Johann Sebastian Bach
Born: March 31, 1685 Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany
Died: July 28, 1750 Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
A Few Facts About J. S. Bach
- Bach’s father Johann Ambrosius was a 7th generation musician and taught his son the violin and harpsichord. When Bach was 10 years old both his parents died within months of each other. He was left in care of his elder brother Johann Christoph who taught him to play the organ.
- Bach’s eleven year tenure at the Court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimer came to an unhappy conclusion. On November 6th 1717 it is recorded that he “was confined to the County Judge’s place of detention for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal and finally on December 2 was freed from arrest with notice of his unfavourable discharge.”
- In 1705 Bach made the 450 km journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit Dieterich Buxtehude. He angered his employer by extending his four week leave to four months; perhaps the fact that he made the journey on foot could account for the extra time.
- Bach and Handel were born in the same year only 130 kilometres apart. In 1719, Bach made the 35 kilometre journey from Köthen to Halle to meet Handel. We are not told what mode of transportation he used but by the time he had arrived Handel had left town. They were never to meet.
- Bach was married twice. First to his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach with whom he had seven children, his second wife was Anna Magdalena Wicke and they had thirteen children. Of the 20 only 10 survived to adulthood and of those 10, four became notable composers.
- With advancing blindness Bach subjected himself to the ministrations of John Taylor, a quack “eye surgeon” who travelled Europe touting fake treatments for cataracts. Bach developed a fever shortly after and on July 28th 1750 suffered a stroke and died. It should be noted that Taylor’s same treatments for Handel in 1758 are thought to have hastened the composer’s death in 1759.
Keyboard Concerto in F Minor (Largo) BWV 1056
- The harpsichord appeared late amongst the solo instruments featured in concertos and there is a possibility that Bach was the first composer to write concerti for the keyboard
- The second movement (Largo) of BWV 1056 is a short 3 minutes and serenely simple. The melody elegantly, almost tenderly, weaves its way over a pizzicato arrangement on the strings, ending with a collective sigh.
- The piece is an arrangement of the Sinfonia to Cantata 156, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (I stand with one foot in the grave), which in itself may have been borrowed from an oboe concerto in F major. So, in this case we may be listening to an arrangement of an arrangement in an arrangement for piano!
- It has also been noted that there are similarities to the Andante of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Flute Concerto in G major. Bach may have been elaborating on his friend’s piece – an aged old tradition amongst composers.
- Glen Gould’s performance of the largo was used in George Roy Hill’s film version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Gould provided the majority of the soundtrack – all of it music composed by Bach.
There are many versions available on YouTube including:
Glen Gould (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67GARXV3s3g)
Maria João Pires (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zc5lhK00GSg)
Simone Dinnerstein (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXn9fpRUjcM)
And a quick search comes up with many others.