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.)

The Audience Hissed and the Choir Boys Laughed

(Sara Levy, student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Friend of the Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach family, collector of Bachiana and great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn relates how different Johann Christian Bach was from his father and brothers.)

Johann Christian Bach

Here is a little story to show you how different Johann Christian was from his father and brothers. As the story goes, the Queen of England commanded Johann Christian to play a concerto on the organ between the acts of his new oratorio. She wanted Johann Christian to emulate the great Handel’s style. As the story goes, the young Bach’s playing was so awful that the audience hissed and the boys in the chorus laughed. As you can imagine, Johann Christian was mortified!  He simply was not an improviser or a composer of organ music.

(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.)

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.)