Piano Composers

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  Johann Sebastian Bach  Date of Birth 21 March 1685, Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany Date of Death 28 July 1750, Leipzig, Germany (stroke, high fever) Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a large and distinguished family of professional musicians. His father, named Johann Ambrosius Bach, was a violinist and trumpeter, employed by the city of Eisenach. His uncles were church organists, court musicians and composers. His mother and father died before Bach was 10. As an orphan, he moved in with his eldest brother, J. C. Bach, an organist and composer, under whose tutelage Bach studied organ music as well as the construction and maintenance of the organ. Education:  At the age of 14, Bach received a scholarship and walked on foot 300 kilometers to the famous St. Michael's school in Luneburg, near Hamburg. There he lived and studied for 2 years from 1699-1701. It was there that he sang a Capella at the boys chorale. Bach's studies included organ, harpsichord, and singing. In addition he took the academic studies in theology, history and geography, and lessons of Latin, Italian, and French. Besides his studies of music by the local Nothern German composers, Bach had important exposure to the music of composers from other European nations; such as the French composers Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marais, and Marchand, the South German composers Johann Pachelbel and Froberger, and the Italians Arcangelo Corelli and  Antonio Vivaldi.  Personality and character:  Bach was 17 when he made a 4-month pilgrimage, walking on foot about 400 kilometers from Arnstadt to the Northern city of Lubeck. There he studied with 'Dietrich Buxtehude' and became so involved that he overstayed his leave by three months. Buxtehude being probably the best organist of his time became the living link between the founder of Baroque music Heinrich Schuetz and the biggest Baroque genius, Bach. Back in Arnstadt, Bach wrote 'Toccata and Fugue in D Minor' (1702), his first masterpiece; which stemmed from his bold organ improvisations. At that time he was in love with his second cousin Maria Barbara; whom he was taking upstairs to the church organ, where her presence was inspirational for his creativity. Bach was punished for the violation of the restrictions on women's presence in the church and he was fired. However, he eventually married Maria Barbara. Cross-cultural studies:  Bach studied the orchestral music of  Antonio Vivaldi and gained insight into his compositional language by arranging Vivaldi's concertos for organ. Six French suites were written for keyboard; each suite opens with 'Allemande' and consists of several pieces, including 'Courante', 'Sarabande', 'Menuet', 'Gavotte', 'Air', 'Anglaise', 'Polonaise', 'Bourree', and 'Gigue'. As suggested by their titles, the pieces were representing songs and dances from various cultures. From the music of the Italians Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, and 'Giuseppe Torelli'; Bach adopted dramatic introductions and endings as well as vivacious rhythmical dynamism and elaborate harmonization. Bach also performed the music of English, French, and Italian composers; motets of the Venetian school, and incorporated their rhythmical patterns and textural structures in the development of his own style.  Teaching:  Bach selected and instructed musicians for orchestras and choirs in Weimar and Leipzig. His work as a Cantor included teaching instrumental and vocal lessons to the church musicians and later to the musicians of the court orchestra. Bach was also a teacher of his own children and of his second wife. In 1730, Bach presented his second wife with a musical notebook for studies, known as the 'Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach'. Compositions in the notebook were written in a form of minuete, polonaise, gavotte, march, rondeau, chorale, sonata, prelude, song, and aria; written mainly by Bach, as well as by his sons 'Carl Philip Emanuel Bach', Johann Christoph Bach, and composers 'Francois Couperin', Georg Bohm, and others. Family:  Bach married his second cousin, named Maria Barbara, who was the inspirational force for his early compositions. They had seven children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood. Maria Barbara died in 1720. On December 3, 1721, Bach married Anna Magdalena (bee Wilcke), a talented soprano, who was 17 years his junior. They had thirteen children. Bach fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. His sons with Maria, 'Friedemann Bach', Johann Christoph Bach, and 'Carl Philip Emanuel Bach' became important composers in the Rococo style. The descendants of Bach are living in many countries across the world. Social activity:  Bach replaced his friend Georg Philipp Telemann as the director of the popular orchestra known as Collegium Musicum, which he led from 1729-1750. It was a private secular music society that gave concert performances twice a week at the Zimmerman's Coffeehouse near the Leipzig market square. Bach's exposure to such a secular public environment inspired him to compose numerous purely entertainment pieces for solo keyboard and several violin and harpsichord concertos. Politics:  Being the undisputed musical genius, Bach still suffered from ugly political machinations.  