Monday, April 22, 2013
Vocal and Choral Literature
Mr. William S. Mitchell
Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21, 1685 - July 28, 1750) was a German Baroque composer. He is generally ranked among history's greatest and most influential composers. His compositions often embody profound intellectual depth, emotional power, and technical command.The Bach family was of importance in the history of music for nearly two hundred years. Four branches of it were known at the beginning of the i6th century, and in 1561 we hear of Hans Bach of Wechmar who is believed to be the father of Veit Bach (born about 1555). The family genealogy, drawn up by Johann Sebastian Bach himself and completed by his son Philipp Emanuel, describes Veit Bach as the founder of the family, a baker and a miller, "whose zither must have sounded very pretty among the clattering of the mill-wheels." His son, Hans Bach, "der Spielmann," is the first professional musician of the family. Of Hans's large family the second son, Christoph, was the grandfather of Sebastian Bach. Another son, Heinrich, of Arnstadt, had two sons, Johann Michael and Johann Christoph, who are among the greatest of J. S. Bach's forerunners, Johann Christoph being now supposed (although this is still disputed) to be the author of the splendid motet, Ichlassedichnicht ("I wrestle and pray"), formerly ascribed to Sebastian Bach. Another descendant of Veit Bach, Johann Ludwig, was admired more than any other ancestor by Sebastian, who copied twelve of his church cantatas and sometimes added work of his own to them.
The Bach family never left Thuringia until the sons of Sebastian went into a more modern world. Through all the misery of the peasantry at the period of the Thirty Years' War this clan maintained its position and produced musicians who, however local their fame, were among the greatest in Europe. So numerous and so eminent were they that in Erfurt musicians were known as "Bachs," even when there were no longer any members of the family in the town. Sebastian Bach thus inherited the artistic tradition of a united family whose circumstances had deprived them of the distractions of the century of musical fermentation which in the rest of Europe had destroyed polyphonic music.
Johann Sebastian Bach was baptized at Eisenach on the 23rd of March 1685. His parents died in his tenth year, and his elder brother, Johann Christoph, organist at Ohrdruf, took charge of him and taught him music. The elder brother is said to have been jealous of Sebastian's talent, and to have forbidden him access to a manuscript volume of works by Froberger, Buxtehude and other great organists. Every night for six months Sebastian got up, put his hand through the lattice of the bookcase, and copied the volume out by moonlight, to the permanent ruin of his eyesight (as is shown by all the extant portraits of him at a later age and by the blindness of his last years). When he had finished, his brother discovered the copy and took it away from him. In 1700 Sebastian, now fifteen and thrown on his own resources by the death of his brother, went to Lüneburg, where his beautiful soprano voice obtained him an appointment at the school of St Michael as chorister. He seems, however, to have worked more at instrumental than at vocal music. Apart from the choristers' routine, his position provided only for his general education, and we know little about his definite musical instructors. In any case he owed his musical development mainly to his own incessant study of classical and contemporary composers, such as Frescobaldi (c. 1587), Caspar Kerl (1628-1693), Buxtehude, Froberger, Muffat the elder, Pachelbel and probably Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741), the author of the GradusadParnassum on which all later classical composers were trained. A prettier and no less authentic story than that of his brother's forbidden organ-volume tells how, on his return from one of the many holiday