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Bach & Prince Leopold

The vast majority of educated people today know the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. A German composer of the Baroque period, Bach is well known for such compositions as the Brandenburg Concerti, The Art of Fugue, and a multitude of Cantatas, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor1.

A wonderfully prosperous and successful point in Bach’s musical career was during his employ under Prince Leopold of Cöthen, during which he held the highest rank as a musician – Kapellmeister7. Between 1717 and 1723, Bach’s salary just about doubled, and the Prince, his employer, was an enormous fan of the arts, creating a pleasurable working environment that helped to forge a personal relationship between Bach and the Prince2. Some say that the Prince is perhaps best known for his friendship and employment of J.S. Bach. It is thought that they met at the wedding of the Prince’s sister, Eleonore Wilhelmine in 1716. About a year later, Bach was offered employment by the Prince, and signed his contract on August 7, 1717. Unfortunately, due to bad blood between Bach and his former employer, Duke William Ernest of Saxe-Weimar (to whom the Prince’s sister was married), Bach was said to have been imprisoned a few times in order to prevent his working at his new position, and consequently, did not officially start until the beginning of 17183. This bad blood was because the Duke did not promote Bach to the position of court conductor upon the death of the previous conductor8.

Bach composed one of his most famous works, the Brandenburg Concerti, while under Prince Leopold’s employment. The Prince actually was a violinist himself, and on occasion, performed with the orchestra. Many of Bach’s cantatas were composed in the Prince’s honor. Prince Leopold was actually Godfather to Bach’s son, Leopold Augustus, who unfortunately died in infancy4.

The cantatas that Bach composed, however, due to the beliefs of the court, could not be performed in church, nor was there the availability of an organ. Additionally and because of the lack of a choral institution, they were performed by soloists5.

During his accompaniment with the Prince to Carlsbad, Bach’s wife died. They had four surviving children6. Shortly after, Bach remarried, as did the Prince become married. Unfortunately, the Prince’s new wife, his cousin Friederica Henrietta von Anhalt-Bernburg, was not as interested in music as her husband. Bach began looking for employment elsewhere. It was during this time, specifically, that the famous Brandenburg Concerti were composed, it is thought as a means of flattery for the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. However, Ludwig did not offer Bach a position in his court. Bach ended up accepting a position as a cantor in Leipzig, but remained Kappellmeister for the Prince until the Prince’s death in 17289.

Article written by Emily Gojko, Public Relations Associate, for the Strings International Music Festival. Strings International Music Festival is a music summer camp through which strings and piano players of all ages are offered an opportunity to study with members of The Philadelphia Orchestra, including principal players. The Brandenburg Concerti is a remarkable composition of six concerti, and is a perfect example of the musicality experienced at the Strings International Music Festival. For additional information, please visit us at


1 - Johann Sebastian Bach. Wikipedia
2 -
Cöthen (1717-1723). Smith, Tim. Sojourn
3 -
Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. Wikipedia.
4 -
Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen. Wikipedia
5 -
Cöthen (1717-1723). Smith, Tim. Sojourn
6 -
Cöthen (1717-1723). Smith, Tim. Sojourn
7 -
Johann Sebastian Bach: Prince Leopold. Lycos
8 -
Johann Sebastian Bach: Prince Leopold. Lycos
9 -
Johann Sebastian Bach. MidiWorld


Contributed by:
Emily Gojko
Strings International Music Festival
Alumni Coordinator & Public Relations Associate
April 20, 2009


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