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Life of Bach
Part 2

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Cantor et director musices

Dick Wursten wrote (April 18, 2003):
Thomas Braatz asks:
<<What does ‘Chori’ really mean here in these part designations? Is it a Latin genitive singular form? Bach’s title in Leipzig was “Kapellmeister und Director Chori Musici in Leipzig” or is it an Italian plural form of the same word: “cori spezzati” and "Salmi a 4 chori per cantare e concertare?”>>
AFAIK Bach’s official function in Leipzig was:
- cantor et director musices
- OR: cantor et Director Chori Musici

This makes clear that he had a double profession
- cantor was his function at the Thomasschule. He had to teach the children and of course in particular he was responsible for their musical education. As a spin off he also had to use the potential of his pupils to deliver proper churchmusic in the 4 churches of Leipzig, of which the Thomas and Nicolai were the most important and had the privilege of being provided with a weekly cantata.
- Director musices. Strange form. I understand musices as a GREEK genitive: musikès. This is his public function: music-director of the city of Leipzig, that is: he is responsible for all musical activities in the city which have an official character. The university of Leipzig BTW had also appointed a director musices just before Bach arrived, one of the sources of later tensions...The varied form 'director chori musici' I understand as the director (=responsible and coordinating supervisor) of any musical group... When it is supposed to be Latin it must be a singular genitive. Chorus meaning any group of musicians (chori per cantare e concertare).

BTW: Bach valued the function 'director musices' more than the function of 'cantor'. Cf. the order of these functions below his signature.

 

Bach´s eldest son

Thomas Radleff wrote (July 13, 2003):
...don´t recall where I originally read about him, and I´m not able to find him in any of my Bach biographies anymore: Bach´s eldest son.

Between the birth of his first daughter Catharina (bapt. dec. 29th, 1708) and Wilhelm Friedemann, his "official" first son (born nov. 2nd, 1710) there must have been another boy. The reason why he mostly isn´t mentioned at all, is probably that he was mentally (?) handicapped severely; not only a non-musician, but even unable do build up any social existence.

It´d be interesting to imagine how this child (or man) was involved in the vivid Hausmusik, in which mother and daughters have been taking part as well as the professionally educated sons.

Does anybody know something about him, or any sources for further research?

Riccardo Nughes wrote (July 13, 2003):
[To Thomas Radleff] I think you're referring to Gottfried Heinrich Bach (1724-1763) (who was mentally handicapped).

Son of J.Sebastian & A.Magdalena he was baptized on February, 27th 1724. Johann Sebastian wrote about him in his "Genalogie", tellin'about him :
"....inclinirt...zur Musik, inspecie zum Clavier...". C.P.E defined him an "idiot" but added to his father's Genalogie : "...war ein grosses Genie, welches aber nicht entwickelt ward".

He didn't go to school and when J.S. died he was sent to Altnickol's house where he died assisted by the sister of J.S's pupil.

Thomas Radleff wrote (July 13, 2003):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Yesss! that´s him - thank you, Riccardo.

Being sure that he must be Bach´s eldest son, I checked only the Barbara´s children of the Weimar period, though in fact he was born later in Leipzig. Actually he was the eldest son of Anna Magdalena & J.S.B.

In The New Grove, Gottfried Heinrich is mentioned as "schwachsinnig (mentally deficient), offenbar jedoch ein guter Klavierspieler", plus C.P.E.´s remark. In this (German) edition there must be a misprint: the year when he died was 1763, not 1761.

Thanks again - but still I´m curious for his REAL musical qualities, and possible contributions to the musical life in Bach´s house. Probably we´ll never know...

Santu De Silva wrote (July 13, 2003):
[To Riccardo Nughes] Where he died assisted by Altnikol's sister???? Yikes! Please tell me this doesn't mean what it appears to mean!

Riccardo Nughes wrote (July 13, 2003):
< Where he died assisted by Altnikol's sister???? >
No, I made some confusion here.

When Johann Sebastian died, Altnickol, who married Gottfried Heinrich's sister (Elisabeth Juliana Friederica Bach), give hospitality to the poor GH. The couple took care of him until his death.

Hope everything is clear now :)

 

An impression of Bach

Jack Botelho wrote (January 20, 2004):
Bach at Leipzig:

"Bach's duties as Kantor were a mixture of schoolmaster, director of music at several churches, and composer for civic occasions. As a teacher he had to instruct the foundation scholars in music, and seems to have been inspiring to those with talent and intolerant of those without it. He and his pupils provided the music at four churches, two of which had elaborate Sunday services including a cantata on alternate Sundays (the duties in the other two could be delegated). For grander occasions he could augment the scholars with town musicians, but in general he was restricted to inadequate forces for a back-breaking task. In the first years at Leipzig he wrote (or sometimes reworked) a cantata for every Sunday and major festival, composing about 150 between 1723 and 1727. Many of these are extraordinarily difficult to perform, especially the solo parts, and they were probably given inadequately (one report records that the performances were usually bad and that Bach thrashed the boys
afterwards)."

Denis Arnold: "Johann Sebastian Bach" in
The New Oxford Companion to Music
Oxford University Press, 1983.
Vol. 1, p.128

The image of Bach as the relentless taskmaster may not be an easy one to accept, but the picture of frustration of this supreme musical genius limited by inadequate musical resources during the early Leipzig period seems all too real and understandable. Perhaps some us of had a genius of sorts as music teacher in our youth? My music teacher was a jazz specialist (trumpet player) who was of professional caliber - very pale in complexion and a wonderful man to learn from if you had a gift for musicianship - but watch out if you were not! He would turn beet-red with anger and would not suffer fools lightly!

There is something about music, about "getting things right" which really can engage the passions. I think we see this all too often on these discussion lists as well.

