By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Johann Sebastian Bach
Author: Peyser, Herbert Francis
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Johann Sebastian Bach" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

          [Illustration: Johann Sebastian Bach in early youth.
                         _From an old engraving_]

                         _Johann Sebastian Bach_

                          By HERBERT F. PEYSER

                   [Illustration: Harp and cello logo]

                                NEW YORK
                           _Grosset & Dunlap_

   Copyright, 1945, by The Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York
  under the title: _Johann Sebastian Bach and Some of his Major Works_

   Copyright, 1950, by The Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York

                  Printed in the United States of America


Compared with the unimaginable richness of his inner life as the
overpowering volume and splendor of his works reveal it, Bach’s
day-to-day existence seems almost pedestrian. It had none of the drama
and spectacular conflicts that marked the careers of men like Mozart,
Beethoven, and Wagner. His travels, far less extensive than those of
his great contemporary, Handel, were confined to areas of a few hundred
miles at most in central and northern Germany and were undertaken
chiefly for sober professional purposes. The present volume, which
advances no claim whatever to any new or original slant, aims to do
no more than furnish for those who read and run a meager background
of a few isolated highspots in Bach’s outward life and a momentary
sideglance at a tiny handful of his supreme creations. Its object will
have been more than accomplished if in any manner it stimulates a radio
listener to deepen his acquaintance with Bach’s immeasurable art.

                                                              H. F. P.

                        _Johann Sebastian Bach_

In families of unusual longevity and fruitfulness, observed Goethe,
Nature has a way of bringing forth in her own good time one figure who
unites all the greatest and most distinctive qualities of his various
forebears. The poet of _Faust_ alluded to this mystic process of
genealogy with reference to Voltaire. Actually, he might with quite as
much reason have been speaking of Bach. For Bach combined and brought
into sharpest focus the musical talents and predilections of almost
three antecedent generations, as well as their physical and moral
sturdiness, their spirituality, their robust clannishness. Yet the
miracle of Johann Sebastian Bach transcends even this amazing fusion
of ancestral traits. It is hardly excessive to look upon him as the
consummation and fulfillment of all the musical trends that went before
him and, in a manner of speaking, the origin of all those that came

There is probably nothing in the history of music to compare with
Bach’s ancestry from the standpoint of fertility, complexity, and
endurance. There can be no question of tracing here its multiple
ramifications and cross currents. Enough that we obtain our earliest
glimpse of Sebastian’s great-great-great-grandfather as far back as
the latter part of the sixteenth century. The direct line of the great
composer did not die out till 1845. Seven generations thus stretch
between the extremes of this genealogical phenomenon. The Thuringian
countryside around Arnstadt, Erfurt, Wechmar, Eisenach, and other
communities of the region cradled the different branches of the family.
Two traits, at least, all of them had in common—their love of music
and their attachment to one another. Some became organists, some
cantors, some town musicians, and their devotion to their craft was so
proverbial that, for years after, all musicians in the town of Erfurt
came to be known as “the Bachs” even if totally unrelated. The real
Bachs felt each other’s company so indispensable that, if the members
of the family could obviously not all live in the same place, they made
it a point to hold periodic reunions. After prayers and hymns they
spent the day in feasting and jolly recreation. One of their favorite
amusements was to extemporize choruses out of popular songs and these
lusty medleys (or, as they called them, “quodlibets”) they would bellow
for hours on end with great good humor, while the listeners laughed
till their sides ached.

                        SON OF A COURT MUSICIAN

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach on March 21, 1685, according
to the Old Style reckoning, which is ten days behind the Gregorian
calendar. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, had married an Elisabeth
Lämmerhirt nearly twenty years earlier in Erfurt, where he was town
player. Probably he became Court musician to Duke Johann Georg, at
Eisenach, whither he had removed. His plea to return to Erfurt was
disallowed by his noble employer and so it came that Johann Sebastian
saw the light in Eisenach. Not, however, in the rambling house on
the Frauenplan as traditionally supposed. Comparatively recent
investigation has shown that the actual birthplace is a short distance
away, in a street named after Martin Luther. A rather unromantic
looking dwelling, it was occupied till just before the Second World War
by a barber.

There is a certain symbolic propriety that Bach should have been
born in Eisenach rather than in the more prosaic Erfurt. Eisenach
had powerful religious and romantic associations. Luther had been
entertained by Frau von Cotta in one of its gabled houses while the
Reformer was still a boy. High above the city towered the Wartburg,
where Luther translated the Bible, threw his inkwell at the Devil,
and composed some of his sturdiest chorales. Up there, too, had dwelt
the saintly Elisabeth, while in its halls knightly Minnesingers had
competed in tourneys of song. In the remoter distances rose the fabled
Hörselberg, where according to legend Dame Venus held her unholy court
and ensnared the souls of unwary men. Just what impression these things
made on the child Bach we cannot say. At any rate he could not remain
untouched by the currents of music. The boy had a pretty treble voice
and at the local school he sang in the so-called Currende choir, making
a few pennies now and then on feasts and holidays, at weddings and at
funerals, in company with his schoolmates. He may even have sat in the
organ loft of St. George’s Church, pulling out the heavy stops for his
uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, who had been the organist there for many

Nevertheless, we have no elaborate record of Johann Sebastian’s
boyhood. His father, indeed, taught him the rudiments of violin and
viola, and Terry credits the youngster with “patient concentration” in
the pursuit of these instrumental studies. We do know that he became
before long an uncommonly proficient violinist but took particular
delight in playing viola when he participated in ensemble work. Like
Mozart in after years, the youthful Bach loved to find himself “in the
middle of the harmony.”

                         EARLY YEARS AT SCHOOL

At the Eisenach “Gymnasium” he learned reading and writing, catechism,
Biblical history, and the Psalms. And when only a little over eight he
was fairly immersed in Latin conjugations and declensions. In Eisenach
was laid the foundation of that learning which distinguished his whole
life, though he never enjoyed the advantage of a college education such
as he afterwards gave his famous sons. Yet his school attendance at
this early stage showed a good deal of irregularity, due, perhaps, to
illness or bereavement. He was only nine when he lost his mother. In a
short time his father married again but his death terminated that union
scarcely four months later.

    [Illustration: Bach’s study in Weimar, where many of his greatest
      works, including _The Well-Tempered Clavier_, were composed.]

The Eisenach household having broken up, Johann Sebastian was sent in
1695 to the home of his married brother, Johann Christoph, who lived at
Ohrdruf, some thirty miles away. A pupil of the great Johann Pachelbel,
the Ohrdruf Bach functioned as organist at the Church of St. Michael’s.
Johann Christoph, an accomplished musician, lost no time in giving
his young brother his first lessons on the clavier. Presumably he
supplemented them with instruction on the organ. In any case the boy
seems to have had access to a large quantity of good music. He was an
extraordinarily capable student with a voracious appetite for musical
learning and no sooner had he mastered one difficult task than he
plagued his brother for another more difficult still.

At this period occurred that celebrated incident for which Johann
Christoph has been very harshly judged by posterity. A collection of
clavier pieces by masters like Froberger, Kerll, Pachelbel, Böhm and
Buxtehude, lay in a book case with a latticed front. Johann Sebastian’s
pleas to study them met with a stern refusal. So the youngster resorted
to stratagem. By thrusting his hands through the lattice and rolling
up the music he managed to extract it when his brother’s back was
turned. Not being allowed a candle he copied out the various works by
moonlight, a job which occupied him for six months and probably laid
the foundation for those eye troubles which toward the last were to
rob him of his sight. Nor did he enjoy the fruit of his labors. Johann
Christoph found the copy and promptly confiscated it. Before blaming
him, as is usually done, it may be well to reflect that Bach’s brother
was not necessarily moved by an impulse of cruelty but more probably
felt the need of curbing somewhat an audacious and immature young
genius, who threatened to get out of hand.

During the five years he spent in Ohrdruf Bach attended the town school
which enjoyed an unusually high reputation throughout Thuringia. His
studies, naturally, ranged much further afield than at Eisenach and
his scholastic progress appears to have been rapid. His high, clear
voice and instinctive musicianship not only assured him a place (and
rather substantial rewards) in the chorus of the institution but in
proper season gained him the friendly interest of Elias Herder, a
young musician summoned to replace Johann Arnold, a highly unpopular
teacher who had been dismissed as a “pest of the school, a scandal of
the church and a cancer of the community.” Through the good offices
of Herder young Bach found an opportunity to join the select choir
(_Mettenchor_) of St. Michael’s Church in Lüneburg, more than two
hundred miles to the north.

