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                            Johann Sebastian Bach
         Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the greatest
 composers in Western musical history. More than 1,000 of his
 compositions survive. Some examples are the Art of Fugue,
 Brandenburg Concerti, the Goldberg Variations for
 Harpsichord, the Mass in B-Minor, the motets, the Easter and
 Christmas oratorios, Toccata in F Major, French Suite No 5,
 Fugue in G Major, Fugue in G Minor ("The Great"), St.
 Matthew Passion, and Jesu Der Du Meine Seele. He came from a
 family of musicians. There were over 53 musicians in his
 family over a period of 300 years.
         Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany
 on March 21, 1685. His father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a
 talented violinist, and taught his son the basic skills for
 string playing; another relation, the organist at Eisenach's
 most important church, instructed the young boy on the
 organ. In 1695 his parents died and he was only 10 years
 old. He went to go stay with his older brother, Johann
 Christoph, who was a professional organist at Ohrdruf.
 Johann Christoph was a professional organist, and continued
 his younger brother's education on that instrument, as well
 as on the harpsichord. After several years in this
 arrangement, Johann Sebastian won a scholarship to study in
 Luneberg, Northern Germany, and so left his brother's
         A master of several instruments while still in his
 teens, Johann Sebastian first found employment at the age of
 18 as a "lackey and violinist" in a court orchestra in
 Weimar; soon after, he took the job of organist at a church
 in Arnstadt. Here, as in later posts, his perfectionist
 tendencies and high expectations of other musicians - for
 example, the church choir - rubbed his colleagues the wrong
 way, and he was embroiled in a number of hot disputes during
 his short tenure. In 1707, at the age of 22, Bach became fed
 up with the lousy musical standards of Arnstadt (and the
 working conditions) and moved on to another organist job,
 this time at the St. Blasius Church in Muhlhausen. The same
 year, he married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach.
         Again caught up in a running conflict between
 factions of his church, Bach fled to Weimar after one year
 in Muhlhausen. In Weimar, he assumed the post of organist
 and concertmaster in the ducal chapel. He remained in Weimar
 for nine years, and there he composed his first wave of
 major works, including organ showpieces and cantatas.
         By this stage in his life, Bach had developed a
 reputation as a brilliant, if somewhat inflexible, musical
 talent. His proficiency on the organ was unequaled in Europe
 - in fact, he toured regularly as a solo virtuoso - and his
 growing mastery of compositional forms, like the fugue and
 the canon, was already attracting interest from the musical
 establishment - which, in his day, was the Lutheran church.
 But, like many individuals of uncommon talent, he was never
 very good at playing the political game, and therefore
 suffered periodic setbacks in his career. He was passed over
 for a major position - which was Kapellmeister (Chorus
 Master) of Weimar - in 1716; partly in reaction to this
 snub, he left Weimar the following year to take a job as
 court conductor in Anhalt-Cothen. There, he slowed his
 output of church cantatas, and instead concentrated on
 instrumental music - the Cothen period produced, among other
 masterpieces, the Brandenburg Concerti.
         While at Cothen, Bach's wife, Maria Barbara, died.
 Bach remarried soon after - to Anna Magdalena - and forged
 ahead with his work. He also forged ahead in the
 child-rearing department, producing 13 children with his new
 wife - six of whom survived childhood - to add to the four
 children he had raised with Maria Barbara. Several of these
 children would become fine composers in their own right -
 particularly three sons: Wilhelm Friedmann, Carl Philipp
 Emanuel and Johann Christian.
         After conducting and composing for the court
 orchestra at Cothen for seven years, Bach was offered the
 highly prestigious post of cantor (music director) of St.
 Thomas' Church in Leipzig - after it had been turned down by
 two other composers. The job was a demanding one; he had to
 compose cantatas for the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas
 churches, conduct the choirs, oversee the musical
 activities of numerous municipal churches, and teach Latin
 in the St. Thomas choir school. Accordingly, he had to get
 along with the Leipzig church authorities, which proved
 rocky going. But he persisted, polishing the musical
 component of church services in Leipzig and continuing to
 write music of various kinds with a level of craft and
 emotional profundity that was his alone.
         Bach remained at his post in Leipzig until his death
 in 1750. He was creatively active until the very end, even
 after cataract problems virtually blinded him in 1740. His
 last musical composition, a chorale prelude entitled "Before
 They Throne, My God, I Stand", was dictated to his
 son-in-law only days before his death.
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