Once Again for the Last Time?

ELDER MUSIC: A Barrel of Bachs

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

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When the name Bach is mentioned, it's usually in reference to the great Johann Sebastian, often cited as the greatest composer ever. Sometimes his four sons who became composers are considered.

Besides these there are quite a number in the extended family who wrote music. Some of those will be featured today (along with the famous five, of course).

It didn't start with J.S.; around the area where little Johann was born, the word Bach was already used as a nickname for musician.

As I implied, the line of musicians didn't start with JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, but I will.

J.S. Bach

Already in J.S.'s time he was considered old-fashioned. Indeed, his music was completely forgotten for a century or more until Mendelssohn and others started playing it again in the nineteenth century. J.S. will not be forgotten again.

Some of his best known works are the six Brandenburg Concertos, especially number three which seems to be the one played most often, so I'll go for another. This is the first movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No 6.

♫ Johann Sebastian Bach - Brandenburg Concerto No 6 (1)

J.S. was married twice, the first time was to second cousin Maria Barbara Bach.

Maria Barbara Bach

They had seven kids, three died early. The survivors were Catharina who was described as unmarried and that's all we know of her. There was a son, Johann Gottfried Bernhard who was an organist and he died under "mysterious and unknown circumstances" at age 24.

That left two others who became quite well known composers and they'll be featured today.

They are Wilhelm Friedemann, known as the "Dresden Bach" or "Halle Bach,” and Carl Philipp Emanuel who had the nicknames the "Hamburg Bach" or "Berlin Bach." I'll start with the oldest son, WILHELM FRIEDEMANN BACH.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Willy had a pretty good music teacher – his father – and later studied law and mathematics at university. Naturally, he went into the family trade becoming the organist at a church in Halle. He was very unhappy there and got into scrapes with the bigwigs (one of whom embezzled funds due him).

He left without another job in the offing and couldn't get another position. He supported himself and his family (only just) by teaching and he eventually died in poverty.

Willy lived in the shadow of his father but he wrote a bunch of cantatas and orchestral works. Here is the third movement of Sinfonia in D Major (used as prelude to his cantata "Dies ist der Tag").

♫ Wilhelm Friedemann Bach - Sinfonia In D Major (3)


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

In Mozart's and Haydn's times (which is really just Haydn's times as he was born before Mozart and outlived him by many years), whenever anyone referred to "the great Bach," it was always C.P.E. they were talking about, not his father who had slipped from the public gaze by then.

C.P.E. received his middle name from the great Georg Philipp Telemann who was his godfather and a good friend of his father's. C.P.E.'s first job was in Berlin at the service of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia who liked a bit of a tune, and later became king Freddie the Great.

He was a handy person to know. C.P.E. stayed there for 30 years and then, after considerable negotiation, he joined his godfather in Hamburg where he became composer in residence for Freddie's sister, Anna Amalia.

He stayed there for a further 20 years. In all that time, he wrote copious amounts of music, perhaps not as much as his father, but lots in all sorts of genres. Here we have the third movement of the Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor.

♫ Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor (3)

After the death of his first wife, J.S. married Anna Magdalena Wilcke (or Wilcken).

 Anna Magdalena Bach

This union produced 13 kids, seven of whom died young. Of the remainder there were Johanna Carolina and Regina Susanna, both of whom were described as unmarried (again, that's the extent of our knowledge).

Another sister was Elisabeth Juliana Friderica who married Johann Christoph Altnikol who was J.S.'s pupil and quite a decent composer himself.

Then there was Gottfried Heinrich who was mentally handicapped but played the organ quite well, it seems, and died at 39.

Which brings us to two more composers, Johann Christoph Friedrich (the "Bückeburg" Bach) and Johann Christian (the "London" Bach).


Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach

This name has caused confusion as J.S. had a cousin, an uncle, a great uncle and an elder brother all with this name, thus "our" J.C.F. was usually called by his nickname as he resided in London, and played harpsichord there.

He may have lived there, but he liked the Italian style and many of his compositions reflect this. Everyone seemed to be writing trio sonatas around this time and he was no exception. The first movement of the Trio sonata in F major.

♫ Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach - Trio sonata in F major (1)

I'll finish the immediate family with JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH, who is my favorite of the Bach sons.

Johann Christian Bach

That's because his style is reminiscent of Haydn and Mozart who were both friends of his. He gave lessons to the young Wolfie and later on, instructed him on the intricacies of the Sinfonia Concertante of which he was a master.

