Fun Facts: Johann Sebastian Bach
Updated: Jun 1, 2021
When it comes to keyboard music of the Baroque era, this man stands tall! Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) is the pinnacle of the Baroque period and style. Here are some fun facts to entertain you as you learn to decode and play his complex polyphonic music!
1. Bach had 20 children!!!
Can you imagine a classroom of kids running around at home?!? These kids were spread between two wives (his first wife died at age 36), and many of the children did not survive into adulthood. Notably, 4 of his kids became established composers (Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, and Johann Christian Bach).
2. Bach walked some 200+ miles to hear a concert.
In 1705 at the age of 20, Bach walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck, Germany to listen to a concert by the great organist Dieterich Buxtehude (1637 - 1707). Bach asked for a couple of weeks off of work for this endeavor but ended up staying for a couple of months to absorb the style and technique of Buxtehude. Talk about a pilgrimage!
3. Bach was almost in a keyboard duel.
In 1717, there was a competition in Dresden, Germany arranged between Bach and French harpsichord/organ virtuoso Louis Marchand (1669–1732). Bach had quite the reputation of being a virtuoso technician and improviser. So much so that Marchand chickened out and fled the town on the day of the duel!
4. Bach spent time in jail.
Don't worry, not for anything malicious! Bach wanted a promotion from being a chamber musician to the Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. The Duke denied his request. Bach asked again, and the Duke became so annoyed that he held Bach captive in a fortress for a month (November 6–December 2, 1717).
5. Bach never left Germany.
Bach spent his whole life in Germany from his birth in Eisenach to working in Weimar and Köthen to his death in Leipzig. Also, when he died, his music fell out of fashion. It wasn't until composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) revived his works that Bach was awarded the status as a great composer. Now his music is heard throughout the world!