If you ave ever studied the piano for any length of time, chances are you’ve played music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Germany smack-dab in the middle of a supremely musical family! In fact, the Bach family boasts over 50 known musicians and several notable composers. There were so many musical Bachs that in the town of Efurt, all musicians were called “Bachs” (which I guess would make me a “Bach” too).
Johann Sebastian wasn’t the first musical Bach, or the last. But he is, by far and away, the greatest and most influential member of the Bach family. He is one of the earliest composers of western music as we know it today. He is considered the father of modern music by many music historians, which may sound strange to us. His music sounds very different than the popular music most of us listen to nowadays. But with out Johann Sebastian Bach music, as we know it, probably wouldn’t be music as we know it.
You see, music was going through some changes right around Bach’s time. The basic sound of music had changed. Johann Sebastian Bach was the first composer to masterfully write music in all 24 major/minor keys (the same keys your favorite artists use) his music paved the way for future composers.
So let’s take a look at this musical clan.
We’ll start with Veit Bach. He was a bread baker who fled the country Hungary to escape religious persecution (The Bachs were devout Lutherans). Johannes Bach I, his son, was to be a baker too, but at some point he decided to become a piper and so began the musical lineage. Johannes was the father of Johann Ambrosius who was a skilled violinist and the father of the famous Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Ambrosius taught Johann Sebastian to play the violin but unfortunately both he and his wife Elisabeth Lamehirt Bach died within 2 months of each other, leaving the 10 year old, Johann Sebastian, to be raised by his uncle Johann Christoph Bach who was — you guessed it — a musician. The talented organist, Johann Christoph made sure that his nephew continued his musical education and the rest is music history.
In addition to playing several instruments, and directing numerous choirs and instrumental groups, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote over 1,000 compositions. His musical life is divided into three periods;
Early (1708-1717)-Organ works.
Middle (1717-1723)-Instrumental works
Late (1723-1750)- Sacred Choral Music
Just as Johann Sebastian became a great musician and composer, so did many of his 20 children and their children. Yes, Bach had 20 children! He had seven children with his first wife Maria Barbara, and thirteen with his second wife Anna Magdalena, who was herself a gifted singer (although I can’t imagine she had much time for singing outside of lullabies). Johann Sebastian wrote a series of pieces for her called the “Anna Magdalena Notebook”. The pieces in this work have been the introduction to classical music for pianists the world over. Two of his sons are very notable composers Carl Phillipp Emanuel and Wilheim Friederman. Many more Bach family members went on to earn their living performers.
Johann Sebastian Bach was completely blind the last few years of his life. He died July 28, 1750 of a stroke leaving behind some of the greatest music the world has ever known along with a very musical family.
There is so much more to learn about Johann Sebastian and the other musical members of the Bach family. Music historians have literally written volumes about them. There is no doubt that the members of the Bach family were a talented bunch. There is also no doubt that being surrounded by so many musicians gave Johann Sebastian and the members of his family a huge advantage when it came to musical pursuits.
It’s a fact that many great composers and performers past and present are from musical families. I believe there are two reasons for this phenomenon: Number one – parents tend to teach children what they know and love. Number two – (and I think this is the most important) – people brought up in a musical environment develop a musical mind and a musical ear.
So what’s the take-away from the story of the Bach family for today’s piano parents and students? Most piano parents are not musicians. Is it still possible to bring your kids up in a musical environment? Luckily the answer to that question is a resounding YES. In fact it has never been easier to surround our children with music. All of the world’s great music is just a click away. So go ahead click away! Get on Youtube and explore some of Bach’s great music from the comfort of your living room.
And while you’re surfing for music here’s something to think about – Johann Sebastian Bach did have a musical family – but he never had an iPad. When he wanted to hear his idol Dieterich Buxtehude play the organ he had to walk 250 miles!
Why so many Johanns? The name “Johann” is equivalent to the english name “John”. It means “God has been gracious and shown favor to us”. The Bachs and many other people of that time were very devout christians so I am guessing that is why so many of the males have “Johann” as their first name. People at that time were referred to by their middle names.