Johann Sebastian Bach devoted his peerless creative life to music from childhood

Posted in Famous Composers, Historical articles, History, Music, Religion on Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about music originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 421 published on 7 February 1970.

J S Bach the boy, picture, image, illustration

Bach copied out music so he could practice more difficult pieces

Each night after it was dark, young Johann Sebastian Bach would steal away from his home in Eisenach, in Germany, taking with him a manuscript of organ music by the great masters. Then, sitting in the moonlight, he would painstakingly copy out the compositions into one of his well-thumbed school exercise books.

The manuscript belonged to Johann’s married brother, Christoph, who had the responsibility of looking after the youngster on the death of their baker father. Christoph was very proud and jealous of his organ manuscript, and refused to let anyone in the family see it.

Six months later, in 1696, Johann’s deception was discovered. Christoph took both the manuscript and the copy away from him.

But by the time Johann was fifteen, his sweet soprano voice had gained him a place in the choir of St. Michael’s School in Luneburg. During this period, the ambitious choir boy often went on long walks to outlying churches so that he could listen to all kinds of organ music.

On one of these tramps he rested for a while outside a country inn. Tired and hungry, he had no money to go inside and enjoy a good meal. One of the diners noticed his plight, opened a window, and threw out two fish-heads to the ravenous boy.

Johann eagerly picked up the leftovers and, to his amazement, found a gold coin inside each of the heads. Immediately he hurried inside and ordered a tasty meal, which he enjoyed.

When he was 23 Bach was appointed organist to the court of Weimar and, until his death in 1750, he earned a modest living by his music. His other important appointment was that of cantor, or leader of the singing, to St. Thomas School in Leipzig.

In Bach’s day it was a hazardous thing to be a composer. Many musicians did not make enough money to keep themselves and their families, and if one of them was lucky enough to find a patron, he invariably dedicated his best work to him.

Such was the case with Bach, who married twice and was the father of 20 children. And when the Prince of Brandenburg – a province in the North German plain – asked him to compose some special pieces, the musician replied with his six famous Brandenburg Concertos.

In a letter of dedication to the Prince, Bach excused what he called his small talent, and modestly hoped that his concertos would not be judged too harshly. Towards the end of his career, Bach became blind – but not before he had composed some of the greatest harpsichord and organ music.

Comments are closed.