Let’s Get to Know Johann Sebastian Bach and His Family

In this blog you will get to know Johann Sebastian Bach as the living, breathing musician, father, husband, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was.

You’ll also get to know his family:  Elisabeth and Ambrosius–the parents;  Maria Salome–the sister;  Maria Barbara and Anna Magdalena–the wives;  Catharina Dorothea–the eldest child;  Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Gottfried Bernhard, Johann Christoph Friedrich, and Johann Christian–the surviving sons; and Sara Levy–a patron of the arts.

While doing the research and writing the story for our organ and media event, Bach and Sons, I found, as I know you will, the story of Bach and his family intriguing, engaging, and full of surprises.  Read on…

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Celebrating JS’ and CPE Bach’s Birthdays in Style

In celebration of Johann Sebastian Bach’s 328th birthday and his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel’s 300th birthday, Dr. Jeannine and David Jordan presented their organ and media concert experience, Bach and Sons, twice in March 2014 in the state of Oregon.  The first concert experience was presented by the Linn-Benton Chapter of the Oregon Music Teachers Association and the Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan of Corvallis, Oregon as part of their Sundays@3 Concert Series on Sunday, March 16th, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.  A standing-room-only crowd reveled in the music and story of Bach.  Enthusiastic teenagers provided more Bach for concert-attendees at the reception following the concert.

The second Bach and Sons concert experience celebrating the Bach birthdays was hosted by Rodgers Instruments of Hillsboro, Oregon and was presented on the new Rodgers four manual Infinity digital organ at the Corporate Headquarters Showroom on Sunday afternoon, March 30th, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.  Another full-house was awed by the story of this amazing man and his music.

To learn more of the Bach and Sons organ and multi-media event and host this unique concert experience in your city, visit www.bachandsons.com

Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist and David Jordan, media artist are the creators and performers of this unique one-of-a-kind event telling the story of Bach in music, word, and image.

Life in Weimar for the Bach Family

(Life in Weimar as told by Maria Barbara, JS Bach’s first wife)

This week Johann is off to Halle to, as he says, “test the lungs” of the huge new organ at the Church of Our Lady. He tells me this organ is very large and has 65 stops! Oh, how he loves to play those new instruments just to make sure every stop is exquisite in sound and that everything works perfectly. He improvises wonderful pieces for these events. Sometime those improvisations go on and on for over an hour! It is amazing!

Immediately after JS returned from Halle to play the huge organ there, Duke Wilhelm got a bit nervous about keeping his stellar organist and musician at his court. Therefore my wonderfully talented husband was given an increase in salary and a new position as Choirmaster at the Court of Saxe-Weimar.

With his new position comes some additional duties, though. He is now obliged to compose a cantata every four weeks, which means he will have to burn more candles at night to get all those compositions completed.

Our second son, a baby we named Carl Phillip Emmanuel was born on March 8, 1714. Our dear friend, Georg Philipp Telemann, agreed to be this son’s godfather. That was such a special day! Our family and our wonderful circle of friends is growing here in Weimar and life is so good!

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

Realities of Life for the Bach Family in Cothen

(Catharina Dorothea, Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach’s eldest child, recounts the realities of life in Weimar for the Bach family.)

Weimar Castle area

It has been a year since my baby brother, the one who was named for Prince Leopold of Cothen, died. It is difficult to know that we have already buried three of my six siblings. Sometimes I can hardly bear it! Yet, I must go on. Even though I am only 12 years old, my mother needs my help with the boys, Wilhelm, Carl Phillip and Gottfreid Bernhard. She needs me to be strong. There is so much work and the burden of caring for our home is heavy.

My father has started working with Wilhelm Friedemann, my oldest brother in his music training. He told my mother that Wilhelm Friedemann possess a precocious musical talent and that we must do everything we can to encourage this little boy. Papa has even composed a Little Clavier Book just for Wilhelm Friedemann and he just loves to play his favorite harpsichord pieces for all of us! It is such a joy. Sometimes Papa even asks me to sing with him. What a joy!

Papa has told us he will be leaving again with the Prince. The Prince wants to “take the waters” in Carlsbad and has asked my father to put together a little band of musicians to go along on the trip. So, Papa will go away again. He does not know how long he will be gone. It may be for many months, but I will be here to help my Mother care for the home and my little brothers.

