Johann Sebastian Bach
The biography by Malcolm Boyd
Article based on the German reprint 2000,
DVA. English edition: Bach (Master Musicians Series), 1997 (first published in 1983).
Hardcover, 304 p. August 31, 2002: get the book in a new
edition from Amazon.com.
by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Article added in June 2000
Malcolm Boyd's Bach-biography from 1983 has been re-issued in
German (2000, DVA). It covers the life and work of Johann Sebastian
Bach, who died 250 years ago. The author examines in detail the Bach-dynasty
of musicians. Having several generations of a family dedicated to music was
nothing unusual at that time, as the examples of the Scarlatti's in Italy, the
Couperin's in France and the Purcell's in England show, just to mention
the outstanding dynasties.
According to Boyd, Johann Sebastian Bach, born
in 1685 in Eisenach, needed a window to open him up new horizons, a catalyst
that could help him develop his mature style. After having worked in some
minor cities, Weimar became the window, Vivaldi and the style of the Italian
modern concert the catalyst. Bach
worked there as choirmaster and organist (Kantor) from 1708 to 1717. Afterwards, from 1717 to 1723, he moved to Köthen,
situated one hundred kilometers north of Weimar. The city was the
residence of the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen since 1603. In Bach's time, Prince Leopold was
a good violinist, gambist, cellist and bass singer. But after his marriage in
December 1721, it quickly became clear that his wife did not share the
Prince's passion for music - and for the arts in general. Bach later called
her an "amusa". Half a year after his marriage, Prince Leopold died
and Bach soon moved to Leipzig - a change not easily made, Bach was not the
first choice for the city's officials, for whom he was to work the following
26 years until his death. Leipzig was, after Dresden, the most important city
of Saxony, with one of the most notable and advanced universities in Germany,
founded in 1409. Furthermore the leading position of Leipzig as Germany's center of
book edition and commerce was undisputed.
The contemporary sources do not tell us much
about Bach's attitude towards religious questions or the philosophical
disputes of his time. But the character of the composer becomes feasible in
the disputes with his superiors and members of his chorus: Bach was a
determined, even stubborn man when faced with obstacles.
Boyd divides Bach's development as a composer
into three stylistic periods: the years of apprenticeship until 1713, the years
as a master until 1739/40, and the years of completion until his death in the
year 1750. Until 1713, Bach wrote above all works for organ, piano and "a
few cantatas". In the second stylistic period in Weimar, he was
influenced by modern Italian music, especially the concerto. Clear melodic
characteristics, concise rhythm, a new feeling for tonality and its
background, especially the importance of cadences resulted from the encounter
with Italian music. Bach mixed it with the sobriety of the Lutheran choral,
with the rich middle part movement and the preference of Northern countries
for counterpoints. The result was a distinctive, individual style that could
apply to all musical genres. In his late work, Bach was - like Beethoven -
able to go "beyond human consciousness".
In his comparison between the great masters of late
Baroque, Boyd comes to the conclusion that Händel and Bach had only a few
common. Händel excelled in genres Bach did not touch (opera, oratorio and the
concert in the form of Corelli). Bach wrote his most important works in fields Händel did not
work in (Church cantata, Passion oratorio, mass, the
concerto in the form of Vivaldi). Secular music was the center of Händel's
work as was religious music for Bach. Händel cared about the big dimensions
in music which he approached vocally, rich in melodies and with Italian at its core
whereas Bach's compositions show technical abilities, the master craftsman
until the last detail, they are approached instrumentally, the counterpoint is
essential and they are German at the core. Moreover, Bach's works contain
greater technical difficulties than those of any other composition of the 18th
The intellectual and technical density of
Bach's compositions hindered their spreading during his lifetime. Among those
who appreciated his work were Mozart and Beethoven. In 1827, the year of
Beethoven's death, Bach had already taken his
place as an eternal composer besides Händel, Haydn and Mozart in the German consciousness.
Besides Bach's life, Boyd's biography also examines
his compositions, the works for organ (choral, preludes, fugues,
etc.), the works for orchestra, chamber music and piano, the sacred music
composed in Leipzig (cantatas, motets, Magnificat, passions), the
oratorios and masses, the concertos for cembalo, the "exercises" for
piano, the canons as well as his use of the counterpoint. Especially in regard
to the examination of the compositions, Malcolm Boyd's book is the ideal
complement to the new Bach-biography by Christoph
by Johann Sebastian Bach.
If interested in PMI-001 test and 70-649 practice test certification but do not know how to start with then sign up for 646-365 practice questions and 70-642 exam training program and pass 640-461 practice exam on first try.