                          STUDENT AT LÜNEBURG

The time was ripe, at all events, for Johann Sebastian to leave
Ohrdruf. His brother’s family was increasing apace and the organist’s
quarters had been growing uncomfortably cramped. Furthermore, Bach was
now fifteen, an age at which boys were expected to start earning their
living. So the chance to remove to Lüneburg proved a stroke of luck.

But there were more fascinating advantages to it than even the
possibilities of bed and board. Easily accessible were several sources
of musical and cultural inspiration. In Lüneburg itself the Church of
St. John had as its organist none less than Georg Böhm, one of the
outstanding personalities in German music of the era preceding the full
unfoldment of Bach’s grandeur. Thirty miles off lay Hamburg, which
harbored the venerable master of the organ, Adam Reinken; and the
operatic life of that city had burst into bloom under the leadership of
Reinhard Keiser. Up in the direction of the Danish frontier the town of
Lübeck sheltered still another giant, the organist Dietrich Buxtehude.
Sixty miles in an easterly direction lay Celle, whose Duke, Georg
Wilhelm, had married a beautiful and spirited French Huguenot, Eleanore
Desmier d’Olbreuse, and turned his court into a miniature Versailles,
where French musicians in particular were royally welcomed. Naturally,
a little opera house formed part of this island of Gallic charm,
elegance and culture, enlivened by a continual succession of ballets,
operas, and other musical diversions. Whether Bach obtained admission
to the auditorium or whether he was smuggled into the orchestra
pit by some friendly player we do not know. But of one thing we are
certain: his love for the music of the French masters and his intimate
acquaintance with it was in large degree the result of what he heard
and learned at the gracious ducal court of Celle.

Bach spent almost three years in Lüneburg, where St. Michael’s Church
and its conventual buildings were his home. He continued his studies
at the _Partikular Schule_ of the church, sang with the _Mettenchor_
and was a member of the _Chorus Symphoniacus_, of which the choir
formed the nucleus. He developed, gradually, into a capable organist
and came under the healthy influence of Georg Böhm at the Church of
St. John, whose impress can be detected in some of Bach’s early organ
works. Böhm was a pupil of Adam Reinken and undoubtedly urged the young
man to hear the aged master, though one can readily imagine that Bach
would sooner or later have sought out Reinken of his own volition.
The summer vacation of 1701 found him traveling afoot to Hamburg. The
patriarch had been organist of St. Katherine’s Church half his life
and though now nearly eighty continued to be famous for his virtuosity
and his extraordinary skill in improvisation. Nor was it his executive
powers alone which captured his young listener. Reinken’s compositions
fascinated him and their influence is perceptible in certain of Bach’s
clavier pieces twenty years later.

              [Illustration: Johann Sebastian Bach in 1735.
              _From a painting by Elias Gottlob Hausmann_]

   [Illustration: Bach performing at the newly invented pianoforte for
   Frederick the Great during his visit to the court in 1747—an event
   which Bach regarded as one of most notable episodes in his career.]

This first trip to Hamburg was by no means Bach’s last. And thereby
hangs a tale—a fish story, if you will, but nevertheless true and
related a number of times by Bach himself. Tired and hungry on his long
jaunt back to Lüneburg, the boy sat down for a moment’s rest outside
the kitchen of an inn whose open windows exhaled tempting savors.
Suddenly there fell at his feet the heads of two herrings, a fish
prized as a great delicacy in his native Thuringia. Eagerly picking
them up he found inside of each a Danish ducat obviously put there by
some kindly soul who had caught sight of the famished young wanderer.
Whether or not Bach ate the heads, he suddenly found himself with money
enough for an ample dinner and sufficient also to defray the expenses
of another visit to Hamburg.

                         ORGANIST AT ARNSTADT

It may be taken for granted that Bach planned an eventual journey
to Lübeck to hear the mighty Buxtehude. In any case this trip was
deferred. Hard as he had studied at Lüneburg and greatly as his musical
powers had grown, it was becoming clear that he must put his talents to
practical use. He had been earning a living of a sort with his singing
and likewise as a violin and viola player. But his voice had changed
and was no longer of great use as a source of revenue. His powers as
an organist, on the other hand, were expanding prodigiously, a fact
which had become known not only in Lüneburg but far away in his native
Thuringia. He began to long for an organ post of his own and the steady
income it would assure.

Late in 1702 the news spread that a new organ was being completed at
the Church of St. Boniface in Arnstadt, one of the ancestral seats of
the Bach family and rich in its traditions. Doubtless Arnstadt had its
eyes on the promising disciple of Böhm and Reinken, young as he was.
Bach, too, felt it wise to watch the situation at close range. So he
returned to Thuringia. The new instrument of St. Boniface was not ready
nor was it completed till the summer of 1703. Sangerhausen offered a
possibility, but that was thwarted by the machinations of high-placed
people with influence.

Yet by Easter Bach found himself enrolled in the service of Duke
Johann Ernst, brother of the reigning Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar.
His stay in Weimar on this occasion was brief though it seems to have
earned him some honors, including the useful if misleading title of
“Princely Saxon Court Organist.” But scarcely three months later he
was back in Arnstadt, where the St. Boniface organ was ready for
its test. That Bach should have been entrusted with so responsible
a task indicates how high must have been his reputation already. He
examined the instrument, reported favorably on it and, to demonstrate
his satisfaction, played an inaugural recital which impressed the
Consistory to such a degree that on August 9 he was officially
appointed organist.

It was not long before he was at odds with the authorities. He had,
in addition to his organ playing, the disagreeable job of training
the choristers, a shiftless, good-for-nothing rabble from the local
school who, as the city council complained, “behave in a scandalous
manner, resort to places of ill repute and do other things we shrink
from naming.” Bach, for his part, had already developed that obstinate,
uncompromising nature that grew more violent the older he became and
brought him into no end of difficulties throughout his life. When his
mind was fixed on achieving a certain end nothing would swerve him from
it. He could be as hardheaded and intransigent a fighter for what he
considered his rights and as ruthless in combating opposition as were
Beethoven and Wagner in later generations.

His extraordinary talents did not prevent him from attracting a number
of enemies which progressively increased. One of the most bitter of
these was a bassoonist named Geyersbach whom Bach on more than one
occasion had to reproach for his musical incompetence. Matters came to
a head when the organist, escorting a lady home one night, was set upon
by the ruffian accompanied by a brawling rout of students who attempted
to cane him. As tough a fighter as the best of them, Bach took to his
sword when Geyersbach shouted, “Hundsfott” (“Cowardly rascal”), and
with a roar of “Zippelfagottist” laid about him so furiously that the
“nanny-goat bassoonist” escaped manhandling only by the prompt help
of his cronies. The incident caused considerable agitation among the

Scarcely had it subsided than Bach upset the Consistory by requesting
a month’s leave to make that pilgrimage to Buxtehude in Lübeck
which he had been unable to carry out at Lüneburg not long before.
He secured as a substitute in his absence a cousin, Johann Ernst,
whose efficiency he guaranteed. Grudgingly the authorities complied,
unwilling to risk an issue with so valuable, if testy, a servant. While
Bach did not make the whole journey of three hundred miles on foot he
undoubtedly walked a fair part of the way. He timed his trip to arrive
in Lübeck for Buxtehude’s famous _Abendmusicen_, at the Marienkirche,
which had been celebrated for a generation and which were continued
under the veteran’s successors until the nineteenth century. These
evening musicales, in which instrumentalists as well as choristers
participated, were carried out on a scale larger than anything to which
the young organist had been accustomed. One thing this Lübeck visit did
was to give Bach a heightened idea of music in its relation to public
worship, an idea he strove to carry out for the rest of his life, but
realized only fully when he was at the height of his tremendous powers
in Leipzig.


One may be sure that the immense inspiration he received from Buxtehude
was as potent and influenced the current of his genius as fully as had
Böhm and Reinken a little earlier. That he exhibited his own powers
on the Lübeck organ and profited by the example and suggestions of
Buxtehude is clear. Forgetting the flight of time and his obligations
in Arnstadt, Bach let the winter months slip by. It is even possible
that he weighed the question of stepping into the shoes of the
seventy-year-old master. But there was a condition attached to that
which made him hesitate as it had Handel and Mattheson before him.
Whoever wanted Buxtehude’s job had to take Buxtehude’s daughter in the
bargain. The lady, it appears, was not especially well favored and she
was all of twenty-eight—scarcely the most alluring prospect to a young
man only twenty, and one which involved the further possibility of
having to house the father-in-law for as long as the Lord might choose
to spare him!

