Johann Christian Bach

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Johann Christian Bach, painting by Thomas Gainsborough , 1776

Johann Christian Bach (nickname Christian, * 5. September 1735 in Leipzig , † 1. January 1782 in London ), the Milan or London Bach , was a composer of the pre-classic from the Bach family . He was described as a misunderstood genius and the “father and inventor” of Viennese classicism . He had a great influence especially on the style of the young Mozart .


Youth and initial training

Johann Christian Bach was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach and the eleventh of thirteen children from his second marriage to Anna Magdalena , geb. Wilcke. His first musical instruction probably came from his father, although Johann Elias Bach , who lived in Bach's household from 1738 to 1743 and worked as a secretary, could probably have been involved. Johann Christian was obviously a favorite son of his father and after his death at the end of July 1750 on November 11, 1750 he inherited three pedal pianos with an estimated value of 50 thalers each , laundry and 38 thalers in cash.

Youth portrait by Georg David Matthieu

In 1750 he went to Berlin to live with his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach , who worked there as the chamber harpsichordist of King Frederick II . Carl Philipp Emanuel trained his brother to be an excellent piano player, who gave concerts in Berlin several times with applause. Johann Christian also received strong musical impressions from the performances of the Berlin Royal Opera, which had its heyday under the court conductor Carl Heinrich Graun .

Italy, 1755 to 1762: between church and opera

In 1754 Bach traveled to Italy and entered the service of Count Agostino Litta in Milan. How the connection between him and the count came about cannot be precisely reconstructed; contacts of the Berlin court musicians may have played a role. Litta financed his protégé to study counterpoint with Padre Giovanni Battista Martini in Bologna. Up until 1760, Bach composed instrumental works for the private orchestra of his count's patron, above all church music. A mass, a dies irae (both around 1757/58), a double-choir Magnificat (1758) and a Te Deum (1759) met with particular approval.

In 1760, Bach became the second organist at the Milan Cathedral , after he had previously converted to Catholicism (as a Protestant he would not have been able to take up this office.) Carl Philipp Emanuel took this break with family tradition very badly to his brother and is said to have only disparaged him afterwards have expressed. Matthias Claudius reports in a letter to Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg about a conversation with Emanuel Bach in Hamburg, who said on this occasion: “ Schobert is also known here; he is a man with a head, but there is nothing behind his and my brother's ity composition. "

In addition to his work as a church musician, Bach also made contacts with the opera scene. Already in 1758 he had written an insert aria ( "Misero pargoletto") for the castrato Filippo Elisi that this in the opera Demofoonte of Giovanni Battista Ferrandini sang and had always repeat. During the carnival of 1761, Bach performed his first opera Artaserse in the Teatro Regio in Turin . It must have been well received because he was immediately commissioned to write two new operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples: Catone in Utica (November 4, 1761) and Alessandro nell'Indie (January 20, 1762).

London, 1762 to 1778

The success of these works also made Bach known abroad. The British Queen Sophie Charlotte (née Princess zu Mecklenburg-Strelitz) became aware of him in London and hired him as her personal music teacher. In May 1762, Bach took leave of absence from the Milan Cathedral Chapter for a year and did not return, although the position had been kept open for him. He arrived in London in the summer of 1762 and began the series of his printed works with the six harpsichord concertos op. 1 in 1763. The final movement of the last concert consists of variations on God save the King , a homage to the royal family.

In London, Bach was able to continue the series of his total of 12 operas, but with this he had only varying successes. In 1763 he was represented with two novelties at the King's Theater: Orione (February 19) and Zanaida (May 7). After he had to pause at the theater in 1764 because of intrigues, his next opera Adriano in Siria met with a failure at the premiere on January 26, 1765. Carattaco was more popular after a two-year break from opera on February 24, 1767. Bach also made contributions to pasticcio operas, which were also popular in London at the time. For the British premiere of Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice on April 7, 1770, Bach and Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi contributed a number of interludes. On March 22, 1770, Bach also brought out his oratorio Gioas re di Giuda at the King's Theater , but found it difficult to assert itself alongside the oratorios by Handel , who was already revered as a "classic" in Great Britain. When Bach played an organ concerto during the break, as Handel had done at the time, he was hissed out by the audience. According to a newspaper report, his playing style was felt to be "not in keeping with the organ".

