Bach, Johann Sebastian

Bach, Johann Sebastian a German musician, " to whom," in Schumann's words, " music owes almost as great a debt as a religion owes to its founder," belongs to a family whose earliest notices go back to the beginning of the 16th century. The progenitor of the Bach race was VEIT, who died in 1619. He is said to have been a baker, and to have moved into Hungary, with many other Evangelicals, for protection from persecution. But under the emperor Rudolf II, the Catholic reaction gave the Jesuits the upperhand, and this caused Veit to return home and settle at Weimar as a baker and miller. The genealogy states that he loved and practiced music. His chief delight was in a "cythringen" (probably a zither), upon which he' used to play while his mill was at work. But the real musical ancestor of the family was HANS, the son of Veit, who died in 1626. Of his many children, three sons especially distinguished themselves as musicians JOHANNES (1604-73, the forefather of the Bachs of Erfurt), HEINRICH (1615-92, the forefather of the Arnstadt Bachs), and CHRISTOPH (1613-61, the grandfather of Johann Sebastian and father of JOHANNS AMBROSIUS, born in 1645 at -Erfurt, and died at Eisenach in 1695). At Eisenach our- hero was born, March 21, 1685. His father began by teaching him the violin, and after his father's death he began the piano-forte under the direction of his elder brother, Johann Christoph. At the age of fifteen (1700) Johann Sebastian entered the Michaelis School at Lüneburg, where he remained three years. In 1703 he was made organist at Arnstadt in the new church. In 1707 he went to Mühlhausen, in Thuringia, and in the following year to Weimar as court organist. Here "his fame as the finest organist of his time reached its climax, and there also his chief organ compositions were written - productions unsurpassed and unsurpassable." In 1717 Bach was appointed leader at Cothen by Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen, and in 1723 cantor at the Thomas School in Leipsic and organist and director of the music in the two chief churches. His position at Leipsic he retained till the end of his life; there he wrote for the services of the Church his great passions and cantatas, and his highmass in B minor (1733), which exhibit the power of his unique genius in its full glory. He died July 28, 1750. "In Johann Sebastian centres the progressive development of the race of Bach which had been advancing for years; in all the circumstances of life he proved himself to be at once the greatest and the most typical representative of the family. He stood, too, on the top step of the ladder; with him the vital forces of the race exhausted themselves, and further power of development stopped short." Bach wrote unceasingly in every form and branch, and the number of his works is enormous. In 1842 a monument was erected, which perpetuates the features of the great master, in front of the Thomas School, over which he presided, and under the very windows of his study. This monument owes its origin to the enthusiasm of Mendelssohn for the great master. In 1850 the centenary of Bach's death was commemorated, and the "Bach Society" was founded at Leipsic for the publication of his entire works. The literature on Bach is very large. We confine ourselves to the most important. Besides the articles in Herzog's Real-Encyklop., Lichtenberger's Encyclopedic des Sciences Religieuses, and Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Lond. 1880), s.v., see Spitta, Johann Sebastian Bach (Leipsic, 1873-80); Bitter, Johann Sebastian Bach (Dresden, 1880, 2d ed.); Reissmann, Johann Sebastian Bach, sein Leben und seine Werke (Berlin and Leipsic, 1881); Koch, Gesch. des deutschen Kirchlenliedes, v, 614 sq., 637 sq. (B. P.)

 
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