The Bach Family

(Adapted from Baker)

The name Bach identifies an illustrious family that, during two centuries, supplied the world with a number of musicians and composers of distinction. History possesses few records of such remarkable examples of hereditary art, as that which culminated in Johann Sebastian.



The genealogy of the family is traced to Hans Bach, born, about 1561 at Wechmar, a little town near Gotha. Veit Bach, died 1610, the presumed son of this Hans, and Caspar Bach, are the first of the, family concerning whose musical tendencies we have any information. Veit was by trade a baker, and emigrated to Hungary, returning to Wechmar, he settled there as a miller and baker. H is chief relaxation consisted in playing on the zither. His son, Hans, born about. 1580, died 1626, was known as"der Spielmann, (i. e.,"' the player"), although he followed the supplementary occupation of carpet-weaver. He received instruction from the town-musician of Gotha, the, above-mentioned Caspar Bach, supposed to be his uncle. As a traveling violinist, to be found at all the principal festivals., he was popular throughout Thuringia, and his three sons, Johann, Christoph, and Heinrich, inherited his ability. The Bach genealogy mentions a second son of Veit, presumably Lips Bach (died Oct. 10, 1620), who also had three sons, who were sent to Italy, to. study music, by the Count of Schwarzburg-Arnstadt. From Hans and Lips, the two sons of Veit, sprang the main branches of the Bach family, whose male members filled so many positions as organists, cantors, and KapelImeister throughout Thuringia, that, in some instances, even after there had ceased to be any member of the family among them, the town-musicians were known as "the Bachs." When the families became numerous and widely dispersed, they agreed to assemble on a fixed date each year. Erfurt, Arnstadt, Steinach, and Meiningen were the places chosen for these meetings, which continued until the middle of the 18th century, as many as 120 persons of the name of Bach then assembling. The hours, interspersed with music, were devoted to the narration of their experiences, mutual criticism, encouragement and advice, and the examination of the, compositions of each member, which eventually formed a collection known as the Bach Archives. A part of this interesting collection was in the possession of Carl Ph. E. Bach at the end of the 18th century



The principal members of the Bach family are enumerated below, in alphabetical order, with their chronological list-numbers.




(1613 - 1661)



Carl Philipp Emanuel

(1714 - 1788)



Georg Christoph

(1641 - 1697)




(1615 - 1692)




(1604 - 1673)



Johann Ambrosius

(1641 - 1695)



Johann Bernhard

(1676 - 1749)



Johann Christian

(1735 - 1782)



Johann Christian

(1743 - 1814)



Johann Christoph

(1642 - 1703)



Johann Christoph

(1641 - 1694)



Johann Christoph

(1671 - 1721)



Johann Christoph

(1782 - 1846)



Johann Christoph Friedrich

(1732 - 1795)



Johann Egidius

(1645 - 1717)



Johann Ernst

(1722 - 1777)



Johann Georg

(1751 - 1797)



Johann Ludwig

(1677 - 1730)



Johann Michael

(1648 - 1694)



Johann Michael

(1754 - ?)



Johann Nikolaus

(1669 - 1753)



Johann Sebastian

(1685 - 1750)



Wilhelm Friedemann

(1710 - 1784)



Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst

(1759 - 1845)


1. Bach, Johann (eldest son of Hans), born 1604; died 1673. Organist at Schweinfurt, then at Suhl. In 1655, director of the"Raths-Musikanten"; 1647, organist of the church at Erfurt. Left compositions in manuscript of considerable merit.

2. Bach, Christoph (2nd son of Hans, and grandfather of Johann Sebastian), born 1613 ; died 1661. Court and town-musician of Eisenach. Distinguished organist; left several organ-pieces. (in the Bach Archives).

3. Bach, Heinrich (3rd son of Hans), born Wechmar, Sept. 16, 1615 ; died Arnstadt, July 16, 1692. From 1641, organist of Arnstadt church for 51 years. Left organ pieces, and hymn-tunes in manuscript.

4. Bach, Johann Egidius (2nd son of Johann [1]), born 1645 ; died 1717. Succeeded his father as municipal music-director, and organist of the church at Erfurt. Left church compositions, among others the motet à 9 for double choir, Unser Leben ist ein Schatten (1696)

5. Bach, Georg Christoph (eldest son of Christoph [2]), born Eisenach, 1641 ; died 1697. Cantor and composer at Schweinfurt. His motet, Siehe, wie fein und lieblich, for two tenors and bass, with accompaniment of violin, 3 'celli, and bass, is in the Bach Archives.