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

JS Bach Unanimously Elected

(JS Bach elected as Cantor in Leipzig as told by Anna Magdalena Bach, JS Bach’s second wife.)

St. Thomas, Leipzig, Germany

It is June and we have just heard that the post of Cantor at St. Thomas’ in Leipzig is open. My Johann Sebastian will immediately apply for this prestigious post. An added joy to this month is that our first baby was born and we have named her Christiana Sophia Henrietta. Her brothers, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Phillip Emmanuel and Gottfried Bernhard and big sister, Catharina Dorothea, are delighted with the baby. Ah, but back to the Leipzig story.

Finally my husband has been asked to come to Leipzig to interview for the post of Cantor at St. Thomas. We have heard that the council is “sorry,” as they say, “that they can’t have the best, and that they will make do with what there is.” Ah, but my Johann Sebastian will show them what a composer and performer he is! Well, that is exactly what JS did! We were told that the entire council, all 32 members, unanimously elected my husband as the new Cantor of St. Thomas in Leipzig.

(One of many vignettes from the organ and media event, Bach and Sons, as performed by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, organist with David Jordan, media artist.)

I’ll Have An Espresso With That Harpsichord

(The Leipzig years as related by Anna Magdalena, Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife.)

Our family continues to grow quickly! In fact, since we moved to Leipzig ten years ago, I have had a baby every year. So, yes, our home is getting more and more crowded with our growing family. In addition, many friends and extended family members often stop by for a visit and sometimes even stay for weeks at a time to work with Johann Sebastian and to make music together.

St. Thomas School and the Bach family home

One of our older sons, Carl Phillip describes our home as a “dovecote” and I tend to

agree. There is always something going on but it is in general a harmonious and pleasant home. Why I even have several linnets (beautiful little songbirds with red breasts and foreheads) in our home. They make such a sweet accompaniment to the music of our home. The older children are such a help with all the babies and Johann works hard to provide enough for all of us.

Sadly, though, Johann Sebastian and the rector of St. Thomas School, one of my husband’s many bosses, is a difficult man and their relationship is acrimonious at best. Therefore, to avoid conflict, Sebastian has started spending more and more time at Zimmerman’s Coffee House, which is just down the street from our home.

Pleasantries in Leipzig

At Zimmerman’s, a wonderful group of musicians called the Collegium Musicum, regularly perform there. I think my husband will soon take over the direction of the group. He has already started composing wonderful music for them. He is so happy when he is working with this talented group of musicians.

Prince of Anhalt-Koethen

Johann Sebastian and I had a wonderful New Year’s celebration this year. We were invited to Cothen to play and sing for the New Year’s Day festivities at the Court. It was good to be away from Leipzig for a few days and have the opportunity to see our old friends and make music together. In addition, our dear friend, Prince Leopold, paid us both very well. It brought back so many memories of our grand times in Cothen.

(This vignette is one of many in the Bach and Sons organ and media event created and performed by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, organist with David Jordan, media artist.)

Bach, The King and I, With Time On Our Hands

(Johann Sebastian Bach’s visit to the Court of King Frederik the Great in Berlin as related by Johann Maria Dannemann Bach, the wife of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second son of JS Bach.)

My father-in-law, Johann Sebastian Bach, was just here in Berlin for a visit. It was such a joy for all of us to spend time together. He got to meet his two newest grandchildren: Johann August, who is now two years old and our beautiful infant daughter Anna Carolina Philippina.

Carl Phillip was so excited to take his father to the Court and to introduce him to the musicians he works with daily. They had a grand time making music together. However, it was the visit to our King Frederik the Great that Carl Philipp’s father enjoyed the most.

As Carl Phillip related to me, his father’s first meeting with Frederik took place at the palace of Potsdam with an exercise in fugal improvisation. The next day, my father-in-law played an organ recital in the Heiliggeist Church in Potsdam. He was also invited to perform during the evening’s chamber music at which time he improvised a six-part fugue this time on a theme of his own. The next days were occupied with visiting the new Berlin opera house and playing organs in Potsdam and Berlin.

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

JS Bach Makes the News

(Johann Sebastian Bach’s visit to the Court of King Frederik the Great in Berlin as related by Johann Maria Dannemann Bach, the wife of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second son of JS Bach.)

