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…

The Bachs Are Off to Weimar

(Maria Barbara, Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, shares the news that they are leaving Muhlhausen and moving to Weimar.)

St. Blaise
Muhlhausen, Germany

Glorious news! Johann Sebastian has just returned home and he tells me the interview went superbly and that he was immediately hired as Kapellemeister and chamber musician at the court of his majesty, Duke Wilhelm of Saxe-Weimar. Tomorrow he will resign his position at St. Blaise’s in Muhlhausen and we will move to Weimar.

Ah, Weimar! Life is so different here. It is like another world. Johann has a wonderful salary and besides that, some men showed up with grain and wood and wine at our front door the other day. This is the way we now live here in Weimar.

Weimar, Germany

Johann Sebastian has started his new job and he is so happy. The Duke does not tolerate the religious rancor that had marked our time at Muhlhausen and he told JS he would be free to develop his ideas on “well-regulated church music” at Weimar. It is such a blessing to have Johann Sebastian happy and engaged in his music, playing his violin, but also composing, composing and composing!

We also have a new baby, our first. We named her Catharina Dorothea and she is a healthy beautiful baby. Ah, our lives are so full and happy here in Weimar.

(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.)

More Children for the JS Bach Family

My husband, Johann, recently heard the music of some Italian composers and he was most impressed. In fact, just the other day he played for Dorothea and me, a piece he arranged for his “King of Instruments” (that’s the organ, you know) which he cleverly based on a violin concerto by a Mr. Vivaldi. It is amazing how he was able to play all the parts of the orchestra and the part of the violin soloist on the organ by himself!

Our little family continues to grow. Dorothea is now 2 years old, and we have a new baby we have named Wilhelm Friedemann. You do remember our Duke’s name is Wilhelm don’t you? Their father is wonderful with them when he has time. Johann Sebastian is so busy with all his activities from tuning harpsichords, repairing and maintaining organs, playing his violin in the Duke’s orchestra, and of course composing, a lot of which is for the organ right now.

Our twins, Johann Christoph and Maria Sophia, were born this year, but alas, they were so tiny and sickly, they did not survive more than a day. I was heartbroken of course and Johann Sebastian was especially sad. He has already had too much death in his life.

Even through this tragedy, Johann Sebastian has continued with all his work and has even continued to compose. He composes his glorious music not just as an employee of the Duke but to the glory of God! Always to the glory of God.

(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.)

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.)

A Child’s Perspective On The Death Of Her Mother

(The death of Maria Barbara, first wife of Johann Sebastian Bach as told by their eldest child, Catharina Dorothea.)

My father and the Prince finally returned from their trip! Finally! It was a very sad homecoming for him though, as he came rushing through the door to greet all of us and instead of being greeted with joy at his return, found a sad, forlorn and scared group of children. You see, my mother had died while he was gone. Father is so very very shocked and sad. He did not have a chance to tell my mother goodbye before she died.

Mama was so tired from all the work to run the house by herself that she got sick. It was so sudden that she died before one of my uncles could go to Carlsbad to fetch my Father. Mama was even buried with a few words from the pastor before Father got home. He was certainly shocked to walk into our home and find the boys sad and quiet and me trying my best to take Mama’s place. I don’t know what we will do now but I hope Father does not have to travel again for a while. I am scared of what might happen to us!

(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.)

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.