Born in Eisenach (Thuringia) on March 21st 1685, Johann was the youngest child of eight. His father was a court trumpeter. It is assumed that he learned violin and basic musical theory from his father at an early age. The Bach family had produced musicians for generations and little J.S. was not going to be an exception. As a young child Bach attended the same school that Luther did 190 years before.
By age nine he had lost both of his parents, who died within a year of each other, so the orphaned child went to live with his eldest brother Johann Cristoph who was an organist in Ohrdruf. Here Johann had his first lessons on the keyboard. In the spring of 1700 it was decided that his brother could no longer support him and he left for Lueneburg, 200 miles away, with his friend George Erdmann.
photo by: Paul Larson
caption: Bach head bust at St. Nicholas
Back then children of poor parents were allowed to attend the Latin school (St.Michel’s) in Lueneburg free of charge provided they sang in the church choir and at weddings, festivals, etc. There was one small catch - this was allowed as long as they could maintain a treble voice. Bach’s voice was the first to change but luckily he was allowed to play in the orchestra. Soon after being dropped from the choir Bach ended his studies. Dropping out of school did not hinder his musical education because Lueneburg boasted a city library of more than 1000 manuscripts by over 180 composers. In addition to the massive library Bach was exposed to French music at the Ritteracademie, the sister school to St.Michels.
Either Bach was tired of school or he could no longer afford it, but in 1703 he applied for the position as organist at the Jacobikirche near Halle. Due to his fast growing fame in the region he was hired immediately. But at the last minute the position was revoked by the local Duke. From Halle he went to Weimar where he received an appointment as court musician by the duke. This meant playing violin in the private chapel and behaving more or less like a servant. The position of bowing down to a duke did not interest Bach all that much; after a few weeks he requested a new placement as organist, was denied and moved on.
Most of Bach's working life was spent as a Kapellmeister of various important churches. This meant he was responsible for the music performed at Sunday services in addition to teaching Latin a task he did not readily accept.
Arnstadt was his next town of residence where he took on the position of organist in a small church with a spiffy new organ. Here he came into conflict frequently with the church administration, the boy’s choir and even was involved in a street fight with the bassoon player. Obviously Bach needed some time off. He was granted four weeks leave and took a walk over to Luebeck (200 miles away). He met up with Dietrich Buxtehude who ended up influencing him greatly in vocal church works later on. Instead of four weeks Bach returned four months later to Arnstadt to a highly unamused pastor. With him Bach brought a new concept of virtuoso organ to the church services this did not go over well with the rest of his crew who had been given no heads up on this new technique. Feeling like he was not being given the full artistic freedom he desired, Bach applied to a position in Muehlhausen.
Credit: Paul Larson
Caption: Plaque outside church.
“The old St. Thomas School was here until 1902. Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked here from 1723-1750.”
In 1707 he was appointed head organist of the city. A small inheritance from his uncle also gave Bach the chance to marry his longtime sweetheart - second cousin Maria Bardra. Eventually Bach became agitated with the various priests and decided to leave the town but this time he left on good terms with the city and its pastors.