                    [Illustration: Bach at the organ.
           _From a contemporary engraving by Rudolf Schäfer_]

The year of 1706 had dawned before Bach turned reluctantly toward
Arnstadt once more. He took occasion to make a few side trips on the
way, stopping over at Hamburg and Lüneburg to greet old associates and
friends. By the end of January he was back in the organ loft of St.
Boniface. His return was not exactly a love feast. The congregation
and Consistory were looking for a capable, mild-mannered organist,
not a disquieting virtuoso. But in a relatively short period Bach
had become just that. He was plainly above the musical heads of the
townsfolk. There were murmurings of discontent which were duly brought
to his attention. He paid not the slightest heed, till finally the
Consistory proceeded to lay down the law. The authorities had quite
a number of bones to pick with their refractory young genius. They
had given him a leave of one month, not of four. He answered that he
imagined his substitute was competent to fill his shoes for the extra
time. Far from being placated the worthy elders then reproached him for
accompanying the church hymns with all sorts of brilliant and audacious
improvisations, full of unexpected harmonies and variations which left
the congregation groping blindly for the melody. When people had
remonstrated that his preludes, interludes and postludes were too long,
he had gone to the other extreme and made them too short. And there was
worse to come: when he was practicing at St. Boniface, people had been
scandalized to overhear the voice of a “strange maiden,” singing to
his accompaniment! Such things could not be tolerated any more than an
organist whose relations with his choir were so bad that he refused to
rehearse it. So he could take his choice—either do what the Consistory
required or else....

Bach did neither one thing nor the other but lived for a while in an
uneasy state of compromise. He was not in the least minded to renounce
the company of the “strange maiden”—probably the same one he was
seeing home the night Geyersbach and his rowdies attacked him. She
was none other than his cousin, Maria Barbara, and daughter of Bach’s
uncle Michael from nearby Gehren. It was not long before he proposed
to the musically talented girl and was accepted—the first case of
intermarriage between two of the Bach stock. In the fullness of time
she became the mother of two of Bach’s most gifted sons.

We have not alluded so far to the compositions which had their origin
during Bach’s Arnstadt sojourn nor are they, obviously, among his most
memorable. One, however, occupies a place of its own among his clavier
works. It is the famous _Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved
Brother_, a piece of program music clearly based on the example of
the _Bible Sonatas_ of Johann Kuhnau. The occasion of the _Capriccio_
was the forthcoming journey of Bach’s brother, Johann Jakob, to take
service with Charles XII of Sweden, then campaigning in Poland. The
work, in four movements, is of a pricelessly humorous character.
The first part represents the traveler’s friends, a nervous company
apparently, who try to dissuade him from an adventure which they regard
as full of hazards. In the second movement one person after another
points out the assorted dangers he anticipates and does so in a fugue
of delightfully comic effect. This is followed by a slow movement,
_Adagissimo_, built over a pathetic ground bass, in which sobbing
chromatic phrases lament the inability of the friends to change the
wanderer’s mind. As they groan and wail Bach drowns out their noisy
sorrows in a lively fugue on the postillion’s horn; and the “beloved
brother” is off on what promises to be a wholly pleasant and profitable

Bach’s Arnstadt days were drawing to a close. This is not to intimate
that when he left it or any other town in which he had filled positions
he never returned to them. Throughout his life he traveled repeatedly
over familiar ground, either to participate in family meetings, to
inspect organs, give recitals or engage in other social or professional
activities. To be sure these wanderings were limited to a few hundred
miles in Central and Northern Germany. But such as they were he took
them often and gladly, either alone or with members of his family.

                          YEAR AT MÜHLHAUSEN

At Mühlhausen, in Thuringia, the death of Johann Georg Ahle, in
December 1706, left a void in the organ loft of the Church of St.
Blasius. It was not long before Bach was asked on what terms he would
take over the post of his renowned predecessor. He asked a larger sum
than the salary paid to Ahle but substantially the same as he had been
earning at Arnstadt; also, a quantity of firewood “to be delivered at
his door,” some corn, and a conveyance to move his household goods.
By June 1707, the appointment was his, the town obviously so eager to
secure him that it wasted no time in negotiations. Conceivably the
Arnstadt Consistory was not dissatisfied to be so conveniently rid of
an irascible and troublemaking hothead.

Mühlhausen had an impressive background of musical traditions but
Bach entertained nobler aims for the Church of St. Blasius than the
more easygoing ideals of Ahle. For this purpose he went to a not
inconsiderable private expense to improve the organ and enlarge the
musical library of Mühlhausen’s churches. The town council seconded his
efforts in many ways even if some people resented the independence and
progressive though disturbing projects of a young man of twenty-two.
At this period he inherited a respectable sum of money from a maternal
uncle in Erfurt, and the chances are that the magnificent cantata
numbered 106 and entitled _God’s Time is the Best_, was composed for
the funeral of this Tobias Lämmerhirt, which Bach dutifully attended.
Soon afterwards he retraced his steps to Arnstadt and there, on October
17, 1707, in the neighboring village of Dornheim he married Maria
Barbara. Their honeymoon was devoted to visiting different members of
the Bach family scattered through the neighboring countryside.

The good will of the community made it possible for Bach to demand
repairs and improvements on the organ of St. Blasius. Moreover, he
was called upon to compose a work for a highly important Mühlhausen
civic function, the annual election of the town councilors. It was for
this event that he wrote a grandiose _Ratswahl Kantate_, whose music
exhibits the influence of Buxtehude heightened by his own incomparable
genius. In a burst of generosity the city fathers voted to publish the
work. It was the only one of Bach’s cantatas printed in his lifetime.
Otherwise, there is no record that, aside from the cantata _God is my
King_, a single such work of his was given in the Mühlhausen churches,
though from the creative standpoint he can scarcely have been idle.

Despite the high esteem Bach enjoyed in Mühlhausen he remained there
only a year. The municipal heads and the authorities of the Church
of St. Blasius regretted his going but were unable to prevent it. He
conceded frankly that he wanted to improve his material position. Yet,
a deeper reason lay at the back of his departure. It was at the bottom
the byproduct of a religious question. For some time a reaction had
been developing against certain dogmatic formularies in the Lutheran
body. The dissidents, known as Pietists, gradually came to sword’s
points with the orthodox sect, and Mühlhausen, especially, became a
hotbed of Pietism, whose adherents strongly opposed the use of music
in public worship. This, of course, flew violently in the face of
Bach’s ideal, which was the betterment of music in the church and its
heightened employment to sacred ends. It became solely a question of
time when such a situation would render his position at St. Blasius
untenable. The Consistory was so well disposed to Bach that it promptly
agreed to a variety of modifications in the organ which he had
recommended. Before these were carried out he had given notice of his
departure and his employers realized they could do nothing about it.
He promised, however, to come over to Mühlhausen from nearby Weimar in
order to see how the alterations were being executed.


Weimar, to which he now removed, became Bach’s home for the next ten
years, and here were created some of his mightiest works, particularly
those for organ. The town was, even at that period, a cultural center.
Its Duke, Wilhelm Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar, a pious, serious-minded
ruler, engaged Bach not only as organist, but also as _Kammermusikus_,
i.e., as a member of his household orchestra. A close friendship also
developed between Bach and the young but shortlived Johann Ernst,
son of Bach’s earlier Weimar patron. Exceedingly musical, the youth
was a talented violinist, took lessons from the _Kammermusikus_, and
composed several works of conspicuous merit, three of which Bach later
transcribed for clavier and which, for a long time, passed for violin
concertos by Vivaldi. The acquaintances and close friendships Bach
formed at the Weimar court were numerous and valuable, with musicians,
writers and educators prominent among them. The ducal “Kapelle” varied
in size and constitution according to circumstances. Sometimes, when
opera was performed, it included singers. The instrumentalists proper
seem to have numbered eleven. The conductor was one Johann Samuel
Drese; the concertmaster, from 1714 on, Bach.

