Friday, August 13, 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach's music in America

Johann Sebastian Bach
     The earliest evidence of Johann Sebastian Bach's music in America can be found in the Moravian Archives. In 1823, a Bethlehem musician made copies of one of Bach’s cantatas. It took another Moravian musician to make Bach’s music a part of the musical tradition of Bethlehem, PA. Dr. J. Fred Wolle was visiting Munich in the spring of 1885 and took the opportunity to hear a production of Bach’s St. John Passion. Wolle returned to Bethlehem, determined to bring Bach’s music to life in America. Under his supervision, the Bethlehem Choral Union sang the St. John Passion, on June 5, 1888. It was the first complete rendition of the work in this country. Wolle conducted the first complete performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, at the Central Moravian Church in 1900. Due to the historical importance of these accomplishments, the Central Moravian Church earned recognition as a National Landmark of Music.
     The Bach Festival moved to the Packer Memorial Church of Lehigh University in 1912. A review in Outlook Magazine of the 1918 Bach Festival described the event. “Mr. Wolle leads without a baton, and his nervous arms and fingers seemed not only to be charged with electricity, but to electrify the whole body of people there, those in the choir seats and those in the pews alike. He made those people not only sing, but think the words as they sang them.”
     Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 31, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany. He lived his entire life in Germany. He was born as the youngest and eighth child of Johan Ambrosius Bach and Elisabeth Lammerhirt. Johann Sebastian came from a long line of musicians and composers. He lost both his parents, within the same year, at the age of nine. Johann Sebastian and his brother Johann Jacob went to live with their eldest brother, Johann Christoph, who was organist in Ohrdruf.
     At age eighteen, Bach was appointed organist of the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt. His first known compositions were written during the early 1700s. At that time he was courting his second cousin and future wife, Maria Barbara Bach. A new job as organist of the Blasiuskirche in Mühlhausen and a small inheritance allowed them to marry in 1707. In Mühlhausen, Bach began to write cantatas. The cantatas that survived from this period are regarded as masterpieces. The Blasiuskirche suffered a great fire and Bach sought employment 40 miles north in the city of Weimar as organist in the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst.
     While in Weimar, he continued to write cantatas along with compositions for the organ, harpsichord, choral preludes and fugues. Duke Wilhelm Ernst was in a contentious power struggle with another Duke in Weimar, Ernst August. Ignoring politics, Bach wrote compositions for both Dukes, which angered his employer. Duke Wilhelm Ernst had Bach jailed for a month.
     Upon leaving jail in 1717, Bach moved his family to Köthen and began his new job as Kapellmeister (director of music) to Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. During his stay in Köthen, Bach wrote the six Brandenburg Concertos, violin concertos in A Minor, E Major, and the double concert in D Minor, Invention, the French Suites and the English Suites. Bach’s wife, Maria Barbara, died in 1720 after a short illness. Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a talented soprano, in 1721.
     In 1723, Bach became Kapellmeister in the St Thomas School in Leipzig. Beginning in March 1729, Bach assumed the direction of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Bach was always looking for ways to increase his income.  He sold books, music and Silbermann fortepianos. Bach finished his great B Minor Mass in 1749. Bach was practically blind due to cataracts at the end of his life. In 1750, he suffered a stroke. He died on July 28, 1750, probably from diabetes mellitus. During his lifetime, Bach was famous for his organ and harpsichord playing. The high regard for his compositions didn’t occur the 19th century.
     During the first two weekends of May, thousands of Bach lovers from across the country arrive in Bethlehem, PA to hear the Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra.
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