Johann Sebastian Bach

Composer

Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 – 28 July 1750) (often referred to simply as Bach) was a German composer, organist, violist, and violinist whose ecclesiastical and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity.

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  • Essentially the oratorios were combinations of cantatas. The cantata itself was a chorale interspersed with arias. Since the Lutheran service frequently invited cantatas, Bach composed about three hundred, of which some two hundred survive. Their intimate connection with the Lutheran ritual has limited their audience in our time, but many of the airs embedded in them have a beauty transcending any theology. At Weimar, in his twenty-sixth year (1711), Bach wrote his first outstanding cantata, “Actus tragicus,” mourning the tragedy of death but rejoicing in the hope of resurrection. In 1714–17 he commemorated the divisions of the ecclesiastical year with some of his finest cantatas: for the first Sunday in Advent, 1714, “Nun komm, du Heiden Heiland” (Now Come, Thou Saviour of the Heathen); for Easter of 1715, “Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret” (The Heavens Laugh, the Earth Rejoices), in which he used three trumpets, a kettledrum, three oboes, two violins, two violas, two violoncellos, a bassoon, and a keyboard continuo to help the chorus, and persuade the congregation, to shake with joy over the triumph of Christ; for the fourth Sunday in Advent, 1715, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life), with the familiar lilting chorale and oboe obbligato, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”; and for the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 1715, “Komm, du süsse Todesstunde” (Come, Thou Sweet Hour of Death). At Leipzig he composed another paean to Christ’s resurrection—“Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ Lay in Death’s Dark Prison). And for the bicentennial (1730) of the Augsburg Confession he put Luther’s hymn “Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott” into the form of a cantata as powerful as the hymn, but perhaps too wildly furious to be a fit expression of faith.

    Will Durant and Ariel DurantThe Age of Voltaire

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