One of the concertmaster’s duties was to provide cantatas for a variety
of occasions and, beginning in 1714, he wrote a number of them. His
choir consisted of twelve singers. Wilhelm Ernst had from the first
been impressed by Bach’s powers as an organist. The musician’s diverse
labors were gratifyingly recompensed and in nine years he had doubled
his income. At its smallest it was twice as large as at Mühlhausen.
It is claimed that never in his life did Bach have at his disposal an
organ truly worthy of his powers and even at Weimar the instrument
was inferior to that in Mühlhausen. Nevertheless, the organ works
he composed at Weimar exceeded anything he had ever done before in
sumptuousness of inspiration, imaginative grandeur, and technical

One hears comparatively little of Maria Barbara. Bach’s wife appears,
however, to have been a fitting helpmeet to her busy husband, handling
his household and his numerous pupils with tact and discretion and
bearing him children with regularity. Some of these died early, others
lived till a ripe age. In 1710 was born his oldest son, Wilhelm
Friedemann, a genius in his own right and ever his father’s favorite,
but all his life wayward and something of a black sheep. At this stage
one might as well mention two other musically outstanding sons of
Bach among the twenty children he was to beget. The more prominent of
these was Carl Philipp Emanuel, who served Frederick the Great and
whose reputation as a pianist and composer was such that, whenever in
the latter part of the eighteenth century, it was a question of Bach,
people usually meant Philipp Emanuel. Another, Johann Christian (Bach’s
son by his second wife), lived and died in London, composed operas, and
became an intimate of the youthful Mozart.

During the years of his Weimar residence Bach made three journeys which
are conspicuous among the brief ones that punctuated his life. One was
to Cassel toward the end of 1714, presumably to examine a new organ.
Possibly, too, he accompanied his ducal master on a ceremonial visit.
Like Weimar, Cassel had a reputation for culture and evidently the
Duke would have been pleased to exhibit the prowess of his own court
organist. A reference to Bach’s incredible virtuosity on this visit has
come down to us. “His feet, flying over the pedals as though they were
winged,” wrote an observer, “made the notes reverberate like thunder
in a storm till the prince, confounded with admiration, pulled a ring
from his finger and presented it to the player. Now bethink you, if
Bach’s skilful feet deserved such bounty what gift must the prince have
offered to reward his hands as well?” Other stories of his miraculous
playing had long circulated throughout the country. People said it was
a habit of his to climb into the organ loft of an inconspicuous rural
church and so astound people with his improvisations that the cry would
go up: “That must be Bach or the Devil!” The tale, one can depend on
it, is a myth.

Another trip was to Halle, birthplace of Handel. True, he did not go
there in search of his greatest contemporary (though he made several
sincere yet ineffectual attempts to meet him) but to examine a new
organ. His playing created so profound an impression that the Collegium
Musicum made an earnest effort to secure him for Halle. Bach was
flattered but, because of his Weimar connections, unable to accept.
The Halle council, believing he was seeking higher pay, was irritated.
Nevertheless, a little later it summoned Bach in company with Johann
Kuhnau and Christian Friedrich Rolle to inspect the organ of the Church
of Our Lady. The officials omitted nothing that might please their
distinguished guests. A staff of servants and coachmen was placed
at their service, a reception was held at which the chief musical
personages of the town were summoned to meet them and, after the organ
had been examined in great detail, the visitors were entertained at a
banquet whose culinary abundance and gastronomic quality may be judged
from the following bill of fare which has come down to us:

  _1 piece of Boeuf à la mode_
  _Pike with anchovy butter sauce_
  _1 smoked ham_
  _1 dish of peas_
  _1 dish of potatoes_
  _2 dishes of spinach with sausages_
  _1 quarter of roast mutton_
  _1 boiled pumpkin_
  _Candied lemon peel_
  _Preserved cherries_
  _Warm asparagus salad_
  _Lettuce salad_
  _Fresh butter_
  _Roast veal_

As Bach returned safely to Weimar, it may be assumed he passed up a few
of the courses! He was even paid a fee for the little outing. It came
to $4.50.

The third trip carried him to Dresden. There, under the rule of Augustus
II, musical life flourished. In 1717 a season of Italian opera was in
full blast. It was not opera, however, which fascinated Bach. He looked
upon it with gentle condescension and, even in later years, was in the
habit of chaffing his son, Friedemann, with the question: “Well, shall
we go over to Dresden and listen to the pretty little tunes?” What did
attract Bach was the presence at the Saxon court of the celebrated
French clavecinist and organist, Louis Marchand. Bach had studied his
compositions closely and admired them. A gifted but intolerably arrogant
person, Marchand had fallen into disgrace in Versailles and found it
prudent to emigrate. An official of Augustus II conceived the idea of
summoning Bach from Weimar and arranging on the spot a musical contest
between the two. Such is, at least, the traditional story. Whatever the
exact truth may have been, Bach arrived on the scene of the proposed
contest at the specified hour but Marchand, afraid of a rival whose
prowess he well knew, left Dresden secretly and let the match go by
default. Bach thereupon performed alone, stirring his hearers to
unlimited admiration. Marchand returned to France where he lived,
apparently none the worse for his ignominious failure, till 1732.

Things, however, were shaping for a change in the life of Bach. In
1716 the conductor of the ducal orchestra, Johann Samuel Drese, died.
For two years Bach had filled the post of concertmaster and seems to
have felt that he was next in line for the conductorship. It went, on
the contrary, to Drese’s son, a man of mediocre attainments. Bach was
hurt and further embittered by the fact that no more cantatas of his
composition were being ordered, and his notorious temper speedily got
the better of him. He had made the acquaintance of Prince Leopold of
Anhalt-Cöthen, whose sister had married a younger member of Weimar’s
ducal family. Intensely musical, that sovereign in the summer of 1717
had asked Bach to become his Kapellmeister. Bach shortly afterwards
sent an application for his release to Wilhelm Ernst, apparently
mincing no words. The Duke flew into a rage. We read in the diary of
one of the court secretaries: “On November 6, 1717, Bach, till now
Concertmaster and Court Organist, was put under arrest in the justice
room for obstinately demanding his instant dismissal.” The infuriated
genius remained a jailbird only till December 2. His detention appears
to have been profitably employed for it enabled him to begin work on
his _Orgelbüchlein_. About a week later he left Weimar for Cöthen,
eighty miles to the northeast, with his wife and four children.


At Cöthen he began a new life. For one thing, he no longer filled the
post of organist. The court of Prince Leopold was of the Calvinistic
faith. Church services, being of a particularly austere nature, required
no organ playing of a virtuoso type or the production of sacred
cantatas, such as Bach had hitherto been turning out in quantity. Yet
Leopold was an ardent music lover, whose tastes ran to instrumental
composition. He maintained an orchestra of eighteen of which Bach now
became Kapellmeister. Such cantatas as he wrote in Cöthen were secular
ones, chiefly in honor of his employer. For the most part his creative
energies were now concentrated on concertos, suites, sonatas, and
clavier works including some of his very greatest.

         [Music: Contemporary score for three minuets by Bach.]

Instrumental music before Bach’s day had scarcely achieved what might
be called an independent life. In the creations of his Cöthen period
we discover, in effect, the most vigorous roots of our symphonic
literature—especially in the four suites (or “overtures,” as Bach
called them) and the six “Brandenburg” Concertos! Scholars have been
unable to decide definitely whether the former were composed in Cöthen
or in Leipzig. At all events they were performed before the Duke and
also before the Telemann Musical Society in Leipzig, of which the
composer was subsequently director. The third suite, in D, is the one
comprising the exalted and incomparable _Air_, which achieved, long
afterwards, a popularity of its own in the transcription of it for the
G string by the violinist August Wilhemj. Yet every movement of each
suite constitutes a priceless jewel of instrumental music.

The Brandenburg Concertos are in a somewhat different case. They were
composed for Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg and a son of
the Great Elector, whom Bach appears to have met on a journey with
Prince Leopold. Christian Ludwig had a hobby of collecting concertos
by various composers and he commissioned Bach to write him “some
pieces.” In an elaborate preface couched in extraordinary French and
dated “Cöthen, March 24, 1721,” the composer begged his noble patron to
accept these products of his “slight talents” and to “overlook their
imperfections.” Whether the private orchestra of the Margrave played
the works or not we cannot say. Neither do we know if Bach’s gift was
even acknowledged. After Christian Ludwig died, the catalogue of his
richly stocked library had no mention of Bach’s half dozen “trifles.”
The precious masterpieces turned up in a mass of scores offered for
sale in job lots!

It is practically certain, however, that the Brandenburg Concertos were
performed by the princely Kapelle at Cöthen in Bach’s presence, for
the composer had been wise enough to make copies of his scores. They
are not concertos in the modern sense of the term, but continuations
and developments of those “concerti grossi” of masters like Torelli,
Vivaldi, and Corelli. In various permutations and combinations they
contrast groups of solo instruments (the “concertino”) with the
background of the “tutti.” The “concerti grossi” of Handel furnish
examples of the same principle of balance and diversity. The fact that
none of the Brandenburg Concertos is in a minor key and that somber
moods are rare, points to the probability that they were written for
entertainment purposes.