However, Bach was able to record great success as a concert entrepreneur. Together with the composer and viol nvirtuosen Carl Friedrich Abel , with whom he shared an apartment temporarily, he founded the "Bach-Abel Concerts", the first London subscription concerts, which were among the most popular events in the social life of London for 17 years. The first concert in the series took place on February 29, 1764, the last on May 9, 1781. Bach and Abel each performed their latest symphonies and solo concerts, as well as excerpts from operas and even sacred choral works. Bach also resumed the pianist career he had begun in Berlin in London. On June 2, 1768, he played a “Solo on the Pianoforte ” in a concert by the oboist Johann Christian Fischer , thus introducing the instrument built by Johannes Zumpe to the British audience for the first time.

The encounter with Leopold Mozart and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , who stayed in London in 1764 and 1765, is of particular musical historical importance . In April 1764, Bach and the 8-year-old Mozart made music together for the first time. Leopold Mozart expressly recommended that his son imitate Bach's pleasant compositions. Stylistic influences of the London Bach can be traced back to Mozart's first London symphonies and can be traced back to his most mature works. In a letter to his father , Mozart described Bach's death as a "loss for the musical world".

The outward climax of Bach's career was the performance of the opera Temistocle on November 5, 1772 at the Court Theater in Mannheim at the invitation of Elector Karl Theodor . After his return to London, Bach probably married the Italian opera singer Cecilia Grassi in the spring of 1774 , who had been engaged as a prima donna in London since 1766. The second opera written for Mannheim was Lucio Silla (November 4 and 20, 1775, November 20, 1776) based on a libretto by Giovanni de Gamerra (edited by Mattia Verazi), which Mozart had set for Milan in 1772. Mozart held the score in his hands during his stay in Mannheim in 1778 and defended it against Abbé Vogler's abuse. With the premiere of La clemenza di Scipione on April 4, 1778, Bach was once again able to experience a great success in the King's Theater. The work was resumed in the following season and posthumously re-staged in 1805 with great success.

In the same year 1778 Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach (the son of Johann Friedrich) arrived in London to take lessons from his uncle.

Last years

In 1779 Bach was invited to Paris to perform a new opera at the Académie Royale de Musique . Amadis des Gaules , based on a libretto by Philippe Quinault already set to music by Jean-Baptiste Lully , fell through on December 14, 1779. Responsible for this was the dramaturgically awkward adaptation that the artillery officer de Vismes had made on Quinault's text. In Paris, Bach met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart again, whom, according to Mozart's own statement (letter to his father of August 27, 1779) he greeted like an old friend. Bach was in the Masonic Lodge Nine Muses No. 235 in London and had inspired the young Mozart during his visit to London for the ideas of the Freemasons' Union.

After 1779 its star began to decline. It is reported that one of his former students, the pianist and composer Johann Samuel Schroeter , is said to have poached Bach's piano students and thus deprived him of an important source of income. The number of visitors to the Bach Abel concerts also gradually decreased. The resulting financial difficulties forced Bach to move to the London suburb of Paddington . In addition, there was his rapidly deteriorating state of health, which prompted Bach to draw up his will on November 14, 1781. He died on January 1, 1782 in Paddington and was buried on January 6, 1782 in St. Pancras Churchyard, Middlesex . The Queen paid the funeral expenses and granted Bach's widow a lifelong annuity of £ 200 a year and £ 100 for the journey home to Italy.


Bach's church music, which, in addition to original inventiveness, shows the technical ability he acquired from Padre Martini, and especially his Italian operas are typical of the “New Neapolitan School ”. He is the only one of the Bach sons from whom operas have survived. The Temistocle , written for the electoral court in Mannheim, is close to the operas of Niccolò Jommelli and Tommaso Traetta with the inclusion of choirs and independent orchestral pieces . At the end of the second act, several successive solo and ensemble movements are connected by flowing transitions to a thoroughly composed act finale. Such finals were already common practice in the cheerful opera buffa , at that time they were still a novelty in the serious opera seria .

Bach also transferred the vocal notation of the Italian Belcanto to the symphony and the piano sonata , thereby creating his own personal style. The lively, elegant melodies of the opening movements of his symphonies and sonatas became a trademark of the gallant style as a "singing allegro" . Bach's symphonies usually consist of three movements: a fast movement in the form of a sonata main movement , a slow movement as a lyrical resting point and a dance-like finale. A special place in the series of Bach's symphonies is occupied by the Symphony in G minor, Op. 6 No. 6, the only one in a minor key. She uses the language of the musical Sturm und Drang (passionately excited gesture, sharp dynamic contrasts in the smallest of spaces) and is considered to be one of the most personal-looking works of her composer, who was otherwise mostly concerned with urbane elegance.

