Early Music

Johann Sebastian Bach
Cover of Johann Sebastian Bach



The churches in the Baroque Era used grandiose music that suited the styles of composers like Bach very well. You can read more in the text on page 133 about the use of Baroque music in church. Churches needed music not only for worship services, but also for ceremonies (ex. ordination, weddings, funerals). Because of the great need for large amounts of music (and remember, they couldn't just pop in a CD for worship), the role of the music director was extremely important.

A music director like Bach or Monteverdi not only wrote music for each service, but also trained musicians, directed musical ensembles, did their own copy work (copying of scores for the musicians), and kept visiting dignitaries happy with exciting new works through commissions. Some Baroque church music directors were fortunate enough to have assistants help with the copy work. Sometimes a score was not completed entirely. For example, Bach often created shorthand versions of his scores and improvised off of them on the organ. As a composer, I know from experience, that often what is improvised is much better than what is written down. For this reason, many musicians who perform Baroque music today embellish on the score and do not play what is strictly written on the page.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Cover of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
Johann Christian Bach
Cover of Johann Christian Bach


The Bach family was reknown for their musical talent. Several of Johann Sebastian Bach's children continued on to studey music and become successful composers of thier own. Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach become the best known of J.S. Bach's children. They had successful professional and musical lives during the end of the Baroque Era (called the Rococo Period). The Rococo period had  a lighter musical feel, and preceding the clean and melodic classicism soon to come with the Age of Enlightenment.
What is interesting about Bach's fame today is that shortly after his death, Bach had disappeared from the music scene. In fact, it was not until the 1800s that Bach was rediscovered by the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In fact, Mendelssohn created a revival of Baroque music by presenting Bach's music like St. Matthew's Passion. If it was not for Mendelssohn, we might have never heard about J.S. Bach! 

Frontispiece of Bach's Clavier-Büchlein vor An...
Frontispiece of Bach's Clavier-Büchlein vor Anna Magdalena Bach, composed in 1722 for his second wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Part of the reason for Bach's relative obscurity is that he was part of a very large musical family. In other words, he was just another talented musician in the bunch. Even two of his children - Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach - pursued music after Bach died. They were not as famous as he was, although their works are still played today. Being only one of many Bachs, he established an excellent regional reputation, but did not gain fame internationally with his work. Furthermore, during the Baroque, being a composer was much less, uhm, "glamorous" as in the Classical Era. A composer was just a skilled tradesperson. Bach was just a choir director, nothing special. For all of these reasons, Bach was not well known after his demise.

Think about choir directors that you have known (ex. church choral directors, community choirs, high school choir directors), especially those who contributed to the choir by writing/arranging music or by performing. Do you think any of them might have been a closet Bach, drudging away at their job?



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