Their variety is astonishing, with no two quite alike. The first, in F
major, is the only one which calls for horns; and for the performance
of this concerto two horn players were specially engaged at Cöthen. The
second, likewise in F, requires a trumpet—the solitary appearance in
the entire set of this instrument. To choose between the Brandenburg
Concertos, to determine their relative musical worth is impossible. Yet
in some respects the sixth, in B flat, if perhaps the least frequently
played, is the most unusual. No violins are used in its scoring. The
employment of two violas, two viole da gamba, and cello gives the work
a peculiar dark string color wholly its own.

Let us mention here the wondrous concerto for two violins, another
sublime inspiration of Bach’s Cöthen days. It is probable that it
was played by the concertmaster, Josephus Spiess, and the excellent
violinist, Johann Rose (who also played the oboe and taught fencing
to the court pages!), with the composer conducting the orchestral

And Prince Leopold, himself, who not only enjoyed music but played it
well, doubtless took part in the sonatas for clavier and viola da
gamba. He could not do without his musicians apparently and, when, in
1718, he went to take the “cure” at Carlsbad, he had a sextet from
his Kapelle accompany him. Bach was one of the retinue. The following
year the Kapellmeister made a pilgrimage to nearby Halle in an effort
to meet Handel, who had come to the Continent to engage singers for
his operatic ventures in London. But neither at this time nor on a
subsequent occasion when he tried to make the acquaintance of his great
contemporary was he successful. Handel had already returned to England,
seemingly far less eager to meet Bach than Bach was to meet him.

In May 1720, Prince Leopold again went to take the Carlsbad waters
and once more Bach was in his train. The visit was somewhat longer
this time and it ended grievously for the composer. When he set out
he left his wife in the best of health and spirits. When he came back
he found her dead and buried. With Maria Barbara gone there was,
apparently, no one to look after Wilhelm Friedemann, Philipp Emanuel
and Johann Gottfried Bernhard, the eldest not more than ten. The blow
seems to have struck Bach the more heavily because, engaged in worldly
music-making as he now was, he lacked the spiritual consolation of
churchly activities and the communion with his inner self which he
enjoyed in the organ loft.

An opportunity for a trip to Hamburg was provided by the sudden death
of the organist at St. Jacob’s Church of that city. Along with a number
of other noted players Bach was invited to pass on the qualifications
of new candidates for the post. This gave him a chance to renew old
ties and stimulate new interests. Adam Reinken was still alive and
in his presence as well as before a number of municipal authorities
Bach improvised astounding variations on the chorale “By the Waters of
Babylon,” one of Reinken’s specialties, till the veteran conceded in
amazement to his younger colleague: “I thought this art was dead, but I
see it still lives in you.”

The Hamburg journey was but an interlude, however inspiring. There
was no possibility of an organ position in that town. And another
problem was now occupying him—the question of his children’s
education. Friedemann had received his first clavier lessons from
his father shortly before Maria Barbara’s death. The world has been
the gainer through this instruction administered the youngster by
such a formidable teacher. With his own hands Bach wrote out a
_Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach_. On the first page
are set down the various clefs. More important for posterity is a
transliteration of the ornaments, or “Manieren,” showing precisely
how they are to be executed. Then follow exercises in fingering, hand
positions, and much else. The little book is a valuable illustration
of Bach’s own methods of discipline and pedagogy.

Nor are these the only things for which generations of pianists have to
thank the Bach of the Cöthen period. It was for teaching purposes that
he composed masterpieces like the Two- and the Three-Part Inventions.
To furnish practical illustration of the advantages of the system of
equal temperament he advocated for tuning, he composed, while still in
Leopold’s service, the first book of the _Well-Tempered Clavier_, that
miraculous series of twenty-four preludes and fugues in all major and
minor keys, which is the Bible of pianists to this day. The second book
was written in Leipzig many years later.

It was not long before Bach realized that if his children were to be
brought up in the traditions of rectitude he had himself inherited,
they could not remain without a mother’s care, the more so as his many
occupations left him little leisure to oversee a company of lively
youngsters. And so on December 3, 1721, Bach took to himself a second
wife, Anna Magdalena Wilcken, the daughter of a court trumpeter of
Weissenfels. A gentle, lovable soul, musical, devoted to her great
husband and the mother of a fresh host of children, she was as ideal a
helpmeet for Bach as her predecessor had been.

A week after his Kapellmeister’s marriage, Prince Leopold took a wife
in his turn. But the lady, the prince’s cousin, quickly troubled
the musical atmosphere of the Cöthen court. Her tastes were for
masquerades, dances, fireworks, illuminations and other forms of
tinseled show, not for concerts of orchestral and chamber music. Bach
called her an “amusa”—a person of no culture. Her installation at
Cöthen was the prelude to Bach’s departure. As so often happened in
his career, however, a more or less inopportune incident created a
situation from which he might profit.


This particular incident was the death, half a year after Bach’s second
marriage, of Johann Kuhnau who, for more than twenty years, had held
the Cantorship of St. Thomas’s School in Leipzig. Whether or not the
post seemed to Bach himself as desirable as a Kapellmeistership, the
sudden vacancy attracted a flock of candidates, some of them men of
distinction. Most preferable in the eyes of the Leipzig civic council
was George Philipp Telemann who in Bach’s day ranked higher in the
esteem of many musicians than Bach himself. Another was Christoph
Graupner of Darmstadt. We need not pursue in detail the complicated
negotiations and the extensive intrigue the choice of Kuhnau’s
successor involved. Telemann was offered the job and things progressed
so far that the authorities debated whether the address welcoming
him should be in Latin or in German. But Telemann, who already held
a lucrative position in Hamburg, determined to find out which town
would offer him the better inducement. Hamburg increased his already
considerable stipend, so in Hamburg he remained. Graupner, on the other
hand, would have come gladly. But his Darmstadt masters declined to
release him.

Before the final decision was made, Bach made it his business to be
on hand at Leipzig. When it became clear to Graupner that he was
out of the running he heartily recommended Bach. The latter was
requested, in order to prove his fitness for the post he sought, to
conduct in the Church of St. Thomas on Good Friday, 1723, a work
of his own composition, appropriate to the day. That work was the
_Passion according to St. John_ which, though it may have been written
hurriedly, is a creation of such transcendent grandeur that only the
later _Passion according to St. Matthew_ can be said to excel it in
lyric splendor and sublimity.

As soon as Graupner’s decision was known, Bach asked Prince Leopold
for his official leave. The letter of dismissal was couched in most
friendly and flattering terms. At Leipzig Bach executed a document
binding himself to discharge all the duties of the Cantorship,
undertaking to teach a variety of subjects and even to give private
lessons in singing without extra pay. The only thing he balked at was
taking charge of Latin classes. For this chore he agreed to provide a
substitute at his own expense. Then he took leave of Prince Leopold,
with whom he remained on terms of the closest friendship till the
prince’s death five years later. On May 5, 1723 he received from the
burgomaster of Leipzig the ceremonious notification of his unanimous
appointment. On May 30 he conducted at the Church of St. Nicholas
(which he served alternately with the Church of St. Thomas) the cantata
_The Hungry Shall Be Fed_. Therewith he inaugurated his office.

                          BACH’S GREATER WORK

Bach settled in Leipzig at the age of thirty-eight. He remained there
the rest of his life. True, he came and went, and he made journeys of
one sort or another, but they were never far distant or protracted.
In Leipzig he created his grandest, his most colossal, and also his
profoundest and subtlest works. His duties were incredibly numerous
and often heart-breakingly heavy. He was responsible, it has been
said, “to all and to none.” Again and again he had the rector of
the St. Thomas School, the city council, the church Consistory, and
yet others about his ears. He had to look after the musical services
in four churches, two of them the most important in the town. Under
exasperating conditions he had to teach turbulent and ruffianly pupils.
He had to combat official ill will and intrigue. For the performances
he was obliged to conduct he had vocal and instrumental forces that
strike us as laughably inadequate and were in numberless cases grossly
unskilled. The demands on his physical and spiritual strength must
have been appalling. Yet Bach appears to have had the resources and
the resistance of a giant. We know that over and again his temper, his
obstinate nature and inborn pugnacity were tried to the uttermost. But
in the face of all irritations he was earning enough, his home life was
comfortable, he met and entertained artists, he had the satisfaction
of knowing that his sons could enjoy the educational advantages of
Leipzig, and he gradually gathered about him a company of greatly
gifted young students and devoted disciples.

