Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Keeping it in the Family

There's a pattern in my family history, at least on my mother's side. On my father's side it's a hodge-podge of tailors, wrestlers, odd-job men, electricians and grocers. On my mother's father's side it's coal miners and coal miners. On my mother's mother's side it's farmers, farmers, farmers The family tree of the greatest composer who ever lived (so far), Johann Sebastian Bach, (1685-1750) is truly extraordinary in the sheer number of musicians perching on its myriad branches. Alas, there are none in mine. There are instrumentalists in orchestras, organists, court kantors, music theorists and composers galore. The remarkable Bach dynasty was flourishing in music for some 250 years.

One of my many musical pleasures is hunting out the other Bachs - i.e. the ones who aren't the greatest composer who ever lived (so far). Several of the sons are quite well-known, but what of the rest? What of those perched higher up the Bach family tree?

This post will attempt to answer such questions and will link to some superb music.

Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), great-uncle of Johann Sebastian
Heinrich's Ich danke dir, Gott comes from the age of Schütz and is a fine example of a vocal concerto from that time.

Ich danke dir, Gott 
Fugue on "Christ lag in Todesbanden" 

Johann(es) [Hans] Bach (1604-1673), great-uncle of Johann Sebastian
Like his brother Heinrich, Johann's music is very audibly of the age of Schütz. The Venetian-born polychoral tradition is still alive and well in the motet Unser Leben ist ein Schatten - a 6-part with a 3-part echo chorus.

Unser Leben ist ein Schatten 
Sey nun wieder zufrieden
Weint nicht um meinem Tod  

Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703), first cousin once removed of Johann Sebastian (son of Heinrich)
Johann Christoph is a particularly fine Bach. His delightful cantata Es erhub sich ein Streit (which features 22-part writing as well as battle effects) stands where music then stood in Germany, moving from the age of Schütz into the age of Biber and Buxtehude. He has made that move fully by the time of the beautiful Meine Freundin, du bist schön.

Meine Freundin, du bist schön  
Lieber Herr Gott 
Präludium und Fuge in E flat major
Fürchte dich nicht 
Wir glauben all' an einem Gott    
War Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit 
Der Gerechte, ob er gleich 
Ach daß ich Wassers gnug hätte 
Doric Prelude
Hilft mir Gottes Güte preisen    
Prelude in B flat major
Es erhub sich ein Streit 
Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig 
Merk auf, mein Herz
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
Es ist nun aus
Intonatio in D minor   
Der Mensch, vom Weibe geboren
Sei getreu bis in den Tod
Unsers herzens Freude
Die Furcht des Herrn   
Mit Weinen hebt sich an   
Ich lasse dich nicht
Aus tiefer Not    
Aria Eberliana pro dormente Camillo
Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr   

Johann Michael Bach, the Elder (1648-1694),  first cousin once removed of Johann Sebastian (brother of Joseph Christoph)
Johann Michael devoted himself mostly to writing chorale motets. As you sample his works you will hear a lot of chorale tunes. The motet Halt was du hast, for example, features the well-known chorale Jesu meine Freude set against tunes of Johann Michael's own devising. He is, I think, almost as fine a composer as his brother. Incidentally, his chorale prelude In dulci jubilo might be familiar to you as it was once thought to be be J.S. himself (and given the BWV number 751). 

Halt, was du hast
In dulci jubilo
Das Blut Jesu Christi 
Liebster Jesu, hör mein Flehen
Herr, du lässest mich erfahren 
Ich weiss, dass mein Erloser lebt
Unser Leben wahret siebenzig Jahr
Furchtet Euch Nicht
Auf, lasst uns den Herren loben   
Nun komm der heiden heiland 

Johann Bernhard Bach (1676-1749), second cousin of Johann Sebastian
With Johann Bernhard we arrive at Johann Sebastian's contemporaries. If the sons of Heinrich were (like Johann Sebastian himself might be said to be) glorious conservatives writing rather behind the times, then Johann Bernhard is a bang-up-to-date Bach, writing music that sounds closest to Telemann. I hear French influences, Vivaldi, etc, flowing in his attractive music. The tuneful Orchestral Suite No.4 (for string orchestra) sounds particularly French. 

Johann Ludwig Bach (1677-1731), second cousin of Johann Sebastian
Johann Ludwig's music sounds much closer to Johann Sebastian's manner. Though not in the same league it is, however, full of beauty. If you take a listen to the cantata Der Herr wird ein Neues im Lande erschaffen you will hear just what a fine craftsman Johann Ludwig could be - and that alto aria with the two oboes is delightful, isn't it?

Der Herr wird ein Neues im Lande erschaffen

Hope you enjoy exploring all this Bachiana!

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