Bach's chamber music is also characterized by a fluid and finely honed spelling , among which the best known are the six quintets op.11 (for flute, oboe, violin, viola and violoncello) dedicated to Duke Carl Theodor. An unusual instrumentation can be found in a sextet for keyboard instrument, oboe, violin, violoncello and two horns published in 1783, the author of which was long believed to be Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach , but which is attributed to Johann Christian Bach in a score found in Cracow . Particularly noteworthy is the slow movement, with a passionate middle section in a minor key .


Printed works

  • Op. 1: Six Concertos pour le Clavecin , ou Harpe, deux Violons , et un Violoncelle (London, 1763; Paris, ca.1769)
  • Op. 2: Six Sonates pour le Clavecin accompagnées d'un Violon ou Flute traversiere (London, 1764; Amsterdam, ca.1770; London, ca.1785; manuscript, 1750s)
  • Op. 3: Overture in the collective print The Periodical Overtures in 8 Parts (London, 1763)
  • Op. 3: Six Simphonies à deux Violons, deux Hautbois , deux Cors de Chasse , alto viola et Basse (London, 1765)
  • Op. 4: 6 canzonette
  • Op. 5: Six Sonatas for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord (London, 1765)
  • Op. 6: Six Canzonets (London)
  • Op. 6: 6 symphonies
  • Op. 7: Six Concertos for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with Accompanyments for two Violins & a Violoncello (Amsterdam, 1770; London, ca.1775)
  • Op. 8: Six Quartettos for a German Glute, Violin, Tenor and Violoncello (London, 1770; Amsterdam, ca.1780 )
  • Op. 8: Six Simphonie periodique a 8 Instruments, deux Violons, Taille, et Basse, deux Hautbois, et deux Cors de Chasse (Amsterdam)
  • Op. 9: Trois Simphonies à deux Violons, Taille & basse, deux Flûtes ou Hautbois et deux Cors de chasse (The Hague, 1773; London)
  • Op. 10: Six Sonatas for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord (London, ca.1785)
  • Op. 11: Six Quintettos for a Flute, Hautboy, Violin, Tenor & Bass (London , ca.1774 ; Amsterdam; Paris / Lyon / Brussels)
  • Op. 12: 6 symphonies (lost)
  • Op. 13: Six Concertos for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte, with Accompaniments for two Violins and a Bass , two Hautboys and two French Horns ad Libitum (London, 1777)
  • Op. 14: 1 concerto for harpsichord or fortepiano
  • Op. 15: Four Sonatas and two Duets (1778)
  • Op. 16: Six Sonates pour le Clavecin ou Piano Forte, avec Accompagnement d'un Violon ou Flute (Berlin, ca.1780; London, ca.1785)
  • Op. 17: Six Sonatas for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte (London, ca.1780; Paris)
  • Op. 18: Four Sonatas and two Duetts for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte with an Accompanyment for a German Flute or Violin (London)
  • Op. 18: Deux Sinfonies à grande Orchester (Amsterdam, 1785)
  • Op. 19: Four Quartettos (1784)
  • Op. 22: Two Quintets for the Harpsichord or Piano-Forte accompanied with a Violin, Oboe, Flûte , Tenor and Violoncello obligato (London, ca.1780)


  • Heinz Gärtner: Johann Christian Bach. Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung 1989. Engl. Ex. Portland OR 1994. ISBN 0-931340-79-9
  • Heinrich Peter Schökel: Johann Christian Bach and the instrumental music of his time. Wolfenbüttel 1926
  • Charles Sanford Terry : John Christian Bach. London 1926, 2nd edition 1967, reprinted 1980
  • Fritz Tutenberg: The Symphony of Johann Christian Bach. Wolfenbüttel 1928
  • Ernest Warburton: A Study of Johann Christian Bach's Operas. Diss. Oxford 1969
  • Carl Ferdinand Pohl:  Bach, Johann Christian . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 1, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1875, pp. 747-749.
  • Wilibald Gurlitt:  Bach, Johann Christian. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 1, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1953, ISBN 3-428-00182-6 , p. 483 ( digitized version ).
  • Christian Esch: Lucio Silla. Four opera seria settings from the time between 1770 and 1780 , in: Collection of musicological treatises Volume 88, Verlag Valentin Körner, Baden-Baden 1994, 2 volumes. ISBN 3-87320-588-2

Web links

Commons : Johann Christian Bach  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Duden - The large first name dictionary, by Rosa and Volker Kohlheim. 5th edition 2016, keyword Johann
  2. Misunderstood geniuses: Look, they are alive! In: ZEIT ONLINE . ( [accessed on October 5, 2018]).
  3. ^ Hans-Günter Ottenberg: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach . Reclam-Verlag 1982, p. 219
  4. See in Gallica the Jean Bossu file on JC Bach.