6. Bach, Johann Christoph (eldest son of Heinrich [3]), organist and composer (instrumental and vocal) of the highest rank among the earlier Bachs; born Arnstadt, Dec. 6, 1642 ; died Eisenach, Mar. 31, 1703. From 1665 to 1703, court and town-organist of Eisenachurch Works in the Bach Archives: Wedding-hymn for twelve voices, Es er hub sich ein Streit, a composition of great beauty; motet for 22 voices, for the festival of St. Michael ; alto solo, with accompaniment of vlnn., 'cello, and bass; and two motets à 4. In manuscript in the Berlin Royal Library: Motet à 8 for double choir, Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf (1672); motet à 4, Ich lasse dich nicht; motet à 8, Unsres Herzens Freude hat ein Ende; motet à 8, Herr, nun lassest du deinen Diener; Sarabande for clavecin with twelve variations; etc.

7. Bach, Johann Michael , brother of preceding, and as organist and composer almost his equal in merit ; born Arnstadt, Aug. 9, 1648 ; d, Gehren, May, 1694. Organist and town-clerk of Gehren from 1673 ; also maker of harpsichords, violins, etc. Composed motets, preludes, and fugues.

8. Bach, Johann Ambrosius (2nd son of Christoph [2]), distinguished organist; born Erfurt, Feb. 22, 1645, died Eisenach, 1695 He was the father of Johann Sebastian. His twin-brother,

9. Bach, Johann Christoph , died Arnstadt, 1694, was court violinist and Stadtpfeifer at Arnstadt from 1671 . There was such a remarkable resemblance between the brothers, in every particular, voice, gestures, moods, and style of music, that even their respective wives could distinguish them only by the color of their clothes.-Churchcomposition à 4, Nun ist aIles überwunden.

10. Bach, Johann Bernhard (son of Johann Egidius [4]), organist and composer for organ, one of the best of his generation ; born Erfurt, Nov. 23, 1676; died Eisenach, June 11, 1749. Organist at Erfurt, Magdeburg. and the successor of Johann Christoph [6], at Eisenach, in 1703. Also cembalist in the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach's orchestra-Works : Harpsichord pieces., several chorale-arrangements for organist, and four orchestral suites, these latter now in the Berlin Royal Library.

11. Bach, Johann Nikolaus (eldest son of Johann Christoph [6]), born Eisenacb, Oct. 10, 1669 ; died there 1753. In 1695, appointed organist at Jena, where he established a harpsichord-factory, made many improvements in the instruments, and directed his efforts to establishing equal temperament in clavier and organ tuning.-Works: Suites for organist and harpsichord; motets, and other sacred compositions; also a comic operetta, Der Jenaische Wein- und Bier-Rufer, a scene from Jena college-life.

12. Bach, Johann Ludwig (son of Johann Michael [7]), born Amte-Gehren, 1677; died 1730, Court Kapellmeister at Saxe-Meiningen, Requiem for two choirs, with instrumental accompaniment, in manuscript in the Berlin Royal Library,

13 . Bach, Johann Ernst (only son of Johann Bernhard [10]), b Eisenach, Sept. 1 (June 28, 1722; died there Jan. 28, 1777 (1781?). Studied law at Leipzig for six years, returning to Eisenach and practicing as advocate. In 1748 was appointed assistant. to his father, organist of St. George's church; in 1756, appointed honorary Kapellmeister at Weimar, with pension. Published compositions include Sonatas for clavecin with violin., etc; many others exist in manuscript.

14, Bach, Johann Christoph (brother of Johann Sebastian, and eldest son of Johann Ambrosius [8] born Erfurt, June 16, 1671- died Ohrdruff, February 22, 1721. He was organist at Ohrdruff, and his distinguished brother's teacher on the clavichord.