Although the Leipzig Council had enough money, they never honored the promised salary of 1000 talers a year; promised to Bach by the Mayor of Leipzig, Gottlieb Lange, at the hiring interview. Bach worked diligently, in spite of being underpaid for 27 years until his death. On top of that local political factions in the Leipzig Council manipulated Bach's educational work as well as his compositions and public performances. They were pressuring him as the Cantor and Composer and interfering his creative efforts by imposing restrictions on his performances because of their ugly political games. Bach prevailed as he composed and played his Mass in B Minor to the monarch of Saxony and was appointed the Royal Court Composer of Saxony. King Frederick the Great invited Bach to Potsdam in 1747. There the king played his own theme for Bach and challenged the composer to improvise on it. Bach used the 'royal theme' and improvised a three-part fugue on the king's piano. Later Bach upgraded the king's theme to a more sophisticated melody, and composed an array of pieces based on the improved 'royal theme', which he titled Musical Offering and later presented this composition to the king. Legacy:  Bach wrote over eleven hundred music compositions in all genres. In Leipzig alone he wrote a cantata for every Sunday and feast day of the year, of which 224 cantatas survive. Some of his compositions were written on the same theme at different times in his life, like choral cantatas and organ works on similar themes with significantly reworked arrangements. The complete list of Bach's works, BWV, has 1127 compositions for voice, organ, harpsichord, violin, cello, flute, chamber music for small ensembles, orchestral music, concertos for violin and orchestra, and for keyboard and  orchestra. His music became the essential part of the education for every musician. Bach influenced such great composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn- Bartholdy, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and many other prominent musicians. Works J.S. Bach's works are indexed with BWV numbers, { Bach Werke Verzeichnis  (Bach Works Catalogue)}. The catalogue, published in 1950, was compiled by Wolfgang Schmieder. The catalogue is organized thematically, rather than chronologically: BWV 1  – 224 are cantatas; BWV 225  – 249, the large-scale choral works; BWV 250  – 524, chorales and sacred songs; BWV 525  – 748, organ works; BWV 772  – 994, other keyboard works; BWV 995  – 1000, lute music; BWV 1001  – 40, chamber music; BWV 1041  – 71, orchestral music; and BWV 1072  – 1126, canons and fugues. In compiling the catalogue, Schmieder largely followed the Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe, a comprehensive edition of the composer's works that was produced between 1850 and 1905. Organ works Bach was best known during his lifetime as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres — such as preludes, fantasias, and toccatas — and stricter forms, such as chorale preludes and fugues. He established a reputation at a young age for his great creativity and ability to integrate foreign styles into his organ works. A decidedly North German influence was exerted by Georg Böhm, with whom Bach came into contact in Lüneburg, and Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck, whom the young organist visited in 1704 on an extended leave of absence from his job in Arnstadt. Around this time, Bach copied the works of numerous French and Italian composers to gain insights into their compositional languages, and later arranged violin concertos by Vivaldi and others for organ and harpsichord. His most productive period (1708  – 14) saw the composition of several pairs of preludes & fugues and toccatas & fugues, and of the Orgelbüchlein ( Little organ book ), an unfinished collection of 45 short chorale preludes that demonstrate compositional techniques in the setting of  chorale tunes. After he left Weimar, Bach's output for organ fell off, although his best-known works (the six trio sonatas, the German Organ Mass in Clavier-Übung III from 1739, and the Great eighteen chorales, revised late in his life) were all composed after this time. Bach was extensively engaged later in his life in consulting on organ projects, testing newly built organs, and dedicating organs in afternoon recitals. One of the high points may be the third part of the Clavier-Übung  , a setting of 21 chorale preludes uniting the traditional Catholic Missa with the Lutheran catechism liturgy, the whole set interpolated between the mighty St.  Anne Prelude and Fugue on the theme of the Trinity. Other keyboard works Bach wrote many works for the harpsichord, some of which may also have been played on the clavichord. Many of his keyboard works are anthologies that show an eagerness to encompass whole theoretical systems in an encyclopedic fashion.    The Well-Tempered Clavier  , Books 1 and 2 (BWV 846  – 893). Each book comprises a prelude and fugue in each of the 24 major and minor  keys in chromatic order from C major to B minor (thus, the whole collection is often referred to as 'the 48'). Well-tempered in the title refers to the temperament (system of tuning); many temperaments before Bach's time were not flexible enough to allow compositions to move through more than just a few keys.   