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Bach, Johann Sebastian

Eisenach 1685 - Leipzig 1750


Large collection of Classical MIDI of Bach's music


Biography (from GROVE)



Johann Sebastian Bach. Composer and organist. The most important member of the family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments, as a composer, that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position. His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.

The first authentic posthumous account of his life, with a summary catalogue of his works, was put together by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel and his pupil J.F. Agricola soon after his death and certainly before March 1751 (published as Nekrolog, 1754). J.N. Forkel planned a detailed Bach biography in the early 1770s and carefully collected first-hand information on Bach, chiefly from his two eldest sons; the book appeared in 1802, by when the Bach revival had begun and various projected collected editions of Bach's works were under way; it continues to serve, together with the 1754 obituary and the other 18th-century documents, as the foundation of Bach biography [... follows at the biography (large) page].

[...] His models [of Johann Sebastian Bach], according to Carl Philipp Emanuel, included Froberger, Kerll, Pachelbel, Frescobaldi, J.C.F. Fischer, Strungk, Buxtehude, Reincken, Bruhns and Böhm. Among the results of this study were the following: (1) although his earliest fugues bear a variety of designations, including Canzona (bwv588), Capriccio (bwv993), Praeludium (bwv566) and even Imitatio (from the Fantasia bwv563), Bach seems early on to have settled on fugue as the designation of choice for all pieces based on non-canonic imitation. This choice is not entirely expected; it may reflect the influence of Pachelbel, the teacher of Bach’s older brother (and first teacher) Johann Christoph and the only composer listed above who preferred that designation. (2) After some experimentation with other models for fugal writing, Bach settled for his keyboard or organ fugues on the model ultimately derived from Bertali, but including by this time frequent use of a countersubject and episodes and eventually incorporating tonal harmony and modulation to related keys. (3) Bach paired most of his keyboard fugues with preludes. Praetorius had described in 1619 the practice of improvising a toccata or prelude before a written-out fugal piece, and only towards the end of the 17th century did a few composers begin to attach written-out preludes to their fugues. Bach’s preference for this practice ensured that wherever his keyboard fugues have been admired the prelude and fugue has served as one of the most important genres to incorporate fugal writing. (4) For his earliest vocal fugues, Bach chose in place of this model the permutation fugue, which he probably encountered through the treatises of Theile.

The mature Bach employed fugue in his music for organ, for keyboard (harpsichord) and for voices. The harpsichord fugues are in general relatively brief and tight in construction; they would seem to have been intended primarily for study and teaching. Those for the organ are usually grander and more expansive; they would seem to have been intended for public performance. For his mature vocal fugues (e.g. in the B minor Mass) Bach eventually abandoned the permutation fugue model in favour of that of the keyboard fugues. [...]

(From Grove Enc. of Music)



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Through his own study and reflection alone he became even in his youth a pure and strong fugue writer

(Carl Philip Emanuel Bach about his father Johann Sebastian, 1775)


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