15. Bach, Johann Sebastian , the most famous of the family, and one of the great masters of music; born Eisenach, March 21 (baptized March 23), 1685; died Leipzig, July 28, 1750. he first learned the violin from his father (Joh. Ambrosius [8]). His mother, Elizabeth, née Lämmerhirt, was a native of Erfurt. Both his parents dying in his tenth year, he went to live with his brother, Johann Christoph [14], at Ohrdruff, who taught him the clavichord; but the boy's genius soon outstripped the brother's skill, and led to somewhat harsh treatment by the latter. Unable to obtain the loan of a manuscript volume of works by composers of the day, Sebastian secretly obtained possession of the work, and, by the light of the moon, painfully and laboriously copied the whole, within six months, only to have it taken from him, when his brother accidentally found him practicing from it. He recovered it when his brother's death occurred shortly after. Left to his own resources, Johann Sebastian. went to Lüneburg with a fellow student named Erdmann, and both were admitted as choristers at St. Michael's Church, also receiving gratuitous scholastic education. The fame of the family had preceded Sebastian, for in the choice collection of printed and manuscript music of the, church were to be found the compositions of Heinrich and Johann Christoph Bach [6]. A fellow-Thuringian, George Böhm, was the organist of St. John's Church, and Bach attentively studied his compositions. He also often went on. foot to Hamburg, to hear the famous old Dutch organist Reinken, and to Celle, where French music was exclusively used in the services of the Royal Chapel. With indefatigable industry he developed his technical skill on the violin, clavichord, and organ, and perfected himself in the art of composition; often working and studying the whole night through. In 1703 he became violinist in the Weimar court orchestra, but the following year quit this post for the more congenial one of organist of the new church at Arnstadt. Some of his compositions of this early period, for clavier. and organ, are of importance. In 1705 he obtained leave of absence, and walked to Lübeck, to make the acquaintance of the famous organist Dietrich Buxtehude. He was so impressed with this master's style, that he trebled his leave of absence, and returned only after a peremptory summons from the church-consistory of Arnstadt. He received favorable offers from different places, and on June 29, 1707, accepted the appointment as organist at Mühlhausen. On Oct. 17 he married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, daughter of Johann Michael [7]. The following year, he went to Weimar, played before the reigning duke, and was at once offered the post of court organist, In 1714 he was made Konzertmeister . All this time he was writing much church and organ music. In his autumn vacations he made professional clavichord. and organ tours. In 1713 he visited Kassel and Halle, Leipzig in 1714 (where he furnished all the organ-music for a service conducted in the Thomaskirche, and produced a cantata), Halle again in 1716, and Dresden in 1717. In this town his challenge to Marchand, a French organist of high reputation, was evaded by the latter's failure to appear. In 1717 Bach was appointed Kappellmeister and director of chamber-music to Prince Leopold of Anhalt, at Köthen, and this period is especially rich in the production of orchestral and chamber-music. In 1719 he revisited Halle, hoping to meet Händel; but the latter had just left for England. In 1720, during his absence at Carlsbad, his wife died suddenly. In the autumn of the same year be applied, though (owing to bribery) without success, for the post of organist of the Jacobikirche, Hamburg. Here he again met the aged Reinken, whose admiration he excited by his brilliant playing. In 1721 he married his second wife, Anna Magdalene Wülken, a daughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfels. Thirteen children were born to them. Of highly-cultured musical taste, she participated in his labors, and wrote out the parts, of many of his cantatas. Bach prepared, two books of music especially for her. In May, 1723, he succeeded Johann Kuhnau as cantor at the Thomasschule, Leipzig, becoming also organist and director of music at the two principal churches, the Thomaskirche and the Nicolaikirche, and continuing in the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt as Kapellmeister von Haus aus. He further received the appointment of honorary Kapellmeister to the Duke of Weissenfels, and, in 1736, that of court composer to the King of Poland, Elector of Saxony. He remained in his post at Leipzig for 27 years, and there composed most of his religious music. He often visited Dresden, where his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. was in 1733 appointed organist of the Sophienkirche. On these occasions he frequently attended the Italian opera, then cond. by Hasse. His second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, was in 1740 appointed chamber-musician to Frederick II. of Prussia. He communicated to his father the king's oft-expressed wish to see and hear him; and on May 7, 1747, with his son Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach arrived at Potsdam. Here, at the king's request, he tried, and improvised upon, the various Silbermann pianos in the different rooms of the palace, to the admiration of his royal host, and of the musicians who followed them from room to room. The next day Bach tried, in a similar manner, the principal organs in Potsdam, finally improvising a 6-part fugue on a theme proposed by the king. On his return to Leipzig he wrote a 3-part fugue on this theme, a Ricercare in 6 parts, several canons inscribed " Thematis regii elaborationes canonicae," and a Trio for flute, violin, and bass; dedicating the whole to Frederick as a "Musikalisches Opfer." -Bach was nearsighted from childhood, and later his eyes showed symptoms of weakness, probably due to the strain of his youthful night-labors; in 1749 an unsuccessful operation resulted in total blindness, and his hitherto robust health also declined. His sight was suddenly restored on July 10, 1750; but 10 days later, stricken by apoplexy, he died. He worked to the end, dictating the choral " Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit," his last composition, a few days before his death.


