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The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach Vol. I and II

The Creative Development of Johann Sebastian Bach Volumes I (1695-1717) and II (1717-1750) with ebooks and sheet music (available in our online Sheet Music Library


This book gives an account of the individual works of one of the greatest composers. The first volume of a two-volume study of the music of J. S. Bach covers the earlier part of his composing career, 1695-1717. By studying the music chronologically a coherent picture of the composer’s creative development emerges, drawing together all the strands of the individual repertoires (e.g. the cantatas, the organ music, the keyboard music). The volume is divided into two parts, covering the early works and the mature Weimar compositions respectively. Each part deals with four categories of composition in turn: large-scale keyboard works; preludes, fantasias, and fugues; organ chorales; and cantatas. Within each category, the discussion is prefaced by a list of the works to be considered, together with details of their original titles, catalogue numbers, and earliest sources. The study is thus usable as a handbook on Bach’s works as well as a connected study of his creative development.


As indicated by the subtitle Music to Delight the Spirit, borrowed from Bach’s own title-pages, Richard Jones draws attention to another important aspect of the book: not only is it a study of style and technique but a work of criticism, an analytical evaluation of Bach’s music and an appreciation of its extraordinary qualities. It also takes account of the remarkable advances in Bach scholarship that have been made over the last 50 years, including the many studies that have appeared relating to various aspects of Bach’s early music, such as the varied influences to which he was subjected and the problematic issues of dating and authenticity that arise. In doing so, it attempts to build up a coherent picture of his development as a creative artist, helping us to understand what distinguishes Bach’s mature music from his early works and from the music of his predecessors and contemporaries. Hence we learn why it is that his later works are instantly recognizable as ‘Bachian’.


In the second of this study of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, taking into account the vast increase in our knowledge of the composer due to the Bach scholarship of the last sixty years, Richard Jones presents a vivid and in some respects radically new picture of his creative development during the Cöthen (1717-23) and Leipzig years (1723-50). The approach is, as far as possible, chronological and analytical, but the author has also tried to make the book readable so that it may be accessible to music lovers and amateur performers as well as to students, scholars, and professional musicians. There are many good biographies of Bach, but this is the first, fully-comprehensive, in-depth study of his music making it indispensable for those who want to study specific pieces or learn how he developed as a composer.


J. S. BACH short biography:


Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March [O.S. 21 March] 1685 – 28 July 1750) was a German composer and musician of the Baroque period. He is known for instrumental compositions such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations, and for vocal music such as the St Matthew Passion and the Mass in B minor. Since the 19th-century Bach Revival he is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

The Bach family already counted several composers when Johann Sebastian was born as the last child of a city musician in Eisenach. After being orphaned at age 10, he lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph, after which he continued his musical formation in Lüneburg. From 1703 he was back in Thuringia, working as a musician for Protestant churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen and, for longer stretches of time, at courts in Weimar, where he expanded his organ repertory, and Köthen, where he was mostly engaged with chamber music. From 1723 he was employed as Thomaskantor (cantor at St. Thomas) in Leipzig. He composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city, and for its university’s student ensemble Collegium Musicum.

Bach’s music

From 1726 he published some of his keyboard and organ music. In Leipzig, as had happened during some of his earlier positions, he had difficult relations with his employer, a situation that was little remedied when he was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1736. In the last decades of his life he reworked and extended many of his earlier compositions. He died of complications after eye surgery in 1750 at the age of 65.

Bach enriched established German styles through his mastery of counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and his adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. Bach’s compositions include hundreds of cantatas, both sacred and secular. He composed Latin church music, Passions, oratorios, and motets. He often adopted Lutheran hymns, not only in his larger vocal works, but for instance also in his four-part chorales and his sacred songs. He wrote extensively for organ and for other keyboard instruments. He composed concertos, for instance for violin and for harpsichord, and suites, as chamber music as well as for orchestra. Many of his works employ the genres of canon and fugue.

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Throughout the 18th century Bach was primarily valued as an organist, while his keyboard music, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, was appreciated for its didactic qualities. The 19th century saw the publication of some major Bach biographies, and by the end of that century all of his known music had been printed. Dissemination of scholarship on the composer continued through periodicals (and later also websites) exclusively devoted to him, and other publications such as the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV, a numbered catalogue of his works) and new critical editions of his compositions.

His music was further popularised through a multitude of arrangements, including, for instance, the Air on the G String, and of recordings, such as three different box sets with complete performances of the composer’s oeuvre marking the 250th anniversary of his death.