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Composers of the Baroque

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"Bach in Time" video

The Story of Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany into a large family of musicians. His father played the violin. Other relatives were fiddlers, music copyists, town pipers, and played the oboe or organ. It was no wonder that Bach grew up loving music.

Bach’s parents died when he was 10 years old. He went to live with his oldest brother, Christoph, who taught him to play the harpsichord and organ. During this time Bach went to school where his boy soprano voice was admired. When his voice changed, he studied violin, but soon became interested in the organ and decided to pursue church music. At the age of 18, he became organist at Arnstadt and began composing.

When he was 22, Bach moved to Muhlhausen and married Maria Barbara Bach. They had seven children. He was known as an outstanding church musician and excellent organist and was appointed court organist and violinist to the Duke of Weimar. He stayed at Weimar for nine years, and during this time Bach composed some of his finest organ music, including the great Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as well as church cantatas and keyboard suites.

Toccata Fugue

Composition: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Instrument: organ
Key: minor
Interesting fact: This piece is the music that is played by the “Phantom of the Opera”
In 1717, when he was 32, Bach accepted the post of master of music to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. While there he composed much of his orchestral music including the six popular Brandenburg Concertos and works for the clavichord and harpsichord.
Clavichord--an early version of the piano. The strings are hammered with metal strips.

Harpsichord--an instrument similar to the piano, except that the strings are plucked rather than hammered.

Bach’s wife, Maria, died in 1720, and in 1721 he married the beautiful Anna Magdalena Wulken, who was a good singer and musician. Bach had 13 more children with her and taught most of his children to play a musical instrument. He composed the Little Book for the Keyboard for his nine-year-old son, Wilhelm Friedemann. Wilhelm grew up to be a respected performer and composer in his own right, as did several of Bach’s sons.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

Composition: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5--Allegro
Instruments: solo violin and flute play a duet accompanied by harpsichord and string orchestra, with an extended harpsichord cadenza
Key: major
Interesting fact: This piece is a part of six concertos written for the Margrave of Brandenburg (a member of German royalty) who never thanked or paid Bach for his work. It is reported that Bach wrote the harpsichord part for himself, and played the part in all performances.

Prelude in F

Composition: Prelude in F major—Little Book for the Keyboard
Instrument: piano
Key: major
Interesting fact: Wilhelm’s music teacher until the age of 13 was his father, Johann Sebastian Bach.
In 1723, Bach accepted the post of music director of St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig. Here he composed many of his most famous choral works, including his Christmas Oratorio and the St. Matthew Passion.


Composition: O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Chorale) from the St. Matthew Passion
Performed by: chorus and orchestra
Interesting fact: This chorale is considered one of the “classic” pieces for choir and is still sung in churches today .
Bach was deeply religious and a devoted family man. His music was signed “S.D.G.” (Soli Deo Gloria) which means “to the glory of God.” He spent many musical evenings with his family, and boasted he could form a vocal and instrumental ensemble just from his family alone.

Bach became blind in 1749 and died in 1750. Johann Sebastian Bach is considered to be one of the greatest masters of the Baroque period.

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