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Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750
On 28 July in the year 2000, Johann Sebastian Bach, without doubt the greatest composer in music history, died exactly 250 years ago in Leipzig. Bach commemoration events will resound throughout the world. Countless concerts, festivals, new books and articles, and complete editions of his music on cd, will focus more attention on Bach thanhe ever enjoyed during his lifetime. What the 20th century has taught us about Bach will be the subject of reflection and appraisal. The collected letters and documents covering Bach’s life and work have recently been republished; the catalogue of his music has been critically examined and is now available in a new version: works which proved not to have been written by Bach have been scrapped,while other pieces have been added.

Forgotten and rediscovered
After Bach had almost been forgotten in the 19th century -except by a small group of Bach scholars- much has been made up for in the 20th century. In 1899 the famous conductor Willem Mengelberg initiated the now traditional annual Palm Sunday performance of the St Matthew Passion by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. In 1900the Neue Bachgesellschaft was founded, embarking on a new complete edition and propagating Bach and his music in Germany through festivals and the establishment of the Bach Museum in Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace. The first Bach festival took place in Berlin in 1901. In 1904 publication of the Bach-Jahrbuch commenced, a series of books containing studies and articles which still appears annually. Ayear later a study of the performance of Bach’s music was published by Wanda Landowska, the first pianist to play Bach in public on a harpsichord. In the same year the celebrated doctor, theologian and organist Albert Schweitzer published his authoritative work on Bach and his music. And precisely 200 years after Bach’ death (1950), Wolfgang Schmieder’s catalogue of Bach’s works appeared. Theclassification and numbering of Bach’s music which he introduced half a century ago is still internationally current: the so-called BWV numbers (Bach’s Werke Verzeichnis, or index of Bach’s works).

Bach and the European styles
Though considered old-fashioned and severe in his later years, as a young man Bach was most conscious of the musical fashions of his time. He was fond of all those strangesounds and colours, approaching and imitating them with his typically German solidity. In the course of his life he gathered together an enormous library, including not only countless works from bygone centuries but also the newest fashionable pieces by French, Italian and German composers. Thus we know today what he studied and arranged: Frescobaldi, Froberger, Lully, Corelli, Albinoni, Marcello,Couperin, Dieupart, Kuhnau and Vivaldi. And Bach had the ability to absorb all these different fashions and styles, to adapt them to his own purpose, and even to far surpass his examples.


Bach probably underwent his very first musical experience in 1685 in the womb of his mother Elisabeth, who came from a musical family. His father too, Johann Ambrosius, like generations of the Bachfamily before him, was employed as a town piper, violinist and trumpeter in Eisenach, the small town in east-German Thuringia where Bach was born on 21 March 1685. There the young Sebastian attended the same school as the church reformer Martin Luther 190 years earlier. Hardly ten years old, Bach lost both parents within a short time and was taken in by his eldest brother Johann Christoph,organist in Ohrdruf and probably Bach’s first organ and harpsichord teacher. About five years later Johann Christoph was no longer able to maintain his young brother, and in 1700 Sebastian, with his school friend Georg Erdmann, set out for Lüneburg. There they attended the gymnasium free of charge, in return for which they were obliged to sing daily in the choir of St Michael’s church. Like an...
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