The Composer Sons of Johann Sebastian Bach

It is very well-known that Johann Sebastian Bach was the summit and the end of a period of music composing. According to Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943), the greatest composers (the “3 B’s”: Bach – Beethoven – Brahms, but one may add to this Wagner too) emerged at the end of one musical “cycle” (period or era) and they are not actually innovators.

In Schillinger’s own terms, the preceding music history has reached its apex and “crystallized” with those composers.

The abounding harmonic and instrumental innovations in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach are actually the results of the current polyphonic Baroque style reaching its climax and, simultaneously its end. The same goes true for Beethoven and the classical style as well as Brahms and the romantic.

The composer sons of J. S. Bach, on the contrary, are renovators and innovators.

They did not follow on their father’s tracks, but instead, they have been the precursors of the “new style”: the classical style.

Joseph Haydn always referred and studied the sonatas of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

One may be therefore sure that the tutoring of Johann Sebastian Bach did not resulted in making more or less talented clones of himself, but genuinely creative and innovative musicians who wholeheartedly adopted the new instruments (the “piano-forte”) and the new musical style which they developed to a point where Haydn and Mozart will naturally grow upon.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born on the 8th of March 1788 in Weimar and died in Hamburg on December 14th of 1788. Fifth son of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach he had G. P. Telemann as his godfather.

Together with serious law and general studies he had his father as his unique music teacher. Highly gifted, he would become a famous virtuoso at the keyboards.

He settled down in Berlin at 1738 where he would stay for 30 years. On 1740 he started to work for Frederic II of Prussia then at the beginning of his reign. Carl Philipp was the accompanist of the king who played the flute, and his musical adviser. He kept this position until 1768.

He resigned in 1768 and replaced Georg Philipp Telemann, who died few months earlier, as Music Director at Hamburg. He gave there many concerts, directed the “premieres” of many of the composers of his day and stayed until his death.

Sometimes called “the Bach of Berlin” or “the Bach of Hamburg” he was, among his brothers, probably the most refined and creative composer. He endorsed the “new” style of music composing and developed this into the “classical style” as we know today.

A highly educated and intellectual person, he was aware of the new ideas of his epoch and left a very large work, cataloged by the musicologist Alfred Wotquenne (“Wq”).

The eldest son of Johann Sebastian and his first wife Maria Barbara, he had his musical training with his father who have composed for him the “Klavierbuchlein“.
After finishing law studies in Leipzig, he started as organist at the church: Sainte-Cecile of Dresden.

In 1762 he was offered the position of director of the music at the court of Darmstadt. Yet, it seems that for unknown reasons he held the title without really working there. He resigned in 1764 and left the city at 1770.

From then on he had an unstable life.

He was teaching to some students and from time to time fascinating the audiences with his talent at the organ. He died in poverty.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was without doubt the most enigmatic of Johann Sebastian’s sons. His music is very original and personal. The mixture of the “old” and “new” styles, combined with an enigmatic personality and great talent, probably first discovered by his father who was known to cherish him particularly.

Johann Christian Bach was born in Leipzig, September 5th 1735, died in London 1st January 1782. Sometimes called “the Bach of London” he was the last son of Johann Sebastian with Anna Magdalena.

On the trespassing of his father, his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel endorsed Johann Christian’s musical education.

Johann Christian spent few years in Italy as Kappelmeister of the Cont Litta, famous patron of the arts of Milan and instructed himself with Padre Martini. The well established theorist and philosopher, mathematician and erudite Giovanni Batista Martini (1706-1784) will have a deep influence on the younger composer.

Most of his religious work is from that time in Italy. He became organist at the Milan cathedral, after having converted to Catholicism. Johann Christian oriented himself towards the Opera, a genre his father and brothers never felt deeply about.

Asked by the King’s Theater of London, he settled down in England where he became Master of Music of the Queen. A looked after teacher, composer, virtuoso, concert organizer and close friend with the most eminent personalities of his time, he had a very large success and became one of the most famous musicians in London.

He met with Mozart in London and he had a great effect on the young composer. On his death, Mozart wrote to his father: “the Bach of London is dead. This is a sad day for the world of music.”



About David Ezra (Mehmet) Okonsar

David Ezra Okonsar, formerly Mehmet, pianist, composer, conductor and musicologist is the First Prize Winner at the International Young Virtuosos Competition, Antwerp, Belgium, 1982 and laureate of other prestigious international piano competitions such as the Gina Bachauer, Sixth Prize, Salt Lake City-UT, 1991 and J. S. Bach, Second Prize, Paris, France 1989. He is graduated from the Brussels Royal Conservatory of Music. His extensive discography includes a series of works by J. S. Bach, Liszt and Schumann. As a musicologist, writer and lecturer, Okonsar's writings are published in several music periodics. His essays and analyses are released in English and French, he is a lecturer on music, composing and technology.
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