Johann Sebastian Bach: We know Johann Sebastian Bach by his cantatas, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the St. Matthew Passion. But the biography of the German composer holds many surprises… which famous composer had 20 children, including five boys named after him.

In Eisenach, Germany, a great composer of the late Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach, was born just 334 years ago, on March 21, 1685. Until his death on July 28, 1750, in Leipzig, he would mark the history of music by the quality of his works and their quantity.

Crossing all the genres dear to the Baroque, with the notable exception of opera, the creations of Johann Sebastian Bach have entered into posterity. Among other things, Johann Sebastian Bach is known today for the double collection called The Well-Tempered Clavier, his masterpiece known throughout the world, notably for its prelude in C major. He will also leave his mark on classical music with his Third Suite for Orchestra.

Which famous composer had 20 children including five boys named after him?
Which famous composer had 20 children including five boys named after him?

What is less well known is that Johann Sebastian Bach’s entire life was exceptional, including his private life. In 1707, while his musical career was already well underway, Johann Sebastian Bach married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. The two were second cousins, as they had a typical grandfather, Heinrich. Legend has it that Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach shocked the church in Arnstadt the year before. The two were heard together in the organ gallery when the church was empty. An unseemly situation for the time. Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara had no less than seven children, of whom only four reached adulthood.

Johann Sebastian Bach, a coffee lover, and an absentee student

As reported by France Musique, behind the great Johann Sebastian Bach are many anecdotes. Did you know that he was particularly fond of coffee? In his time, the drink was both a fashion and a luxury. A luxury to which the famous composer dedicated a cantata.

It is the cantata BWV 211, also called “of the coffee.” It is about a young girl who says she likes coffee “more than 1,000 kisses”. But that’s not all; according to John Eliot Gardiner’s portrait of the artist, we also know that Johann Sebastian Bach was a remarkably absent student despite the genius that would characterize him as an adult. In his first three years at school, Johann Sebastian Bach was conspicuous by his absenteeism on 258 days. 

Johann Sebastian Bach in prison

In just over ten years, Johann Sebastian Bach made a name for himself among his time’s great musicians and composers. The crowned heads of state were eager to have him, and in 1708, Bach joined the chapel of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, William-Ernest of Saxe-Weimar (or William II). At first, he was organist and first violin soloist, but soon claimed the supreme title of Kapellmeister (Herr Kapellmeister).

The Duke refused this title because of his proximity to the Duke’s son, Ernest-Augustus I. So when Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, brother-in-law of William II, offered Johann Sebastian Bach the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Köthen, the musician made a radical decision. He who had refused a similar place at the court of the King of Poland in Dresden a few months earlier wanted to resign!

But the Duke of Saxe-Weimar prevented him from doing so. He went so far as to imprison Johann Sebastian Bach for a month, from November 6 to December 2, 1717, for “his stubbornness in trying to force his resignation. Bach took advantage of this time to compose the forty-six hymns of the Little Organ Book…

Johann Sebastian Bach finally frees himself from the clutches of his employer. 

William-Ernest of Saxe-Weimar, but in Köthen, he will be confronted with a new drama. His wife Maria Barbara died very suddenly in 1720, struck down by a fulminating illness, while Johann Sebastian Bach was on the road. On his return, she was already buried. It was at this time, however, that the six “Brandenburg Concertos,” his first book of the “Well-Tempered Harpsichord” and his “French Suites,” were born.

A second marriage for Johann Sebastian Bach had 20 children, including five boys named after him.

Barely a year after the death of his first wife, Johann Sebastian Bach married again to Anna Magdalena Wilcken. The daughter of a trumpeter, Anna Magdalena Bach, was also an accomplished musician. She accompanied Johann Sebastian Bach at a turning point in his career: he devoted himself to church music. He became a cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where he composed nearly 300 cantatas. Many masterpieces reflect this period, such as his “Passions according to St. John” and “according to St. Matthew,” his “Goldberg Variations,” but also his second book of the “Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Anna Magdalena Bach will also give no less than thirteen children to Johann Sebastian Bach, in addition to those of her first marriage. Seven of them died in infancy, including Christiana Sophia Henrietta, Christian Gottlieb, Ernestus Andreas, Regina Johanna, Christiana Benedicta, Christiana Dorothea, Johann August Abraham…

Among the couple’s children, Gottfried Heinrich, mentally handicapped, lived for about 40 years. Elisabeth Juliana Frederica, nicknamed “Liesgen,” married one of her father’s pupils. Others tried to perpetuate the aura of their father, such as Johann Christoph Friedrich, known as “the Bach of Bückeburg” or Johann Christian, “the Bach of Milan or London.” Without as much success.

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