Clearness and acuteness of intellect, strength of will, irresistible persistency, a love of order, and a high sense of duty were his leading characteristics. His home-life was of the happiest description. Among the long list of his distinguished pupils were Johann Ludwig Krebs, Gottfried August Homilius, Johann Friedrich Agricola, Philipp Kirnberger, Johann Theophilus Goldberg, Marpurg, Johann Kaspar Vogler, also his own sons Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Johann Christoph Friedrich, for whose instruction he wrote the "Clavierbüchlein" and the "Kunst der Fuge," He engraved several of his own works on copper; invented the " viola pomposa" (a cross between viola and 'cello), and a "Lauten-Clavicembalum" (a clavichord with catgut strings), he promoted the adoption of the tempered system of tuning keyboard stringed instruments; and introduced the style of fingering which, with comparatively few modifications, is still in use.


Bach's compositions mark an epoch. They are a fusion of two eras:-the polyphonic contrapuntal (thematic development by strict and free imitation) and the harmonic tonal (chord combinations founded on the modern system of major and minor keys), His originality and fecundity of thematic invention are astounding; moulded with his consummate contrapuntal art, and the freedom born of full mastery, polyphonic structures were reared which will be the admiration of ages. His style is elevated, and of sustained individuality in melody, rhythm, and harmony; the momentum of his grand fugues is inexorable as the March of Fate. As, an inexhaustible mine for study, the complete critical edition published (since 1851) by the "Bach-Gesellschaft," a society founded in 1850 by Schumann, Otto Jahn, Hauptmann, K. F. Becker, and the publisher Härtel, demands special recognition. The Peters' edition of Bach's works is also valuable. Few of them were published during his lifetime; Mizler's "Musikalische Bibliothek" (1754) contains an almost complete catalogue. Bach's importance was but meagerly appreciated by his contemporaries, and for half a century after his death he was practically ignored. Some few works were then occasionally performed, or even published; but Mendelssohn, by a performance of the St. Matthew Passion at Berlin, in 1820, first drew general attention to the great value of Bach's compositions. The centenary of his death (1850) was marked by the formation, at Leipzig, of the Bach- GeselIschaft . Bach-Vereine, societies for the cultivation and production of Bach's music, later came into existence at Leipzig, Berlin, London, and in many other European cities.

            Works : Vocal: The five sets of sacred Cantatas for every Sunday and feast-day, already mentioned, besides several special ones, e.g., Gottes Zeit ist die beste Zeit, and the Trauerode on the death of the Electress of Saxony; five Passions, including the gigantic St. Matthew, the St. John, and the doubtful St. Luke; a Christmas Oratorio, in six parts; Grand Mass in B minor, and four smaller Lutheran masses; motets; two Magnificats; five Sanctus; many secular cantatas, including two comic ones. - Instrumental: Very numerous, pieces for clavier (i.e. keyboard):-Inventions in 2 and 3 parts; six "little" French suites; 6 "large" English suites; Preludes and Fugues, including. the "Wohltemperirtes Klavier" in two parts with its 48 Preludes and Fugues in all keys; sonatas with one or more instruments, among them the six famous sonatas for violin and clavier; solo sonatas for vln. and for 'cello; solos, trios, etc., for different instruments in various combinations; concertos for one to four harpsichords; violin and other instrumental concertos with orchestral overtures and suites; and many organ compositions (fantasias, toccatas, preludes, fugues, and chorale-arrangements),


            Several biographies of Bach have appeared; the best and most exhaustive is "Johann Sebastian Bach," by Philipp Spitta (Leipzig, 1873-80, 2 vo.s; Engl. transl. by Clara Bell and Fuller Maitland, London, 1884-5). Also may be mentioned, " Über J. S. Bach's Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke," by Forkel (1802); Hilgenfeldt, " Bach's Leben, Wirken and Werke" (1850); Bitter, " Johann Sebastian Bach" (4 Vols; 2d ed., 1881); Poole, "Sebastian Bach" (London, 1882). His earliest biographers were his son, C. Ph. E., and J. Fr. Agricola (in Mizler's " Musikalische Bibliothek," Vol. iv, I [1754]).