Born to Maria Elizabeth Lammershirt and musician, Johann Ambrosius Bach, Johann Sebastian was the youngest of their surviving children. While little is known of Johann Sebastian Bach’s childhood, it was later reported by his son that Bach excelled in singing was influenced by his father’s cousin, an organist.
In 1692, Sebastian ’s mother died, and his father remarried. Tragically, within three months, the senior Bach followed his wife, and orphaned J.S Bach and his siblings. Sebastian and his brother, Johann Jacob, went to live with their eldest brother, Johann Christoff at the Ohrdruf Lyceum, where they received a rigorous education.
In 1700, Sebatian left Ohrdruf, went to Luneberg, and became a member of the Matins chorus of Michealiskirshe, where he continued his education. In the ensuing years, Sebastian was employed as an organist in various places, and while in Muhlhassen, in October 1707, Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. Less than a year later, in June of 1708, Bach was offered a position of court organist in the Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weinmar’s palace. During this appointment, Bach composed the majority of his organ music and established his first contact with Italian music, which birthed his keyboard arrangements of concertos by Vivaldi and others. Six years later, in 1714, he was promoted to Konzertmeizter, a position that required Sebastian to compose “monatlich neue stucke”, or, compose a new cantata monthly. He fulfilled this requirement until his relationship with the Duke soured in 1716.
It is said that Bach composed some 200 sacred cantatas and numerous secular cantatas. In addition to this staggering quantity, the quality of these works is notable. He composed the bulk of his cantatas during his first few years at Leipzig, and did so in three cycles. Bach would begin each cycle on the first Sunday after Trinity, and continue his work until Trinity Sunday the next year. He used three sources for his cantata text: biblical passages to be read on that day, chorale text associated with that day, and poetic interpretation of expressed sentiment for that particular day. During the first cycle, from 1723–1724, Bach drew from his past compositions in Weimar and Cohen, but essentially, wrote a new piece every Sunday. In the second cycle, from 1724–1725, Bach wrote many of his chorale cantatas as well as cantatas for the Feast Days such as the Feast of Saint John and Festival of Reformation.
In 1723, Bach began his final positions as Kantor of the Thomasschule and Director musices for the town of Leipzig. In his last years, Bach focused on private works including Canonic Variations for Organ on Von Himmel hoch and the Musical Offering. Bach’s health began to falter and by the following year, he had lost his vision. Johann Sebastian Bach died after two unsuccessful surgeries for a cataract.
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