Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, ca. 1746, by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (Museum of City History, Leipzig)
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Though this giant of Baroque music never left Germany and seldom traveled within it except by foot with a pack on his back, he mastered the Italian and French orchestral styles as clearly as he put an indelible stamp on the church music of his native land.
Popular Smithsonian music lecturer and Washington National Opera CD commentator Saul Lilienstein traces Bach’s artistic journeys as he explores the composer’s magnificent musical achievements. Lectures are highlighted by superb music recordings.
JAN 12 From Eisenach to Arnstadt (1685-1708)
Bach’s childhood and the years of apprenticeship. His journey to Lubeck where he met the aging master Dietrich Buxtehude. Recorded selections: The Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother; early church music.
JAN 19 The Organist and Choirmaster of Weimar (1708 -1717)
Bach produced most of his organ masterworks: preludes, fugues and toccatas, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor. Contributions to the choral repertoire, including cantatas No. 4 (Christ lag in todesbanden), No. 106 (Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit), and No. 21 (Ich hatte viel Bekuemmernis).
JAN 26 At the Aristocratic Court in Cothen (1717—1723)
The influence of Italian masters Corelli and Vivaldi is evident in Bach’s concertos, concerti grossi, unaccompanied suites for violin and cello, and orchestral suites. The Clavier Book for Anna Magdalena and the magisterial first volume of preludes and fugues that comprise the Well-Tempered Clavier were written in Cothen.
FEB 2 At the St. Thomas and St. Nicholas Churches in Leipzig (1723—1729)
Bach produced weekly cantatas for church services, as well as works for special occasions, including the Magnificat.
FEB 9 Two Monuments of Music (1729—1736)
In his later years in Leipzig, Bach produced two of the greatest monuments of Christianity in music: the setting in German of the St. Matthew Passion and the Latin Mass in B Minor.
FEB 16 An Exploration of Forms and Fugues (1737—1750)
In his final years he continued producing work for the church. There was also a revival in an interest in more abstract forms, including The Musical Offering and a final summation of a centuries-old polyphonic genre in The Art of the Fugue.
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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.