People were getting tired of what they thought were too big, complicated, Baroque sounds. They now wanted music that was lighter and more simple. Bach knew that things were changing, but he decided to stick with his favorite Baroque style. People called him old-fashioned, but continued to do what made him happy.

When Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, he had composed some of the world’s most beautiful music ever. It is easy to hear his music today on the radio, during weddings, at church, in movies and even in cartoons.

Here are some more wonderful pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Enjoy!

Sarah Chang performs Air on the G String on the violin. This was most likely composed while Sebastian was working for Prince Leopold.

Bach Cello Suite No. 1 – Prelude performed by Yo-Yo Ma.
Brandenburg Concertos No. 3 – Allegro Moderato performed by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.


* A special note regarding the picture of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (maybe too confusing for the very young):
Johann Christian Bach aka “Halle Clavier Bach” Fourth Cousin of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

When you research Bach’s famous sons, you will likely come across a portrait of the gentleman in the picture to the left. It will often say that this is Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, but I believe that is incorrect. (A sketch of Sebastian’s oldest son Wilhelm is the picture used on the bottom left of the collage above).

From my latest research, it looks like this is actually a picture of Johann Christian Bach who was a fourth cousin of Wilhelm. If this truly is not Wilhelm, then there are a lot of biographies, etc that have this wrong.

Johann Christian was also known as the “Halle Clavier Bach” and was one of Wilhelm’s students.

It makes sense, because Wilhelm was the oldest son and often very poor. The style in this portrait looks like this man is at least one generation after the youngest of the the other brothers and definitely not someone with money problems. The person in the sketch used in the above collage does not look anything like this man, so this is not a portrait from Wilhelm’s earlier years.


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