In the course of years he shifted some of his most unsympathetic duties
to other shoulders. How he could otherwise have written the gigantic
amount of music he did is an unanswerable question. For consider: he
came to Leipzig the composer of about thirty church cantatas. When he
died in 1750 he had produced there 265 more. Of this staggering total
(295) 202 have come down to us. As if this were not enough (these
cantatas, incidentally, were week-to-week obligations), his years at
Leipzig account for many secular cantatas, six motets, five masses
(including the titanic one in B minor), the Passions according to
St. John and St. Matthew (not to mention lost ones), the _Christmas
Oratorio_, the resplendent _Magnificat_, the _Easter_ and _Ascension_
oratorios, besides clavier works like the _Italian Concerto_, the
_Goldberg Variations_, the second book of the _Well-Tempered Clavier_,
and an incredible mass of other things.

The rector of St. Thomas’ School during Bach’s first years in Leipzig
was Johann Heinrich Ernesti, with whom Bach’s relations were cordial
enough, though the rector was a slipshod disciplinarian. Matters
remained pleasant enough under Johann Gesner, but presently the latter
left St. Thomas to assume a more profitable post at Göttingen. His
successor, Johann August Ernesti, quickly proceeded to stroke Bach’s
fur the wrong way by declaring that altogether too much attention was
given to the study of music. “So you want to be a pot-house fiddler,”
he used to say to youths he found practising the violin. It was only
a question of time when the surly new rector and the combustible Bach
would come into collision.

What has been called the “battle of the Prefects” was long drawn out
and bitter. The details need not detain us. Trouble was intensified
by the appointment to a responsible position of a person named
Krause, whom Bach had angrily described as “ein liederlicher Hund”
(“a dissolute dog”). Things went from bad to worse. Bach accused the
rector of usurping his functions. He wrote long, circumstantial letters
setting forth his case to “their Magnificences,” the Burgomaster, the
civic council, and other outstanding authorities. “Their Magnificences”
replied with legalistic hair-splittings and things grew so violent
that Bach in one case undertook to drive Krause from the choir loft.
The lengthy series of undignified squabbles was finally brought to an
end by Augustus the Strong, King of Poland, Saxony, “etc., etc., etc.”
(to use Bach’s own designation). We are not certain that the composer
obtained the satisfaction he demanded, but everyone seems to have tired
of the interminable quarrel and was relieved to see it peter out.

Meanwhile, Bach had other worries and vexations. One of his sons,
Gottfried Bernhard, proved as unstable as did Wilhelm Friedemann in a
later day, but died before his financial misdeeds had ended in his open
disgrace. Then the composer was made the target of attacks by a certain
minor musician, one Scheibe, who criticized his works for what he
called their “complexity and overelaboration.” Bach immortalized the
fellow by satirizing him in the secular cantata, “Phoebus and Pan,”
where Scheibe appears as the ignoramus Midas, adorned with a pair of
ass’s ears!

       [Illustration: Bach performing at the organ of the Potsdam
 garrison-church. In the center is Frederick the Great, at whose request
    Bach played the organs in several of Potsdam’s leading churches.]

  [Illustration: Bach accompanying his musically gifted second wife—for
  whom he wrote some of his most inspired arias—in an informal recital
                         at their Leipzig home.]

In 1736 Augustus the Strong conferred upon Bach the title of Court
Composer. The patent of Bach’s dignity was committed to the Russian
envoy in Dresden, Carl Freiherr von Keyserling. He was a sufferer
from chronic insomnia and it is to this circumstance that we owe one
of Bach’s supreme works for the clavier—the so-called _Goldberg
Variations_. To ease the torment of sleepless nights the Count had in
his service a gifted clavecinist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, a pupil
of Bach’s. While Bach was in the midst of his troubles with Ernesti,
Keyserling commissioned him to write Goldberg “something soothing” to
divert his wakefulness. Bach took a Sarabande melody he had copied into
his wife’s _Notenbuch_ and used it as the basis of thirty variations.
So delighted was Keyserling that he never wearied of listening to
Goldberg play them and actually referred to them as “my Variations.”
The Count, paradoxically enough, now had every reason to remain awake
and enjoy the never-ending ingenuity and luxuriant fancy of these
variations and the lively _Quodlibet_ toward the close, which recalls
those boisterous medleys the Bach family of old used to improvise
at its reunions. It is pleasant to record that Keyserling paid Bach
liberally for “his” _Variations_.


On Good Friday, 1729, came the turn of St. Thomas’ Church to produce
the music appropriate to the day. The result of this official duty was
the _Passion according to St. Matthew_, for which Christian Friedrich
Henrici, who wrote under the name of “Picander” and provided Bach
with innumerable “librettos” for all purposes, compiled the text. The
composer himself chose and distributed the chorales which punctuate
the score. Bach was still at work on it when his former patron, Prince
Leopold of Cöthen, died. Rather than prepare a special memorial piece
he asked Picander to adapt appropriate words to parts of the music
in the _St. Matthew_ and he performed them in Cöthen at his friend’s

It is hard for us to believe that the _St. Matthew Passion_ did not
receive on that far-off April 15, 1729, the tribute of wondering
amazement which in the fullness of our hearts we bring it today. Yet
we are told that the Leipzig worshipers considered its overwhelming
dramatic pages “theatrical.” “God help us,” exclaimed a scandalized
old dame, “’tis surely an opera-comedy!” We know that, judged by
our standards, the first performance of the work must have been
inefficient. Whether it was much better done at its repetition in 1736
may be doubted. Be this as it may, the _St. Matthew Passion_ passed
into oblivion for nearly a hundred years. The glory of its rediscovery
and its reawakening an exact century after its birth belongs to Felix
Mendelssohn who, with its resuscitation at the Singakademie in Berlin,
performed a service that would have shed immortal luster upon his name
had he never done anything else.

The _St. Matthew Passion_, which is Bach at his most tender, intimate,
lacerating and compassionate, stands, like the _B minor Mass_,
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Wagner’s _Tristan_, as one of the
epochal feats of music, a lonely and incomparable achievement of the
human spirit. Bach is believed to have written a Passion according to
St. Mark, but not a trace of it survives. Another, according to St
Luke, is extant but most certainly spurious. It is hard to believe he
could ever have surpassed the lyric glory of the _St. Matthew_. For
generations after its re-emergence musicians paid it everything from
lip-service to ecstatic tribute. A complete, full-length performance of
it was, however, a rarity and not even Mendelssohn had the courage to
attempt it. In our own time we have finally come to the ways of wisdom,
recognizing that the _St. Matthew Passion_ can produce its proper
effect only when heard in its entirety, with never a bar or a phrase
omitted. Those who have heard it thus are unlikely ever again to listen
willingly to a cut version.

If anything can be said to rival the grandeur of the _St. Matthew
Passion_ it is the _Mass in B minor_, the triumphal hymn of the
church militant. This utterance of subduing and inscrutable majesty,
which transcends the world to bestride the universe, was completed
in 1733 and offered to Augustus the Strong as “an insignificant
example of my skill in Musique”! Augustus the Strong, being occupied
at the moment with problems of state, did not deign to notice Bach’s
“insignificant” gesture. The composer never heard a performance of this
gigantic creation, which soars to heights beyond human gaze and, in
its proportions and technical details, is too vast to serve ordinary
liturgical purposes. Yet here, as so often elsewhere, Bach followed the
example of his age and employed several numbers from this Mass—with
greater or lesser alteration—elsewhere. Even the triumphant _Osanna_,
which expert criticism has pronounced a polonaise (apparently a subtle
compliment paid to Augustus as King of Poland), and the ineffably
touching _Agnus Dei_ may be encountered again in several of Bach’s


Early in 1741 Bach’s son Philipp Emanuel had become clavecinist to the
new sovereign of Prussia, Frederick the Great. Moved, it appears, by a
paternal wish to see the young man comfortably settled, the father made
a trip to Berlin in the summer of that year. Details of the journey are
few and it was cut short by news that Anna Magdalena, in Leipzig, was
seriously ill.