He lived in Italy for quite a few years before moving to London where he spent the rest of his life. As happened to his oldest brother, someone (his steward in this case) embezzled his considerable wealth and he also died in poverty.

Instead of one of the aforementioned Sinfonia Concertantes, I'll go with something else - the first movement of the quintet for flute, oboe, violin, viola and continuo, Op. 11 No. 3 in F major.

♫ Johann Christian Bach - Quintet Op. 11 No. 3 In F Major (1)

The musical talent managed to reach the next generation, but only just. WILHELM FRIEDRICH ERNST BACH was J.C.F.'s son and he seems to be the only one of his generation who took up the family business.

After him, the musical line ends; indeed he apparently said himself, "Heredity can tend to run out of ideas."

Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach

It was a useful family to be born into if you wanted to make music. W.F.E. received training from two of his uncles, C.P.E. and J.C. Indeed, he was in London when this latter uncle died. He stayed on there for a couple more years before returning to Germany to take up the post of Kapellmeister in Berlin, a position he retained until he retired.

Here is the first movement of his Sinfonia in C major.

♫ Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach - Sinfonia in C-major (1)

Now we get to some of the others and confusion may set in. It certainly did for me trying to keep straight who all these are, often with similar (or the same) names.

As I mentioned earlier, there were several in the extended family named JOHANN CHRISTOPH BACH, and here's one of those.

Johann Christoph Bach

This particular one is the son of Heinrich Bach, Johann Sebastian's great uncle. I don't know what relation that makes him to the great man, but we'll just skip over that.

This particular J.C. had a reputation as the greatest of the Bach composers until J.S. (and his sons) came along and now he's been relegated to the reserve bench. More than that, pretty much forgotten, but we'll do something about that today, even if it's only a little bit. I've included one of his motets, Fürchte dich nicht

♫ Johann Christoph Bach - Fürchte dich nicht

JOHANN LUDWIG BACH (the "Meininger Bach") was J.S.'s second cousin, or something like that. He was approximately contemporaneous with J.S.

Johann Ludwig Bach

He was a writer of cantatas and some of his were attributed to the great man until the original folios were discovered. The confusion probably arose because he'd often perform his cousin's works at the various courts where he worked.

No cantata this time, but another motet, Unsere Trübsal.

♫ Johann Ludwig Bach - Unsere Trübsal

JOHANN MICHAEL BACH (the "Gehrener Bach") was sort of a second uncle to J.S. as well as his father-in-law – he was the father of J.S.'s first wife.

Johann Michael Bach

He wrote works for the organ as well as cantatas. Besides composing, he was renowned at the time for making musical instruments, particularly harpsichords.

Those early Bachs liked their motets and here's yet another (that's about all I have of these particular gentlemen). This is a Christmas motet. I should have kept it for then. Oh well. Furchtet Euch Nicht.

♫ Johann Michael Bach - Furchtet Euch Nicht

To add to the confusion, we have another JOHANN MICHAEL BACH who was a nephew of J.S. I couldn't find a picture of him anywhere.

He was mostly a lawyer (as were several other members of the family) and later a music teacher. However, he wrote music as well and like many of the others, he specialised in cantatas.

Here is one of the called Das Volk, so im Finstern wandelt, and this is the fourth movement called “Rheinische Kantorei.”

♫ Johann Michael Bach III - Rheinische Kantorei

There are quite a few more Bachs that I've left out. I must admit that some of the very early Bachs' music is, to put no fine point on it, boring, so they won't be missed. Fortunately there is enough interesting music to fill the column.


Absolutely delightful ... the Bach family tour and your comments! Thank you!

Peter, a big salute to you for this fine post. I can only guess at the amount of time you must have put into exploring all the Bach tributaries, but you did a great job. An amazing family - wonder if there are any modern descendants following in their footsteps?

I fully agree with BG .
Thanks for going to such trouble for this highly interesting family history !

Outstanding! I had no idea there were so many musical Bachs. The portraits really add to the tale.

Thank you, Peter. I really enjoyed this one! I love when you do a classical music column. When I can, I like to listen to your selections more than once. You give so many interesting facts about the famous composers, and you shine a spotlight on some who deserve to be better known than they are.

I am so grateful to have found your Bach blog. Oh, if you only taught a music appreciation course! Thank you so much!

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