Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the legends of the Baroque period, was born on the March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany. Orphaned at the tender age of 10, he inherited music from his father who is said to have taught him the violin and the harpsichord. Till he was 15, Bach was under the care of his elder brother in Ohrdruf, who cultivated his interest in and exposure to music further more. Not only is Bach known for his magnificent compositions, but at an earlier age he was also praised for his talents as a singer which helped him gain a position at a monastery in Luneburg. As he grew older his voice transformed, although he continued to grow as an instrumentalist.
The early 18th century can be earmarked as the beginning of Bach’s career. The uniqueness found in his work began to emerge early on in his career; In 1707, he took the position of an organist at a church in Muhlhausen but soon left since his musical style and the brilliant complexity of his compositions was neither appreciated nor accepted. His first cantata Actus Tragicus was composed during his time there and the famous Toccata was composed around a year later in Duke Ernst’s court in Weimar. His time in Weimar was only the first of his experiences with royalty, after gaining permission to leave Weimar in 1717 he went to accompany Prince Leopold of Cothen. Due to the prevalent Calvinist beliefs in Cothen, his work in this period can be characterized as rather secular in nature; his compositions for multiple and solo instruments, concertos and cantatas such as Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht or ‘Time, which day and year doth make’, were all intended for the court rather than the church. His time in Cothen is also attributed for one of his most famed works, the Brandenburg Concertos; a compilation of six concertos for a chamber orchestra, dedicated to Margrave, the Duke of Brandenburg.
In 1723, Bach was accepted for the position of teacher and organist at St. Thomas church in Leipzig. As opposed to his time in Cothen, this period was dedicated on works that were more inclined towards religion. Bach not only inherited interest in music from his family but also their religion, which had a great impact on a majority of Bach’s works. He is renowned for his vast collection of church music, pieces dedicated to the interpretation of the Bible or better known as his ‘Passions’, Lutheran chorales and cantatas. Several of these were composed while he was in Leipzig, such as Die Elenden sollen essen or ‘The miserable shall eat’, ‘Passion According to St. Matthew’ and O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort or ‘O eternity, you word of thunder’. Becoming increasingly discontent with his job at the church, he continued the latter portion of his career taking up various positions such as directorship of the Collegium Musicum and Dresden court. He also made several trips to Berlin where he was warmly welcomed by King Fredrick II of Prussia and for whom the ‘Musical Offering’ was composed.
Johann Sebastian Bach died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750, in his lifetime and several years after his death he was mostly known as a gifted organist rather than revered as a composer. The excellence of his compositions was realized much later by composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. The intricacies and extremely confounding combinations of his work still posses the power to baffle many, his legacy is a permanent triumph for classical music and its disciples.