German composer and organist Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was one of the foremost figures in Western music. He left a huge body of choral and instrumental music breathtakingly rich in beauty and complexity. His music has often been the inspiration for choreographers and features in such Royal Ballet works as Christopher Wheeldon's Electric Counterpoint, Kim Brandstrup's Goldberg – The Brandstrup-Rojo Project and Wayne McGregor's Tetractys – The Art of Fugue (in an arrangement by Michael Berkeley).
J.S. Bach was the most influential figure of the huge family of Bach musicians. He was born in Eisenach, the youngest of eight. He grew up in a musical background but seems to have been largely self-taught on the keyboard and as a composer. He took his first position in Arnstadt in 1703 and went on to work in Mühlhausen in 1707, Weimar in 1708, Cöthen in 1717, working for the music-loving Prince Leopold, and in Leipzig from 1723 to the end of his life. He married his first wife Maria Barbara in 1707, who died in 1720, and his second wife Anna Magdalena in 1721. The vast number of works we have today are only a proportion of everything he wrote.
Bach was recognized in his day for his brilliant talent as a performer, teacher and rigorously active musician and organ builder; that he did all this while composing music in which technical complexity, intelligence and beauty are perfectly balanced is astonishing.
News and features
17 October 2014
With artworks hostage to fashion and cultural sentiment, why a little digging might unearth a new classic.