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The New Student's Reference Work/Bach, Johann Sebastian

Bach (bäk), Johann Sebastian, one of the greatest musicians of the world, was born at Eisenach, Germany, in March, 1685. He belonged to a distinguished musical family, and at Erfurt, where a branch of the family lived for many years, the town musicians were called Bachs, even when no member of the family was connected with them. Losing his father before he was ten years old, his older brother undertook his musical education, but found it hard to keep his genius in check. He tried to hide from him a manuscript volume of organ pieces, but Sebastian managed to get hold of it and worked for six months copying it by the light of the moon, for fear of being found out; but was discovered and his copy taken from him. At fifteen he entered the choir of St. Michael’s school at Luneburg. Here he remained as a violinist after losing his beautiful voice. In 1703 he was given a court appointment at Weimar, and in 1704 became organist at Arnstadt, where he composed many of his church cantatas. During the nine years spent as court organist at Weimar, he studied Italian music and did some composing. Some years followed at the court of Prince Leopold, where he wrote the first half of the collection known as Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues. His next appointment was at Leipsic, where all his greatest works for chorus were written. In 1747 he paid a visit to Frederick the Great at Potsdam, who received him with great honor. On a theme proposed by the king, Bach composed his Musical Offering, which, with his Art of Fugue, is a work of wonderful ingenuity and learning. An operation on his eyes resulted in total blindness. He died July 28, 1750. Piano-players owe to Bach the method of tuning, by which they can play in all keys, and also the mode of fingering which brings all the fingers into use.