Bach’s famous visit to Berlin and Potsdam did not take place, however,
till fully six years later. One of its chief objects was to make
the acquaintance of his daughter-in-law, whom Philipp Emanuel had
married in 1744, and of his first grandchild. But the visit had more
spectacular consequences. Frederick the Great had learned about Bach
from his court pianist. Whether or not the great Cantor went to
the palace of Sans-Souci in Potsdam at the king’s special command,
he arrived there at a psychological moment on May 7, 1747, just as
Frederick was about to begin one of his regular evening concerts at
which, surrounded by his picked musicians, he loved to exhibit his own
considerable virtuosity on the flute. “Gentlemen, old Bach is here!”
the monarch exclaimed and, calling off the concert, received his guest
with cordiality. He immediately had Bach examine the new Silbermann
claviers with hammer action newly installed in the palace and invited
him to show his skill. After putting each of the instruments to a test,
Bach amazed Frederick and his court by improvising a superb six-part
fugue on a subject submitted him by the king himself. The next evening
he transported his hosts once more with a recital on the organ of the
Church of the Holy Ghost in Potsdam and a little later, in Berlin,
examined the new opera house, detecting acoustical effects which the
architect himself seems not to have suspected.

Back in Leipzig Bach resolved to break a rule against dedicating scores
to noble patrons he had made after the shabby treatment accorded him in
the case of the Brandenburg Concertos and the _B minor Mass_. But he
would have been less than human if he had not thought that a gracious
gesture on his part might perchance further his son’s interests at
court; and besides, he was genuinely pleased with the fine theme
Frederick had given him to develop. So, alleging that his Potsdam
improvisation had failed to do the royal theme justice, he dispatched
to the monarch with a suitable dedication a series of elaborate
contrapuntal developments of the theme, diplomatically incorporating in
the set a sonata for flute, violin and clavier. This princely gift is
the work known as the _Musical Offering_, whose beauty and ingenuity
have come to be properly valued only in recent years.

Theoretical problems of music now interested Bach more and more and
in 1747 he was elected to the so-called Society for the Promotion of
Musical Science, founded by Lorenz Christoph Mizler. Men as illustrious
as Telemann, Handel and Graun were already members and after a brief
period of hesitation Bach joined it, too, presenting the Society in
return for his diploma with a formidable sample of his technical skill
in the shape of a lordly set of canonic variations for organ on the
Christmas hymn _Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her_.

In 1749 he was occupied with a work in some ways his profoundest and
most enigmatic, which virtually till our own time has been misconstrued
even by serious musicians as a dry and abstract experiment in polyphony
of no independent musical value. It is that stupendous succession of
fugues and canons (or “counterpoints,” as the composer himself called
them) under the collective title _The Art of Fugue_. On a subject not
unlike the theme given him by Frederick the Great, Bach has heaped one
polyphonic marvel upon another in a manner to exploit to the limits of
technique and imagination every possible device of fugal and canonic
development. He was not spared to complete it but dropped his pen at a
passage in the final counterpoint when the notes “B-A-C-H” (in German
B flat, A, C, B natural) were woven into the contrapuntal texture.
What adds to the further riddle of the work is the fact that the
composer did not indicate for what instrument or group of instruments
he intended it. In our day it has been scored by turns for a full
orchestra, a chamber orchestra, a string quartet, two pianos, and
the organ. It is difficult to believe that Bach did not intend this
colossal conception to be performed and that he projected it merely as
a theoretical problem or an exercise in what is called “eye music.”
It stands in relation to Bach’s other works something as the mystical
last quartets of Beethoven do to his more popular creations. It was
published posthumously and reissued by Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1752.
Yet four years later not more than thirty copies had been sold and
Philipp Emanuel, in disgust, sold the plates for old metal.


Bach’s eyesight had long been failing. The strain to which he had
mercilessly subjected it all his life, copying music as well as
engraving elaborate compositions of his own, was now telling on it.
By the end of 1749 his vision was in such a state that an English eye
specialist, John Taylor, who later treated Handel but at this time
chanced to be touring the continent, was summoned and operated on
Bach about the beginning of 1750. It was of little avail. Prolonged
confinement in a dark room, medicines and dressings told on the
master’s ordinarily robust constitution. When his condition permitted
and his sight temporarily improved he recklessly returned to his
creative labors and also prepared for the engravers a set of eighteen
choral-preludes for organ. But the end was at hand. Calling to his
side his son-in-law, Johann Christoph Altnikol, Bach dictated to
him the variation on the chorale _When We Are in Our Deepest Need_,
prophetically bidding him alter the title to _With This Before Thy
Throne I Come_. On July 18 he suffered an apoplectic stroke and lay for
ten days in a desperate state. At nine in the evening on July 28, 1750,
he passed from a world that could barely discern the shadow of his

It is excessive, perhaps, to maintain that for over three quarters
of a century after his death Bach went into total eclipse. But he
was disregarded if not forgotten. A handful of musicians, indeed,
remembered him, among them some of his talented pupils. From time
to time a few scattered works of his gained a limited circulation
and came into worthy hands. Thus, in the seventeen-eighties several
became known in Vienna, and at the Baron Van Swieten’s Mozart had
occasion to acquaint himself with a few specimens, which powerfully
stimulated his genius. Afterwards, in Leipzig, being shown the parts
of one of the motets he exclaimed after closely studying them: “Here,
at last, is something from which one can learn!” Beethoven, too, knew
the _Well-Tempered Clavier_ and even went so far as to ask someone to
procure him the _Crucifixus_ from the _B minor Mass_. His exclamation
is well known: “Not Bach (brook) but Ocean should be his name!”

Yet, in the latter part of the eighteenth century it was chiefly
Philipp Emanuel, not his father, to whom one referred when the mighty
name was invoked. For the sons of Bach, not the mighty parent, embodied
“the spirit of the time.” Even prior to his death Johann Sebastian
had passed for outmoded and rather hopelessly “old hat.” Philipp
Emanuel went so far as to call his father “a big wig stuffed with
learning”; and such was the opinion shared by many of the young bloods
in Leipzig and elsewhere. In a way this was not surprising. Bach
represented a type of music whose complex profundities were giving
place to homophony, entertainment and the graceful superficialities
of the so-called “gallant style.” The new age was concerned with the
problems of the sonata and the opera. Even if Bach’s scores—most of
them unpublished—had been accessible, it is questionable whether the
epoch we call “classical” would have been able to see him in a just

In due course the wheel was to turn full-circle and surely none would
have been more amazed than Philipp Emanuel, Wilhelm Friedemann, and
Johann Christian could they have known that one day their own works
would be looked upon as museum pieces, while the creations of the
“learned old perruque” had become the fountain of musical youth,
the perpetual source of strength and of illimitable, self-renewing
wonder. With Mendelssohn’s revival of the _St. Matthew Passion_ in
1829 there began that resurrection which went on increasingly through
the nineteenth century, headed by the redemptive labors of the
_Bach-Gesellschaft_, and which continues to gain momentum right through
our own day. Boundless as the universe, timeless as eternity, modern as
tomorrow, Bach remains from decade to decade what Richard Wagner once
called him—“the most stupendous miracle in all music.”

                    *       *       *       *       *

                       COMPLETE LIST OF RECORDINGS
                                  BY THE

                            COLUMBIA RECORDS

 LP—Also available on Long Playing Microgroove Recordings as well as on
                 the conventional Columbia Masterworks.

                  _Under the Direction of Bruno Walter_

  BARBER—Symphony No. 1, Op. 9
  BEETHOVEN—Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano and Orchestra in C major
        (with J. Corigliano, L. Rose and W. Hendl)—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major (“Emperor”) (with Rudolf
        Serkin, piano)—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra (with Joseph
  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Eroica”)—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 5 in C minor—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 8 in F major—LP
  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”) (with Elena Nikolaidi,
        contralto, and Raoul Jobin, tenor)—LP
  BRAHMS—Song of Destiny (with Westminster Choir)—LP
  DVORAK—Slavonic Dance No. 1
  DVORAK—Symphony No. 4 in G major—LP
  MAHLER—Symphony No. 4 in G major (with Desi Halban, soprano)—LP
  MAHLER—Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor
  MENDELSSOHN—Concerto in E minor (with Nathan Milstein, violin)—LP
  MENDELSSOHN—Scherzo (from Midsummer Night’s Dream)
  MOZART—Cosi fan Tutti—Overture
  MOZART—Symphony No. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”), K. 551—LP
  SCHUBERT—Symphony No. 7 in C major—LP
  SCHUMANN, R.—Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major (“Rhenish”)—LP
  SMETANA—The Moldau (“Vltava”)—LP
  STRAUSS, J.—Emperor Waltz

