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Who were Bach's friends? Who had the pleasure of the great composer's company throughout his incredible life? Find out more about the key people who influenced Bach's life and music.
The great-grandfather of J. S. Bach was known as "der Spielmann" - "the player". He was the first professional musician in the family. Starting out as a baker and carpet maker, he moved on to becoming a fiddle-playing minstrel. He travelled widely as a musician through the central German state of Thuringia, visiting such towns as Erfurt, Weimar and Gera (pictured).
The grandfather of Johann Sebastian Bach was a court musician in his hometown of Wechmar, Germany. He also held town musician posts in Erfurt and in Arnstadt. Christoph's two brothers - Johann and Heinrich - were composers, and his three sons Georg Christoph, Johann Ambrosius and Johann Christoph Bach were also all musicians. The Bach family house in Wechmar is pictured.
Johann Ambrosius Bach was Johann Sebastian Bach’s father. He was a skilled violinist and trumpeter and directed the town musicians in Eisenach. He helped his son Johann Sebastian learn the violin and harpsichord along with his siblings.
Johann Christoph was the twin brother of Johann Ambrosius. He introduced his nephew Johann Sebastian to the organ.
A schoolfriend of J. S. Bach's, George Erdmann went with him to the choir of the wealthy Michaelis monastery at Lüneburg (pictured), which provided free places for boys who were poor but with musical talent. The two remained lifelong friends.
Both of J. S. Bach’s parents had died by the time he was ten. The boy went to live with his eldest brother, also named Johann Christoph, who was the organist at the Michaeliskirche at Ohrdruf (pictured). It was under his guidance that J. S. Bach laid the foundations of his keyboard technique.
The German organist and composer Georg Böhm possibly tutored the young Johann Sebastian, after he arrived in Lüneburg in 1700. J. S. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach reported that his father loved and studied Böhm's music.
In 1708, J. S. Bach was offered a position as a Court chamber musician by Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. When Wilhelm’s Kapellmeister Johann Samuel Drese died in 1716, Bach solicited his post but the Duke appointed Drese's son instead. Furious, Bach solicited his dismissal from the Duke's service. Annoyed at Bach's impertinence, the Duke had Bach jailed for four weeks in a fortress.
This important Danish-German organist composed a major part of the standard organ repertoire, his style strongly influencing many composers, including J. S. Bach. In 1705, the 20-year old Bach walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck – some 250 miles - and stayed nearly three months to hear and meet with Buxtehude, “to comprehend one thing and another about his art”.
One of the most prolific composers in the history of music, Telemann was a good friend to J. S. Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel.
This Calvanist nobleman hired J. S. Bach to serve as his Kapellmeister in 1717. Leopold, himself a musician, appreciated Bach's talents, paid him well, and gave him considerable freedom in composing and performing. Most of Bach's work from this period was secular, including the orchestral suites, the six suites for solo cello, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, and the Brandenburg concertos.
J. S. Bach married his second cousin Maria in October 1707. She bore him seven children, three of whom died young. Maria herself died suddenly while Bach was working for Prince Leopold at the Carlsbad spa. It took two months for the composer to receive the news of his wife’s death.
Anna Magdalena Wilcke was an accomplished singer who became J. S. Bach’s second wife in December 1721. Their shared interest in music contributed to their happy marriage. Together they raised the children from Johann's first marriage and had 13 children of their own from 1723 to 1742, seven of whom died at a young age. Anna Magdalena continued to sing professionally after her marriage, including at Prince Leopold's funeral in 1729. Bach presented Anna Magdalena with two manuscript notebooks containing keyboard music and a few pieces for voice (pictured).
In 1733, Bach composed a Missa of Kyrie and Gloria which he later incorporated in his Mass in B minor. He presented the manuscript to Augustus III, who was King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Elector of Saxony. It was a bid to persuade the monarch to appoint him as Royal Court Composer, which he did three years later.
Taylor was the self-promoting personal eye surgeon to King George II, the Pope, and European royalty. He has been accused by some for accelerating the process by which Handel became blind and many believe that Bach died of complications after Taylor’s surgery.
In 1747, Bach visited the court of Frederick the Great at Potsdam. The musical king played a theme for Bach and challenged him to improvise a fugue based on his theme. Bach improvised a three-part fugue on one of Frederick's fortepianos and later presented the king with ‘A Musical Offering’ which consists of fugues, canons and a trio based on the theme.