Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach on March 21, 1685. He came from a family of musicians that can be traced back 100 years before his birth. That tradition continued as four of his sons went on to be successful musicians as well. Bach was extremely productive as a composer and wrote in every genre of the baroque era, with the exception of opera. He also was extremely productive at home, fathering twenty children.
Bach was a very hard-working man who spent endless hours studying, writing, performing, and teaching music. Throughout his life he improved his craft by learning the music of his contemporaries, thus absorbing the styles of other German, Austrian, Italian, and French composers. He was a devoutly religious Lutheran who viewed himself as a servant to God and dedicated all of his works to the glory of God.
Although Bach is now THE name associated with the late baroque era, in his own day he was given little recognition as a composer and was viewed as somewhat of an old-timer who was out of touch with the popular trends. He was, in fact, best known as a performer and improviser on the organ. Bach held three major positions in his career, the first of which was as organist for the Duke of Weimar. It was here that he composed many of his great organ works. It was also here that Bach was actually thrown in jail for a month because he sought employment for someone else — there was no such thing as free agency in the music world and the Duke of Weimar did not take kindly to Bach leaving his court. However, after his jail sentence, Bach did leave and took on a better position at Cöthen.
Bach’s final and longest term of employment was as cantor of the St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. He had many duties here, including performing, composing, teaching Latin, and administering church services. While at Leipzig, Bach was required to compose new music for every church service. This duty led to the composition of over 300 cantatas. A cantata was a vocal work that served as the main musical portion of the Lutheran church service.
Bach was a master of every genre that he touched. In instrumental music he composed many concertos, the most famous of which are the Brandenburg Concertos that he wrote in hopes of getting a better job in Berlin. He also wrote extensively for solo violin and solo keyboard. Even though Bach was one of the greatest composers ever, after his death in 1750, he was virtually forgotten by the general public until the early nineteenth century when the composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) organized a revival performance of Bach’s work.