Born at Eisenach, in Thuringia, he came of a distinguished musical family. At 15 he became a chorister at Luneburg and at 19 organist at Arnstadt. Subsequent appointments included positions at the courts of Weimar and Anhalt-Kother, and finally in 1723, that of musical director at St Thomas’s choir school in Leipzig, where, apart from his brief visit to the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1747, he remained there until his death.
Bach married twice and had 21 children, ten of whom died in infancy. His second wife, Anna Magdalena Wulkens, was a soprano singer; she also acted as his amanuensis, when in later years his sight failed.
Bach was a master of contrapuntal technique, and his music marks the culmination of the Baroque polyphonic style.
Sacred music includes over 200 church cantatas, the Easter and Christmas oratorios, the two great Passions of St Mathew and St John, and the Mass in B minor.
Orchestral music includes his six Brandenburg Concertos, other concertos for clavier and for violin, and four orchestral suites.
Bach’s keyboard music for clavier and for organ is of equal importance and includes the collection of 48 preludes and fugues known as THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER, the GOLDBERG VARIATIONS, and the FRENCH and ENGLISH SUITES.
Of his organ music, the most important examples are the choral preludes. He also wrote chamber music and songs. Two important works written in the later years illustrate the principles and potential of his polyphic art – THE MUSICAL OFFERING and THE ART OF FUGUE.