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Musical families: Before the Von Trapps, there were the Bachs

J-P Mauro - published on 02/09/18

Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 children, some of whom became famous composers themselves.

Everyone is familiar with the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. His name is synonymous with the Baroque genre and he is one of the most prolific composers to have ever lived, with 1,128 compositions completed during his 65 years. That’s one piece every 21 days or so.

He also fathered 20 children, and several of these apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Four of his sons became very successful composers who furthered their father’s Baroque genre and even advanced music toward the Classical and Romantic eras.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 – 1784)

Bach’s second child and eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, was a universally recognized genius as an organist, improviser and composer. Despite his musicianship, his difficult personality and unwillingness to write in the more fashionable Classical style led him to be ostracized by the musical community and he ultimately died in poverty.

W.F. Bach was trained by his father, who wrote a graded course of keyboard studies and composition for his son’s education. W.F. Bach in turn added to this course and went on to teach several composers of note, including Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, for whom Johann Sebastian Bach named his composition, “The Goldberg Variations.”

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 – 1788)

C.P.E. Bach is the most famous of Bach’s children. He was J.S. Bach’s second son and fifth child with his first wife Maria Barbara. C.P.E. Bach was an influential composer during a period of musical transition from the Baroque style to the Classical and Romantic. He was known as “The Berlin Bach,” a name which distinguished him from his brother J.C. Bach, who was Music Master to the Queen of England.

Although he earned a law degree in college, C.P.E. Bach never practiced law. Instead, he took an appointment at the Berlin Court and quickly became a member of the Royal Orchestra. While C.P.E Bach was alive his musicianship was considered to have surpassed his father’s. He was well regarded by his peers Haydn and Beethoven, and Mozart famously claimed, “[C.P.E] Bach is the father, we are the children.”

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732 – 1795)

J.C.F. Bach was a successful musician who held the positions of harpsicordist and Concert Master at the royal court in Bückeburg, where he got his nickname, “The Bückeburg Bach.” A prolific writer, J.C.F. Bach composed hundreds of sonatas, symphonies, oratorios, liturgical choir pieces and motets, operas and songs.

Count Wilhelm was taken with the Italian musical styles and because of this J.C.F. Bach had to adapt his own compositions to reflect his patron’s interest. He did however strive to retain the stylistic traits of his father and brother C.P.E. Bach.

Johann Christian Bach (1735 – 1782)

Also known as “The English Bach,” or “The London Bach,” J.C. Bach was the youngest son of J.S. Bach, who was 50 when J.C. Bach was born. J.C. Bach received his musical education from his father until J.S.Bach died. J.C. went to live with his brother C.P.E Bach, who completed his musical training.

J.C. Bach lived in Italy for many years, where he converted to Catholicism and devoted much of his time to writing sacred music. As his reputation spread he became popular in England, where he premiered three operas in the King’s Theatre. Queen Charlotte was so impressed by his works that she appointed him Music Master in her court.

CeciliaClassical MusicSacred Music

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