Bach, Johann Sebastian
March 21, 1685- July 28, 1750
The greatest representative of a wonderful family of musicians, who were prominent in Germany for over two hundred years. Bach not only had a long line of musical ancestors himself but he is also said to have been the direct ancestor of about sixty well-known organists and composers of Germany. The musical branch of the family begins, as far as our knowledge of them is concerned, with Hans Bach, who was a trustee of the parish of Wechmar in Thuringia in 1561 and who is said to have been born there. Veit Bach, probably a son of Hans, was a miller and baker in Wechmar, and was the first musician of the family. He loved and studied music and played on the zither. Veit Bach had at least two sons, one Hans, called " Der Spielmann " (the player), and another whose name is unknown. These two brothers were the heads of the two main branches of the Bach family, which flourished in Thuringia. In time the towns of Armstadt, Erfurt, Eisenach, Gotha, and Muhlhausen became their centers. Here they lived and were the town musicians and in these towns they held their family meetings, when they all gathered and exchanged musical knowledge and gave musical performances. Their thorough musical training was handed down from one to another, the older members teaching the younger and the younger taking up the musical positions as they became vacant, until finally, the town musicians were called, "The Bachs," even if they belonged to an entirely different family. Their most notable characteristics as a family were their great devotion to each other, their intense patriotism and their profound and absorbing love of music. The Bach family became extinct, in 1846, when Wilhelm F. E. Bach died. Hans Bach, " the player," the son of Veit Bach, was the great grandfather of Johann Sebastian, his grandfather being Christoph, townmusician of Erfurt and of Arnstadt, and his father Johann Ambrosius, was also town musician and a violinist of ability.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born at Eisenach, probably March 21, as he was baptized on March 23. His life as a child was very simple, but from his infancy he was surrounded by a strong musical atmosphere and the most intense German Protestant religious influence, and both of these things had a great effect upon his development and upon his music. He received his first musical instruction, which was on the violin, from his father. When he was ten years old both of his, parents died and left him to the care of Johann Christoph, his older brother, who was organist at Ohrdruf and a pupil of Pachelbel. This brother now became Sebastian's teacher, but it was not long until the pupil had absorbed all of the teacher's knowledge and still longed for more, but the brother seems to have discouraged rather than have encouraged this talent. Beside the organ, Sebastian worked upon the clavichord and harpsichord and made most rapid progress, so rapid, in fact, that his brother Christoph has been accused of jealousy, even to the extent of keeping from the boy the fine collection of manuscript organ music, which he owned and which Sebastian longed most ardently to study. So great was the boy's eagerness to possess this music, that he got hold of it by stealth at night and copied it all by moonlight, but only to have it destroyed by his stern elder brother, when discovered. This copying took six months and the strain on his eyes, thus caused, is said to have resulted in the blindness, which came upon him later in life. The amount of good music which he absorbed while doing this work must, however, have had great influence on his musical development. At the age of fifteen, Sebastian, who had a fine voice, obtained a position in the choir of St. Michael's School at Luneburg, and from this time on depended upon himself and worked out his own salvation in his musical career. During the three years spent here he had opportunity to study, beside vocal music, the organ, the clavichord and the violin and also to hear much good music. While at Luneburg, he made several journeys on foot to Hamburg to hear the famous organists, Reinken and Vincenz Lubeck, who were playing there. He also frequently visited Celle and became familiar with the French music of that place.