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Johann Sebastian Bach

Updated on December 23, 2010

1685-1750

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, to a family of musicians whose tradition went back several generations and was to continue, through his own sons, for several more. There were more than sixty musical Bachs before the family died out in the 1800's. Johann Sebastian was brought up by his musical elder brother after their father died in 1695. The boy studied music passionately, creeping out of bed to copy his brother's collection of music by the dim light of the moon. This copying by moonlight ruined his weak eyesight and later led to blindness.

But the copying also had other effects. It helped him to absorb the musical style of Italian and French composers whose works he heard only infrequently. Later, he began to imitate these styles. And later still he evolved his own style from a fusion of the Italian and French styles together with that of his native Germany, with its characteristic love of wind instruments and counterpoint (two or more melodies chasing and overlapping one another).

Johann Sebastian's composing life can be divided into three main periods. In the first, beginning in 1708 with his appointment as organist at Weimar and continuing until 1717, he composed much of his great organ music. In the second period, from 1717 when he worked as music director at the court in Cothen until 1723, he composed most of his orchestral music, including' his Brandenburg concertos. And in the third period, from 1723 to his death in 1750, he composed most of his finest choral music and more music for organ. At this time he worked as organist, teacher and composer for three churches in Leipzig, the main one being St. Thomas's.

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