               _Under the Direction of Leopold Stokowski_

  COPLAND—Billy the Kid (2 parts)
  GRIFFES—“The White Peacock,” Op. 7, No. 1—LP 7"
  IPPOLITOW—“In the Village” from Caucasian Sketches (W. Lincer and M.
        Nazzi, soloists)
  KHACHATURIAN—“Masquerade Suite”—LP
  SIBELIUS—“Maiden with the Roses”—LP
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32—LP
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Overture Fantasy—Romeo and Juliet—LP
  VAUGHAN-WILLIAMS—Symphony No. 6 in E minor—LP
  WAGNER—Die Walküre—Wotan Farewell and Magic Fire Music (Act III—Scene
  WAGNER—Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Siegfried’s Funeral March—(“Die

                  _Under the Direction of Efrem Kurtz_

  CHOPIN—Les Sylphides—LP
  GLINKA—Mazurka—“Life of the Czar”—LP 7"
  GRIEG—Concerto in A minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 16 (with Oscar
        Levant, piano)—LP
  KABALEVSKY—“The Comedians,” Op. 26—LP
  KHACHATURIAN—Gayne—Ballet Suite No. 1—LP
  KHACHATURIAN—Gayne—Ballet Suite No. 2—LP
  LECOQ—Mme. Angot Suite—LP
  PROKOFIEFF—March, Op. 99—LP
  RIMSKY-KORSAKOV—The Flight of the Bumble Bee—LP 7"
  SHOSTAKOVICH—Polka No. 3, “The Age of Gold”—LP 7"
  SHOSTAKOVICH—Symphony No. 9—LP
  SHOSTAKOVICH—Valse from “Les Monts D’Or”—LP
  WIENIAWSKI—Concerto No. 2 in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 22
        (with Isaac Stern, violin)—LP

                 _Under the Direction of Charles Münch_

  D’INDY—Symphony on a French Mountain Air for Orchestra and Piano—LP
  MILHAUD—Suite Française—LP
  MOZART—Concerto No. 21 for Piano and Orchestra in C major—LP
  SAINT-SAENS—Symphony in C minor, No. 3 for Orchestra, Organ and Piano,
        Op. 78—LP

                _Under the Direction of Artur Rodzinski_

  BIZET—Carmen—Entr’acte (Prelude to Act III)
  BIZET—Symphony in C major—LP
  BRAHMS—Symphony No. 1 in C minor—LP
  BRAHMS—Symphony No. 2 in D major—LP
  COPLAND—A Lincoln Portrait (with Kenneth Spencer, Narrator)—LP
  ENESCO—Roumanian Rhapsody—A major, No. 1—LP
  GERSHWIN—An American in Paris—LP
  GOULD—“Spirituals” for Orchestra—LP
  IBERT—“Escales” (Port of Call)—LP
  LISZT—Mephisto Waltz—LP
  MOUSSORGSKY—Gopack (The Fair at Sorotchinski)—LP
  MOUSSORGSKY-RAVEL—Pictures at an Exhibition—LP
  PROKOFIEFF—Symphony No. 5—LP
  RACHMANINOFF—Concerto No. 2 in C minor for Piano and Orchestra (with
        Gygory Sandor, piano)
  RACHMANINOFF—Symphony No. 2 in E minor
  SAINT-SAENS—Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 in C minor (with
        Robert Casadesus)—LP
  SIBELIUS—Symphony No. 4 in A minor
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Nutcracker Suite—LP
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Suite “Mozartiana”—LP
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Symphony No. 6 in B minor (“Pathétique”)—LP
  WAGNER—Lohengrin—Bridal Chamber Scene (Act III—Scene 2)—(with Helen
        Traubel, soprano, and Kurt Baum, tenor)—LP
  WAGNER—Lohengrin—Elsa’s Dream (Act I, Scene 2) (with Helen Traubel,
  WAGNER—Siegfried Idyll—LP
  WAGNER—Tristan und Isolde—Excerpts (with Helen Traubel, soprano)
  WAGNER—Die Walküre—Act III (Complete) (with Helen Traubel, soprano and
        Herbert Janssen, baritone)—LP
  WAGNER—Die Walküre—Duet (Act I, Scene 3) (with Helen Traubel, soprano
        and Emery Darcy, tenor)—LP
  WOLF-FERRARI—“Secret of Suzanne,” Overture

                _Under the Direction of Igor Stravinsky_

  STRAVINSKY—Firebird Suite—LP
  STRAVINSKY—Fireworks (Feu d’Artifice)—LP
  STRAVINSKY—Four Norwegian Moods
  STRAVINSKY—Le Sacre du Printemps (The Consecration of the Spring)—LP
  STRAVINSKY—Scènes de Ballet—LP
  STRAVINSKY—Suite from “Petrouchka”—LP
  STRAVINSKY—Symphony In Three Movements—LP

               _Under the Direction of Sir Thomas Beecham_

  MENDELSSOHN—Symphony No. 4, in A major (“Italian”)
  SIBELIUS—Melisande (from “Pelleas and Melisande”)
  SIBELIUS—Symphony No. 7 in C major—LP
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Capriccio Italien

                _Under the Direction of John Barbirolli_

  BACH-BARBIROLLI—Sheep May Safely Graze (from the “Birthday
  BERLIOZ—Roman Carnival Overture
  BRAHMS—Symphony No. 2, in D major
  BRAHMS—Academic Festival Overture—LP
  BRUCH—Concerto No. 1, in G minor (with Nathan Milstein, violin)—LP
  DEBUSSY—First Rhapsody for Clarinet (with Benny Goodman, clarinet)
  DEBUSSY—Petite Suite: Ballet
  MOZART—Concerto in B-flat major (with Robert Casadesus, piano)
  MOZART—Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183
  RAVEL—La Valse
  RIMSKY-KORSAKOV—Capriccio Espagnol
  SIBELIUS—Symphony No. 1, in E minor
  SIBELIUS—Symphony No. 2, in D major
  SMETANA—The Bartered Bride—Overture
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Theme and Variations (from Suite No. 3 in G)—LP

               _Under the Direction of Andre Kostelanetz_

  GERSHWIN—Concerto in F (with Oscar Levant)—LP

              _Under the Direction of Dimitri Mitropoulos_

  KHACHATURIAN—Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (with Oscar Levant,

                             VICTOR RECORDS

                _Under the Direction of Arturo Toscanini_

  BEETHOVEN—Symphony No. 7 in A major
  BRAHMS—Variations on a Theme by Haydn
  DUKAS—The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  GLUCK—Orfeo ed Euridice—Dance of the Spirits
  HAYDN—Symphony No. 4 in D major (The Clock)
  MENDELSSOHN—Midsummer Night’s Dream—Scherzo
  MOZART—Symphony in D major (K. 385)
  ROSSINI—Barber of Seville—Overture
  ROSSINI—Italians in Algiers—Overture
  VERDI—Traviata—Preludes to Acts I and II
  WAGNER—Excerpts—Lohengrin—Die Götterdämmerung—Siegfried Idyll

                _Under the Direction of John Barbirolli_

  DEBUSSY—Iberia (Images, Set 3, No. 2)
  PURCELL—Suite for Strings with four Horns, two Flutes, English Horn
  RESPIGHI—Fountains of Rome
  RESPIGHI—Old Dances and Airs (Special recording for members of the
        Philharmonic-Symphony League of New York)
  SCHUBERT—Symphony No. 4 in C minor (Tragic)
  SCHUMANN—Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor (with Yehudi
        Menuhin, violin)
  TSCHAIKOWSKY—Francesca da Rimini—Fantasia

               _Under the Direction of Willem Mengelberg_

  J. C. BACH—Arr. Stein—Sinfonia in B-flat major
  J. S. BACH—Arr. Mahler—Air for G String (from Suite for Orchestra)
  BEETHOVEN—Egmont Overture
  HANDEL—Alcina Suite
  MENDELSSOHN—War March of the Priests (from Athalia)
  MEYERBEER—Prophète—Coronation March
  SAINT-SAENS—Rouet d’Omphale (Omphale’s Spinning Wheel)
  SCHELLING—Victory Ball
  WAGNER—Flying Dutchman—Overture
  WAGNER—Siegfried—Forest Murmurs (Waldweben)

                    *       *       *       *       *

                           TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

  Italic text denoted by _underscores_.

  Illustrations shifted to the nearest paragraph break.

  Copyright notice is from the printed exemplar. (U.S. copyright was not
  renewed: this ebook is in the public domain.)

  Page 49, “socalled” changed to “so-called”
  Page 55, “Cosi fan Tutti” kept, but should be “Cosi fan Tutte”
  Page 56-58, “SAINT-SAENS” kept, but should be “SAINT-SAËNS” (3 times)

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Johann Sebastian Bach" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.