This is a guest post from Hannah Noel, a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science, where she earned her MSLS and focused her studies on archival work in an arts and museum-specific context. She is interning at NLS at the Library of Congress through the HACU program this spring. This Tribute has two parts. Part 2 will be published next week.
Johann Sebastian Bach, born on this day 334 years ago in 1685, is one of the most well-known and influential composers of all time. Born in Eisenach in the duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach to a prominent musical family, he began his musical education at an early age. He received instruction on both basic music theory and the violin from his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, himself a professional musician, and was later introduced to the organ by one of his uncles, successful Baroque composer Johann Christoph Bach.
Orphaned at the age of ten, Bach resided for a time with his oldest surviving brother, also named Johann Christoph Bach, who served as his first keyboard teacher and (perhaps most influentially) familiarized him with the work of some of the greatest contemporary musicians of the day, including Johann Pachelbel, Johann Jakob Froberger, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. In 1700, when Bach was about 15, he was enrolled in the prestigious St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg in Lower Saxony, where he was exposed to a wider range of European culture and music. This exposure was particularly influential on Bach’s conception of music and he later drew from a number of European musical traditions for his own compositions‑ a trait which proved essential in setting him apart from his contemporaries in the later Baroque style.
Bach’s professional musical career was far too extensive to recount in any great detail (or with any real justice) here in this brief blog post. Upon his graduation from St. Michael’s, he held the position of court-appointed musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar for seven months, a tenure which secured his reputation as one of the foremost organists of his time. In August 1703, he became the organist at Arnstadt’s Neue Kirche (now known colloquially as the Bach Church in his honor), residing a mere year there before beginning a post as an organist at the Blasius Church in Mühlhausen. In 1717, after falling out of favor with the Weimar public, Bach was hired to serve as the Kapellmeister (director of music) in the court of Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. In 1723, Bach was appointed the Cantor of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, a position he held for the next twenty-seven years.
Bach was married twice and had, in total, twenty children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. A number of his sons became notable musicians and composers themselves, the most successful among them being Johann Christoph Friedrich (sometimes referred to as the “Bückeburg Bach”) and Johann Christian (known during his own lifetime as the “London Bach”). Johann Sebastian Bach experienced a decline in his health in 1749 and began to lose his vision. He underwent experimental, corrective eye surgery in both March and April of 1750 and eventually passed away due to complications from the unsuccessful treatment in July of that year.
Throughout the entirety of his working life, Bach continued to innovate, compose, and revolutionize Baroque era music at every turn. He kept apace with the trends of other notable composers of his day, including Vivaldi, Handel, and Telemann, by writing suites, concertos, and cantatas, according to the style of the day.
Bach was, by all accounts, a polymath of musical style and composition. He produced original music prolifically throughout his life and spanned musical forms from cantatas (both secular and religious) to motets, four-part choral harmonies, organ compositions, concertos, and canons. In fact, Bach produced so many original compositions that keeping track of his work necessitated the invention of an independent thematic catalogue devoted to his output, developed by Wolfgang Schmieder in 1950 and known as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue, often known by its shorthand ‘BWV’). The first edition of this catalogue listed 1,080 surviving compositions that could be uniquevocally attributed to Bach; later additions to this original catalogue only increased the number of works attributed to Bach in the official canon.
The NLS Music Section has available for loan an extensive collection of Bach’s most celebrated work, and we encourage you to explore our Voyager catalogue. Listed below is a small sample of the works by and about Bach available for loan:
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750.
- The Brandenburg Concertos. In 6 volumes. Brandenburg Concerto no. 1, full score (BRM29862); Brandenburg Concerto no. 2, full score (BRM29863); Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, full score (BRM29864); Brandenburg Concerto no. 4, full score (BRM29865); Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, full score (BRM29866); Brandenburg Concerto no. 6, full score (BRM29867).
- Aria: From the Pastorella. For piano. Bar over bar format. (BRM00036)
- Sonata No. 1 in G Minor from Sonaten und Partiten, BWV 1001-1006. For violin solo. (BRM32683)
- Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. For organ. (BRM04216)
- Air for G String, from Suite in D major, BWV 1068. For violin and piano. Paragraph format. (BRM22323)
- The Passion of Our Lord According to Saint Matthew. Bass chorus parts, part 1. Edited by Edward Elgar and Ivor Atkins, revised 1938 by Ivor Atkins. Line by line format. (BRM02557)
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750.
- The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, No. 1. For piano. Large print. (LPM00869)
- Siciliano. Large print. (LPM00281)
- Six Sonatas for Violin Solo, nos. 5 & 6. Large print. (LPM00468)
- Sinfonia. From “Ich steh’ mit einem Fuss im Grabe.” Arranged for clarinet. Large print. (LPM00384)
Bach, Johann Sebastian, 1685-1750.
- Minuet in G. Arranged for guitar. Guitar by ear. Taught by Bill Brown. (DBM02209)
- Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. Arranged for guitar. Guitar by ear. Taught by Bill Brown. (DBM02251)
- Bourree in G. For piano. Piano by ear. Taught by Bill Brown. (DBM02989)
- Geck, Martin. Johann Sebastian Bach. Life and Work. Translated from the German by John Hargraves. (DB 63944)
- Geiringer, Karl and Geiringer, Irene. Johann Sebastian Bach. The Culmination of an Era. (BR 00443)
- Greenberg, Robert. Bach and High Baroque. (DBM01542)
- Siepmann, Jeremy. Johann Sebastian Bach. (DB02893)
- Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach. The Learned Musician. (DB 51541)
Please contact us to request braille, digital audio-cartridges, or large-print materials or to download audio materials from BARD. We’re happy to help you find music scores or music instructional materials. Our phone number is 1-800-424-8567, option 2. You can also e-mail us at [email protected].