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Johann Sebastian Bach

The eighth child of musical parents, Johann Sebastian Bach was born on 21 March 1685 in the German town of Eisenach. His father was the town piper, court trumpeter and an accomplished string player. He was the newest member of a highly esteemed family; for 200 years, the Bach family had been steadily building their musical reputation. It was said that almost every German town in the late 17th century could boast of having at least one Bach as a musician.

Bach's father and uncle gave him instruction on the violin, harpsichord and organ and he attended the old Latin Grammar School where he sang in the choir of St Georgekirche. There he was described as having 'an uncommonly fine treble voice'. However, by the age of ten, both Bach's parents had died and was living with his uncle Johann Christoph Bach in Ohrdruf. It was his uncle who first fostered in him an interest in composition, and his fine soprano voice won him a free place at the wealthy Michaelis monastery at Lüneberg, 180 miles from his new home. He studied there for two years, playing the violin and, when he lost his soprano voice, accompanying the choir on the harpsichord. When he left he decided to return home to Eisenach to seek employment.

Over the next few years, Bach held several positions as organist in German towns and married his cousin Maria Barbara in 1707. He heard the composer Buxtehude play the organ, and had the opportunity to hear and compose for orchestras and choirs, as well as meet many cultured people. This was particularly the case in Weimar, where he spent the years 1708 - 17 (writing, amongst others, his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor), as the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar was one of the most distinguished and cultured nobles of his time.

In 1717 he was appointed Capellmeister at the Court of Anhalt-Cöthen, where he wrote his equally famous concerto for two violins in D minor and the first four of his six suites for cello. In 1721, shortly after the early death of Maria Barbara, he married Anna Magdalena, who took an active interest in his music and was to bear him 13 children. In the same year, he wrote a series of six concertos for the Margrave of Brandenburg. Then, in 1723, he moved to Leipzig where, despite several disputes with the local council, he was to spend the rest of his life.

Bach reached the height of his fame in Leipzig, where his duties included the organisation of the music for the four local churches. This gave him access to a choir of some 50 local boys, and an orchestra of 20 players. He was also required to compose music for the services and wrote much music for performance at concerts held in a local coffee house. Many of Bach's most celebrated works date from his later life in Leipzig, including his monumental B minor mass and The Art of Fugue.

In early 1749, Bach's sight began to fail. Two cataract operations performed by a visiting English ophthalmic specialist led to an infection, which meant that he could not bear strong light. One morning in July 1750, he awoke to find that the pain caused by exposure to light had lessened considerably. The same day he had a stroke, followed by a severe fever, and died that evening.

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