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Bach

family musicians johann bach’s

Bach, illustrious family of German musicians. History possesses few records of such remarkable examples of hereditary art, which culminated in the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the Bach genealogy, the primal member was Johannes or Hann Bach, who is mentioned in 1561 as a guardian of the municipality of Wechmar, a town near Gotha. Also residing in Wechmar was his relative Veit Bach; a baker by trade, he was also skillful in playing on a small cittern. Another relative, Caspar Bach, who lived from 1570 to 1640, was a Stadtpfeifer in Gotha who later served as a town musician in Arnstadt. His five sons, Caspar, Johannes, Melchior, Nicolaus, and Heinrich, were all town musicians. Another Bach, Johannes Hans) Bach (1550–1626), was known as “der Spielmann,” that is, “minstrel,” and thus was definitely described as primarily a musician by vocation. His three sons, Johann(es Hans), Christoph, and Heinrich, were also musicians. J.S. Bach took great interest in his family history, and in 1735 prepared a genealogy under the title Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie. The Bach Reader, compiled by H. David and A. Mendel (N.Y., 1945; 2 nd ed., rev. 1966; rev. and enl. ed., 1998, by C. Wolff as The New Bach Reader), contains extensive quotations from this compendium. Karl Geiringer’s books The Bach Family: Seven Generations of Creative Genius (N.Y., 1954) and Music of the Bach Family: An Anthology (Cambridge, Mass., 1955) give useful genealogical tables of Bach’s family. Bach’s father, Johann Ambrosius, was a twin brother of Bach’s uncle; the twins bore such an extraordinary physical resemblance that, according to the testimony of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, their own wives had difficulty telling them apart after dark. To avoid confusion, they had them wear vests of different colors. A vulgar suggestion that because of this similarity Bach may have been begotten by his uncle is too gross to require a refutation.

When the family became numerous and widely dispersed, its members agreed to assemble on a fixed date each year. Erfurt, Eisenach, and Arnstadt were the places chosen for these meetings, which are said to have continued until the middle of the 18 th century, as many as 120 persons of the name of Bach then assembling. At these meetings, a cherished pastime was the singing of “quodlibets,” comic polyphonic potpourris of popular songs. An amusing example attributed to J.S. Bach is publ. in Veröffentlichungen der Neuen Bach-Gesellschaft (vol. XXXII, 2).

Entries for Bach family members follow immediately. Entries for other musicians named Bach follow thereafter .

Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel (the “Berlin”Or “Hamburg” Bach) [next] [back] Bacewicz, Grazyna

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