Johann Sebastian Bach Takes His Final Breath

(The last years of Johann Sebastian Bach’s life as related by Catharina Dorothea, Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest daughter)

My father suffered from eye trouble for the last ten years of his life. By the beginning of 1749, he could no longer work to his full capacity. He was simply tired and broken from his constant eye trouble that at times rendered him nearly blind.

To make matters worse, the horrible and tactless authorities in the town council even allowed a candidate, a Herr Harrer, to take the examination for my father’s post of Kantor of St. Thomas a full year before my father’s death. The town chronicle also reported that the authorities were counting on the great Johann Sebastian Bach’s death. Still, my father continued when he was able with his compositions and correspondence with the help of his wife, Anna Magdalena and his new son-in-law and former pupil Johann Christoph Altnikol who married my sister Elisabeth Juliane Friederica. It was a difficult time for all of us.

Finally, my father’s eyesight and health declined dramatically. He struggled so and was so frustrated in not being able to see, that when we heard that a famous English eye specialist named John Taylor was visiting Leipzig, it was decided that our dear father would have the painful operation to restore his eyesight.

The excruciating eye surgery performed by Dr. Taylor in March seemed to help a bit, but then a month later, my father’s eyesight was nearly gone again. Therefore, Dr. Taylor performed this awful operation a second time.

Unfortunately, that operation turned out very badly and our father was then totally blind and greatly weakened by the ordeal and the harmful medications. We strove to make him comfortable, but he never gained his strength.

By July 22, with his children and his beloved Anna Magdelana at his side our father took his last communion at our home. He died only six days later on the evening of July 28 of a stroke. We buried him three days later at St. John’s cemetery.

From the pulpit of St. Thomas my father’s death was announced: “Peacefully and blissfully departed in God the Esteemed and Highly Respected Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Court Composer to his Royal Majesty in Poland and Serene Electoral Highness in Saxony, as well as Capellmeister to the Prince of Anhalt-Cothen, and Cantor in St. Thomas’ School, at the Square of St. Thomas.”

The greatest of the Bachs had left this world for the peace of the next.

This story is one of many vignettes from the multi-media and organ program, Bach and Sons, presented by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with David Jordan, visual artist.

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