Thursday, November 13, 2008

J.S. Bach (Part IV)

J.S. Bach

(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Bach spent nearly 10 years at Weimar, but then found it was time to move on.  The old duke was having a family quarrel with his nephew and Bach was caught in the middle.  So he accepted a job at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt - Cothen.  Bach didn't leave on the best of terms.  He spent nearly a month in jail "for too obstinately requesting his dismissal."  While he was under arrest he composed 46 chorale preludes, so the time wasn't completely wasted.

At Cothen, Bach had a 17-piece orchestra, which kept him busily composing.  The court bookbinders finally had to ask him to slow down so they could catch up.  He composed little instruction books for his son Wilhelm Friedemann, too.

Bach tried out for an organist job at the Jacobkirche in Hamburg and although he dazzled the judges with his playing, they wouldn't give him the job unless he made a hefty "donation" to the church.  Bach refused and the job went to a second-rate organist named Johann Joachim Heitmann, who just happened to have a spare 4,000 marks in his pockets.

Later, Bach composed a set of six concertos that he sent as a gift to Christian Ludwig, The Margrave of Brandenburg.  Bach copied out the score very neatly, tied it up with a nice ribbon and sent it off to him.  The margrave thanked him very much but probably never opened the package.  He didn't have an orchestra, so it didn't do him much good to have the music.  Well, it's the thought that counts.

After Maria Barbara died, Bach married again, this time to Anna Magdalena Wulcken, who at 20 was 16 years younger than he was.  She was a very good singer and a good copyist besides. [Ed. note:  There had been no pictorial evidence of Anna Magdalena, until Teri Noel Towe in a 2001  lecture at Queen's College put forward some interesting arguments that a couple in a 1736 engraving of citizens of Leipzig may indeed be Johann and Anna Magdalena Bach.  If this is true, one can see in the relevant portion of the engraving posted above that Anna Magdalena was pretty and, seemingly, taller (!) than her husband.  She vaguely reminds me of a certain choir alumna, but that may just be me.]

Bach's patron, Prince Leopold, got married at about this time, too, but he didn't do as well.  His wife was his cousin the princess of Anhalt-Bernberg and she thought music was a waste of time.  She liked to do needlework, but it's not the same somehow.  

So in 1723, Bach and his new wife packed up all their possessions and the kiddies (there were seven by this time, four boys and three girls) and moved to Leipzig, where Bach was appointed cantor and music director of the Thomasschule.

(to be continued) 


Anne said...

The couple in the engraving may or may not be J.S. and Anna Magdalena Bach, but what's with the satyr under the table? Is that supposed to be Pan?

Kurt Poterack said...

Maybe Pan, maybe a satyr. No explanation comes with the engraving. Even the British professor whom I quoted doesn't seem to know.