Friday, January 6, 2017

I'll be Bach!

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach is perhaps one of the most famous Baroque era composers. Did you know that in total, J.S. Bach wrote over 1,128 musical works? These include works for organ, harpsichord, orchestra, voice, and many other instruments.

He was born in Germany in 1685. When he was nine years old, his parents died and he was sent to live with his brother, who was an organist. He learned to play the keyboard (meaning the harpsichord and organ, not the piano) and studied composition.

Fun fact: when he was child, Bach was not allowed into the room where all the sheet music was held. He wasn't allowed to touch the sheet music either, for fear that he would damage or dirty it. But, late at night, after everyone else was asleep, he would sneak into the study and copy the sheet music line by line!

He worked as an organist, then as a court composer. That's what almost everyone with any musical ability did in those days. He then also worked as a musical director in St. Thomas's church in Leipzig.

Did you know? Bach had a total of 20 children, though only 8 of them lived to adulthood.

Music experts can recognize Bach pieces right away because of some unique things about his music. His melodies are unique and inventive, and in some pieces, there are as many as 5 melodies intertwined together at the same time!

Bach's pieces are numbered using the BWV system. This is very important, because Bach wrote so many preludes (and other pieces) that you can't simply say "I'm playing a Bach prelude." Sometimes, you can't even say "I'm playing a Bach prelude in G minor" because there may be more than one prelude in the key of G minor! You have to identify your piece by the BWV number.
So then, what is the BWV system? BWV stands for "Bach Werke Verzeichinis" (Bach Work Catalogue). This catalogue was published in 1950 by Wolfgang Schmieder. It is organized thematically rather than chronologically. Each piece is assigned a number.
BWV 1-224: cantatas
BWV 225-248: large scale choral works
BWV 250-524: Chorales and sacred songs
BWV 525-748: Organ music
BWV 772-994: Other keyboard music
BWV 995-1000: lute
BWV 1001-1040: Chamber music
BWV 1041-1071: Orchestra music
BWV 1072-1126: Canons and fugues
I'm playing a Bach prelude right now that is BWV 940.

Another fact for you: Bach rarely wrote things like dynamic marks, slurs, and accents into his music. He only wrote the notes. The rest is up to the player's discernment as to how it should be played. This is why some people study Bach's music for their entire lives. (Besides the fact that there are over 1,000 pieces!)

Anyhow, Bach wrote music, got put in prison (by his employer the Duke in Wiemer because he accepted a job with better pay), had kids who grew up to be great musicians (like C.P.E. Bach), and died in 1750 in Leipzig Germany. Interestingly, though his music was beyond great, it was mostly forgotten following his death. However, Mendelsohn rediscovered it and made it popular again. Thanks to him, we can still enjoy Bach's music today.

Here is a video of a Bach piece. It is a Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G minor, BWV 1029. I only put it here because I sort of fell in love with it the moment I heard the first few lines. :) If you already know about the Viola da Gamba, skip to 51 seconds and hit play.
Thanks for reading and I'll be BACH (hahaha!) with another composer bio some other time! :)

Johann Sebastian Bach signature I

nformation from:

1 comment:

  1. Awesome music! And if it ain't Baroque, don't fix it!