Johann Sebastian Bach: an Informative Biography

Topics: Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born into a family of musicians in Eisenach, Germany. He was born in March of 1685 and in 1695 both of his parents passed away and he was raised by his older brother. Bach earned his living through music but he changed jobs often between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight. He wrote every style of music except for opera because he never held a job that required that of him. Bach’s first job was as a church organist in 1703.

In 1707 he got a similar position at a different church and wrote a great deal of music using the organ. A year later Bach got a job as a chamber musician and gained a reputation as a performer at the court of the Duke of Weimar. He spent some time in Duke’s prison because he broke his contract to move to Cöthen, Germany. In Cöthen from 1717 to 1723, Bach landed a position that required him to write orchestral and chamber music for the Prince of Anhalt.

Bach became the director of music for the city of Leipzig in 1723 as well as the cantor of the church of St. Thomas. He continued this work of composing music, supervising performances, and teaching in St. Thomas’s boys’ school until 1750 when he died.

A fugue is a polyphonic work, which means it’s capable of producing more than one note at a time, based on a central theme.

One element of a fugue is the subject, which is distinctive when listening to a fugue.

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It’s instantly recognizable upon its entrance and its return later throughout the fugue. Another element is the fugal exposition wherein the subject is stated. The exposition exposes the “main idea” of the work. Another element is called an episode, which is a passage in a fugue where the main idea is not present. However, all fugues do not contain an episode.

An organ is operated by the player’s hands and feet and has a few major parts that aid in the music-making process. On the top of the instrument, there is a music stand that displays the organist’s music. Below the music stand, there are manuals, which are multiple keyboards connected to sets of pipes that create specific sounds. The stops are below the manuals and they are knobs that control which set of pipes sound when a specific manual is played. On the very bottom of the organ, there is a pedalboard that allows the organist to play lower notes by pressing the pedals with their feet.

After listening to both organ and orchestral versions of the Little Fugue in G minor, I’ve noticed there are similarities between both versions such as the notes, but the timbres are much different. The organ version starts a little darker and brightens up quickly at 0:20 into the piece. The lower notes in the version are much longer and darker, one example of that is at 1:27. The texture in this piece is polyphonic from beginning to end. In the orchestral version, the timbre has liveliness in the sound at the beginning with the first instrumentalist from 2:08 to 2:26. As alternative instruments engage, the sound calmly transforms to a dark and full tone which begins at 2:48. As the string instruments come in at 3:56 the nature changes to more of a humming or buzzing sound, adding a contrasting intensity to the arrangement in music. When the whole orchestral group came together they had characteristics that resembled a large organ. Texture in this piece grows freely as each instrument keeps tying in, including instruments not only to exercise the use of fugue but so that they can dim out and in again to intensify. In my opinion, in the organ version of the Little Fugue in G minor, the subject is much easier to keep track of. Although it was so much simpler I enjoyed the orchestral version better because of its attention to detail. I believe with Stokowski’s woodwind ensemble you hear the best translation of Bach’s true intention of organ sound into the modern orchestra.

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Johann Sebastian Bach: an Informative Biography. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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