The venerable old master, Johann Sebastian Bach’s visit to the King was an event that was documented in the Potsdam newspaper. Here, let me quote the article for you: “last Sunday the famous Capellmeister from Leipzig, Mr. Bach, arrived at Court. When His Majesty was informed that the Capellmeister had arrived, he gave orders for Bach to be admitted. Bach was invited to play on the fortepiano a theme to be treated as a fugue by Capellmeister Bach. This was done so well that not only was His Majesty pleased, but everybody present was astonished. Mr. Bach found the theme so beautiful that he intends to write a regular fugue for engraving.”

My father-in-law has now returned to Leipzig and we are told that he is working industriously on an elaboration of the King of Prussia’s fugue theme. He started with writing down the fugue he improvised for the King, but the project has become much larger. He is now calling his work the Musical Offering (Muiskalishces Opfer). It is to become a work in several movements dedicated to Frederick the Great. The royal theme is serving as the basis for all the movements. It will be the next monumental composition by the revered Johann Sebastian Bach.

(This is one of many delightful vignettes included in the organ and media event, Bach and Sons, created and performed by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, organist with David Jordan, media artist.)

The Bach Boys

(The lives the eldest Bach sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emmanuelas related by Anna Magdalena, Johann Sebastian Bach‘s second wife.)

We are so proud of our family.  All of our children are born musicians. Why, we can perform as a complete vocal and instrumental consort with just our family. It is such a joy to create glorious music together.

Our two oldest boys, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel attended the University of Leipzig. Wilhelm Friedemann studied math, philosophy and law and graduated from this prestigious school in 1733. At the same time, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, began his education at the University of Leipzig also studying law. Carl Philipp continued to live at home with us and continued to serve as his father’s musical assistant.

After Wilhelm Friedemann completed his university education at Leipzig, he became the organist at the Dresden Sophienkirche in 1733. Our Wilhelm Friedemann is known as a great improviser and organist. Therefore, he creates incredible music for those who attend the services at the Sophienkirche, but he still does not like putting his music down on paper. Finally, however, he has committed to paper several of his glorious organ chorale preludes.

When Carl Philipp completed his academics in 1738, the Crown Prince, and soon to be King of Prussia, summoned Carl Phillip to Berlin to join his court as the royal harpsichordist. This is a very good position and one that I believe Carl Philipp will keep for many years. In fact, he just finished a set of organ sonatas for Princess Anna Amalia, the King’s sister, who studies the organ with him.

(This vignette is one of a many anecdotes included in the organ and media event, Bach and Sons, performed by Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist with David Jordan, media artist.)

How Long Did the Musical Bach Family Remain Significant?

(Sara Levy, student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Friend of the Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach

Sara Levy

family, collector of Bachiana and great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn relates how the Bach sons kept the Bach name alive in the world of music after their father’s death.)

I have known the Bach family for years and years. I studied harpsichord with Johann Sebastian Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. In fact, Wilhelm often told me I was his favorite pupil. Wilhelm Friedemann was a brilliant organist and improviser, but he never lived a happy life and unfortunately died in poverty in Berlin years ago.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s second son, Carl Phillip Emanual, on the other hand, was hugely successful, both in Berlin and later in Hamburg where he had a post very similar to his father’s St. Thomas position.  He has also written a treatise on The True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments which is being used by every famous teacher in the land.

The younger Bach boys were also quite the musicians. Johann Christoph Friedrich ended up in Buckeburg, Germany as a court musician and there he happily stayed all his life. In fact, people call him now the Buckeburg Bach.

Johann Sebastian’s youngest son, Johann Christian, who was only 15 when his father died, lived for a time with his brother, Carl Phillip in Berlin, but soon left Germany. Johann Christian was the first Bach to do such a thing! He studied and worked for a time in Italy and learned to compose in a totally different style than any of the other Bachs. In fact, he composed mostly opera in the Italian style. Eventually he ended up in London where he was a court composer for the Queen.

Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach

With the death of Johann Sebastian Bach’s grandson, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, in Berlin on December 25, 1845, the last musically significant descendant of Johann Sebastian Bach was gone. The long line of musical Bachs was extinguished.

(This vignette is one of many anecdotes included in the organ and media event, Bach and Sons, performed by David Jordan, Media Artist and Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist.)