Presentation on theme: ""The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the mind. Where this is not observed, there will."— Presentation transcript:
"The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the mind. Where this is not observed, there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub." 1685 - 1750
J. S. Bach wrote at the end of all of his religious compositions (and many of his secular ones) S. D. G., an abbreviation of Solo Deo Gloria, which means “glory to God alone.” While he did write a lot of well-known secular music, the worship of God and the stimulation of the mind were always chief aims of Bach in his music.
Bach was born in the town of Eisenach, (in Germany, Holy Roman Empire) in 1685. Overlooking Eisenach was Wartburg Castle. It was famous in the middle ages for holding legendary singing contests. Later, it was a Protestant stronghold where Martin Luther stayed over 100 years earlier to escape from the pope and translate the Bible into German.
Bach was born into a family of musicians. His father was the director of the town musicians and all of his uncles were professional musicians whose posts included church organists, court chamber musicians, and composers. His father probably taught him to sing, and play violin and harpsichord at a very young age.
At age 10, Bach’s father and mother died and he moved in with his brother who was a church organist. His brother gave him valuable lessons on the clavichord and organ, and he progressed quickly. Bach wanted to play out of an expensive book his brother kept in the library but his brother forbid it. So he got up on moonlit nights and copied the music while everyone else was asleep. From his brother, Bach studied the works of many great composers of the day including the German Johann Pachelbel (his brother’s teacher) and the French Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Bach had no money to pay for schooling, but fortunately he got a scholarship for his singing and studied music at the elite St. Michael’s school. One of his first jobs was as organist and teacher at St. Boniface's Church in Arnstadt. Unfortunately, this didn’t go so well. Bach fought with his students and complained about the mediocre choir. After getting permission to go visit a famous organist, he remained away for several months longer than he was allowed.
Bach soon left for a position in another city, married and began a family. Soon, he was the music director for the Duke in Weimar. He would spend the next 9 years there, composing hundreds of pieces for keyboard and orchestra. He studied the works of Italian Baroque composers like Vivaldi and incorporated their driving rhythms and harmonic patterns into his own music. He began writing two important music collections that are still used today: The Well-Tempered Clavier and The Little Organ Book.
Bach performed frequently on the organ and in the Duke’s orchestra and became famous for his playing. However, Bach again became dissatisfied with court politics and wanted to take a job in another city. When he told the Duke, however, he was angry and locked Bach in prison for a month. Bach used his incarceration time to write 46 musical pieces, many which are still performed today.
Soon Bach moved his big family (7 children survived to adulthood) and took the position of music director in the very big city of Leipzig. As part of his job, he was expected to teach Latin and music to the boys at St. Tomas’ Church. He also had the huge job of providing worship music for most of the churches in the town. Each Sunday, he and his musicians and singers had to perform a new cantata for the Lutheran services. Often he performed one that he wrote himself.
Bach’s cantatas usually involved vocal soloists, a small choir, an organ, and additional instruments. They were always based on an existing Lutheran hymn (like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”) which was mixed in with new melodies in complex counterpoint. Bach composed more than 300 cantatas in all; unfortunately only about 100 survive today.
Bach was happy that his cantatas were being played so much, but he wanted to do still more. He became the director of Collegium Musicum, the city’s premiere orchestra which played some of secular pieces. He wrote many more pieces for choirs, orchestras, and solo organ, harpsichord/ piano, violin, and cello that are often played today.
Near the end of his life, Bach was visited the court of King Frederick II of Prussia, himself a musician. The king listened to Bach perform and try out his new piano. Then the King played Bach a short but tricky melody that he had made up himself and challenged Bach to improvise a set of variations on it. Bach not only did so with great success, but then went home and wrote 6-part canon on the theme displaying his virtuosity of compositional skills. Still not finished, he wrote and published a lengthy collection of fugues and canons “A Musical Offering” based on the King’s theme.
Bach died in 1750, and so historians mark that year as the end of the Baroque period. By then, a new style of music had become popular. (“Galant” and “Classical”) While 5 of Bach’s sons went on to be famous international composers and musicians, Bach’s own music was considered old fashioned and was never played. Many of his works had never even been published.
Starting around 1800, famous composers including Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and Mendelssohn rediscovered Bach’s music and praised them for their superior craftsmanship. More and more Bach’s music was published and played and he has since gain the reputation as one of the greatest composers ever. When a golden record of mankind’s greatest sound achievements was created to send out into space on the Voyager space probes, 3 of his works were included, more than any other composer.