The 15 Inventions and 15 Sinfonias (BWV 772  – 801). These short two- and three-part contrapuntal works are arranged in the same chromatic order as the Well-Tempered Clavier, omitting some of the less used keys. The pieces were intended by Bach for instructional purposes.   Three collections of  dance suites: the English Suites (BWV 806  – 811), the French Suites (BWV 812  – 817) and the Partitas for keyboard (BWV 825  – 830). Each collection contains six suites built on the standard model (Allemande  – Courante  – Sarabande  – (optional movement)  – Gigue). The English Suites closely follow the traditional model, adding a prelude before the allemande and including a single movement between the sarabande and the gigue. The French Suites omit preludes, but have multiple movements between the sarabande and the  gigue. The partitas expand the model further with elaborate introductory movements and miscellaneous movements between the basic elements of the model.   The  Goldberg Variations  (BWV 988), an aria with thirty variations. The collection has a complex and unconventional structure: the variations build on the bass line of the aria, rather than its melody, and musical canons are interpolated according to a grand plan. There are nine canons within the 30 variations, one placed every three variations between variations 3 and 27. These variations move in order from canon at the unison to canon at the ninth. The first eight are in pairs (unison and octave, second and seventh, third and sixth, fourth and fifth). The ninth canon stands on its own due to compositional dissimilarities.   Miscellaneous pieces such as the  Overture in the French Style  ( French Overture , BWV 831), Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue  (BWV 903), and the  Italian Concerto (BWV 971).   Orchestral and chamber music Bach wrote music for single instruments, duets and small ensembles. Bach's works for solo instruments — the six sonatas and partitas for violin (BWV 1001  – 1006), the six cello suites (BWV 1007  – 1012) and the Partita for solo flute (BWV 1013) — may be listed among the most profound works in the repertoire. Bach also composed a suite and several other works for solo lute. He wrote trio sonatas; solo sonatas (accompanied by continuo) for the flute and for the viola da gamba; and a large number of  canons and ricercare, mostly for unspecified instrumentation. The most significant examples of the latter are contained in  The Art of Fugue  and  The Musical Offering  . Bach's best-known orchestral works are the Brandenburg concertos, so named because he submitted them in the hope of gaining employment from Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721; his application was unsuccessful. These works are examples of the concerto grosso genre. Other surviving works in the concerto form include two violin concertos (BWV 1041 and BWV 1042); a Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor (BWV 1043), often referred to as Bach's double concerto; and concertos for one, two, three and even four harpsichords. It is widely accepted that many of the harpsichord concertos were not srcinal works, but arrangements of his concertos for other instruments now lost. A number of violin, oboe and flute concertos have been reconstructed from these. In addition to concertos, Bach also wrote four  orchestral suites, a series of stylised dances for orchestra, each preceded by a French overture. The work now known as the Air on the G String is an arrangement for the violin made in the nineteenth century from the second movement of the Orchestral Suite No. 3. Vocal and choral works  Although he performed cantatas by other composers, he also composed at least three entire sets of cantatas, one for each Sunday and holiday of the church year, at Leipzig, in addition to those composed at Mühlhausen and Weimar. In total he wrote more than 300 sacred cantatas, of which approximately 195 survive. His cantatas vary greatly in form and instrumentation. Some of them are only for a solo singer; some are single choruses; some are for grand orchestras; some only a few instruments. A very common format, however, includes a large opening chorus followed by one or more recitative-aria pairs for soloists (or duets) and a concluding chorale. The recitative is part of the corresponding Bible reading for the week and the aria is a contemporary reflection on it. The melody of the concluding chorale often appears as a cantus firmus in the opening movement. Among the best known cantatas are BWV 4 ( Christ lag in Todesbanden ), BWV 21 ( Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis ), BWV 80 ( Ein' feste Burg ), BWV 106 ( Actus Tragicus ), BWV 140 ( Wachet auf ) and BWV 147 ( Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben ). In addition, Bach wrote a number of secular cantatas, usually for civic events such as council inaugurations. These also include wedding cantatas, the Wedding Quodlibet, the Peasant Cantata and the Coffee Cantata, which concerns a girl whose father will not let her marry until she gives up her addiction to that extremely popular drink.
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