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July 30 Johann Sebastian Bach

Today in 1750 the body of Johan Sebastian Bach was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at the churchyard of St. John’s, Leipzig. The greatest composer of the Baroque period and a man of deep committed Lutheran faith. He has recently been voted the greatest composer of all time in a poll of living composers


He had died two days earlier and an inventory drawn up a few months after Bach's death showing that his estate included five harpsichords, two lute-harpsichords, three violins, three violas, two cellos, along with 52 "sacred books", including works by Martin Luther and Josephus, the Jewish historian. The hundreds of sacred works Bach created are an indication of an intelligent and curious faith. He had taught Luther's Small Catechism as the Thomaskantor in Leipzig, and the Lutheran chorale or hymn book was the basis of much of his work. In elaborating these hymns into his chorale preludes, he wrote more cogent and tightly integrated works than most, even when they were massive and lengthy. His major sacred vocal works created a religiously and musically powerful expression. For example, the St Matthew Passion, was illustrated with Biblical text in arias, choruses, and chorales. Bach was able to craft this into an overall experience that has been found by millions over centuries to be both musically thrilling and spiritually profound.

Regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, his compositions are now represent the best of the Baroque era. He not only produced great compositions, he produced fine composers as well, in his sons and he mastered virtually every musical form of his day. He mastered the church organ and his his “Passions” and “Mass in B Minor” are outstanding. He took simple Lutheran melodies and developed them into fully-fledged works, and transcribed many works of other composers, showing how he admired them. He spent a great deal of time studying the Italian Baroque style and these inspired his own seminal violin sonatas. He was voted the Greatest Composer of All Time by 174 of the world's leading composers for BBC Music Magazine

Born into a musical family, his uncles were all professional musicians, whose posts included church organists, court chamber musicians, and composers. One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach introduced him to the organ, and he would specialise in the organ and other keyboard instruments. He composed concertos, for instance for violin and for harpsichord, and suites, as chamber music as well as for orchestra. His mother and father died before he was 10 and so he moved in with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach who was the organist at St. Michael's Church in Ohrdruf, Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. There he studied, performed, and copied music, and his brother instructed him on the clavichord. Meanwhile at local gymnasium he was taught primarily theology, Latin and Greek. He world work as a court organist and church organist until in he was was appointed Thomaskantor, Cantor of the St. Thomas School at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, which provided music for four churches in the city. Seen as the leading cantorate in Protestant Germany it was located in the mercantile city of Lepzig and he held the post for 27 years until his death. When he was 48, he acquired a copy of Luther's three-volume translation of the Bible. He became totally absorbed in it, underlining passages, correcting errors in the text and commentary, inserted missing words, and making notes in the margins. His notes are revealing to his own faith, near 1 Chronicles 25 (a listing of Davidic musicians) he wrote, "This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing music." At 2 Chronicles 5:13 (which speaks of temple musicians praising God), he noted, "At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence."

He became blind in 1750 a year before his death, we know think this was caused by undiagnosed diabetes. In an unfortunate coincidence, as he was going blind, a famous British occultist, an eye doctor called John Taylor, was on a trip in Leipzig. He operated on him twice with no success but his general health got worse and worse, and he suffered for half a year after these two surgeries. Curiously and suddenly, half a year after his second operation, was able to see again. Just to suffer a second stroke which weakened him terminally. However after his death, his music was further popularised through a multitude of arrangements, including, the Air on the G String and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", and a multitude of recordings, such as three different box sets with complete performances of the composer's oeuvre marking the 250th anniversary of his death.


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