More on this topic later.

Anne Smith wrote (January 21, 2004):
"The image of Bach as the relentless taskmaster may not be an easy one to accept, but the picture of frustration of this supreme musical genius limited by inadequate musical resources during the early Leipzig period seems all too real and understandable."
Yes. Somehow, when I studied music history I was given the impression that children in Bach's time were better musicians than kids in my time. The distraction of TV was the culprit.

As an adult I can appreciate the fact that Bach's students were probably no more diligent than my own students. Times change. People don't.

Jack Botelho wrote (Januarty 22, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] Yes, and especially children and young adolescents who as we know are naturally inclined to be very inquisitive. The molding of children into adults in the 18th century must have been at times a very painful process. Pre-French revolution Europe was very conservative in its attitudes. Children were often expected to take on enormous, adult responsibilities.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 23, 2004):
< "The image of Bach as the relentless taskmaster may not be an easy one to accept, but the picture of frustration of this supreme musical genius limited by inadequate musical resources during the early Leipzig period seems all too real and understandable." >
Agreed; and he didn't seem to worry too much if things were at or near the limit of playability, either. At the moment I can't think of any other composer of the first half of the 18th century whose keyboard music goes right up to those limits that two hands can do, but also carefully does not cross them. (There is plenty of music that sounds harder than Bach's, more impressive with flash, but physically is easier.)

I remember reading somewhere (or maybe just a rumor) that Bach's hands were unusually large, allegedly able to span a 12th on the keyboard. From the music, I'm not surprised by that at all. There are some places in the Art of Fugue where one must be able to play a 10th, and occasionally several 10ths in succession, which I can do but with hardly anything to spare. (And many players have hands smaller than mine.) There is one spot that I can't reach: left hand needing to play low G and middle C# at the same time!...although it is possible to fake that by arpeggiating them a little, or by using the nose or something to play the C#. (Not kidding.)

The Well-Tempered Clavier also has some similarly tricky spots in reaching wide intervals, and having two or more musical voices played by the same hand...the effect that it's three or four hands playing, when it's really only two.

I found a spot this afternoon, playing through the D minor English Suite (#6), where it is necessary to reach an 11th. The last measure of the Allemande, the right hand plays a chord F#-A-D above middle C, the left hand has some other notes later to finish up, and then the right thumb has to reach across middle C (while still holding its own notes) to hold the A there (a note that has just been played by the left hand), while the left hand goes on to play one more note in the bass. Therefore, the right hand has to be able to reach an 11th across the ends of the keys...which again is just barely do-able. Maybe it was easier for Bach himself.

The other side of that same coin, there are other spots in this suite and in some of his other keyboard music where Bach clearly was thinking about that playability of big stretches, not wanting it to be impossible. He writes shorter notes where it would be musically logical (in context) to have them longer, just to give the chance to get elsewhere on the keyboard to play other notes. (Couperin did some of that, too: writing notes and rests where the note should still seem longer musically than it physically can be played, so it doesn't stick out of its context with the wrong character, but with that technical concession to playability first. Of course, the player must learn to recognize these situations and figure out the practical reason behind those rests....)

Or think about Bach's flute parts, both solo and in the vocal works: nowhere to breathe in them, really, but only taking catch-breaths wherever it works out. Or the violin pieces, being so technically difficult both for left-hand fingering and right-hand bowing. Or the solo cello pieces, so difficult that cellists spend years working on them before bringing them out in public. And professional lutenists say flat out that the lute works are next to impossible as written, but have to be carefully arranged.... And some of his vocal lines seem much more like instrumental parts than easily-singable melodies; but the singers have to do it anyway.

So, that balance in Bach's mind between his musical ideas and their playability is often right there, ready to teeter either way, in any given situation. There are so many things going on in his music, all at once: it's a challenge to the listener as well as the musicians. But he still kept the most difficult spots only in the range of Extremely Difficult rather than Ludicrously Impossible; he did care that performers survive the piece with mind and body intact. :)

He certainly knew how to challenge people to do better than they thought they could do, and maybe that's one of the points he wanted to make through his music: by working harder, and by coming up with creative solutions, one can get through some tasks that first seemed impossible, and always improve oneself. One has to learn new ways of relaxing the body, new ways of practicing, new ways of analyzing the music, new ways of concentrating, new ways of learning just to get through the musical challenges that Bach set up.

All this internal evidence, in the music that is so challenging all around, perhaps says as much to us about Bach's personality (and that toughness of his character) as any written materials about him. IMO, there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment nailing a difficult Bach piece that has taken months of study and practice, having it all work out...which always requires a bit of luck along with complete concentration. His music gets the mind's "operating system" so completely tied up, like a computer running many programs at once, there are no resources left. And playing right on that edge of "needing to reboot" is both exhilarating and exhausting.

Carol wrote (January 23, 2004):
Brad, with regard to your message:
< IMO, there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment nailing a difficult Bach piece that has taken months of study and practice, having it all work out...which always requires a bit of luck along with complete concentration. His music gets the mind's "operating system" so completely tied up, like a computer running many programs at once, there are no resources left. And playing right on that edge of "needing to reboot" is both exhilarating and exhausting. >
.............which must make you so happy. I've experienced something similar, on my own level, of course. Making music, and having a loving family, to me, is as about as good as life gets.

John Pike wrote (January 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I agree. The sense of joy I felt at being able to play the Chaconne (and perform it) after years of aspiring to that pinnacle of violin composition, was considerable. There are, in fact, technically harder movements in the Solo sonatas, such as the G minor and C major fugues, which I will leave for another year. Parts of Brandenburg 4 are also very difficult. However, Bach was not the only composer to make such demands on his players. Many of the violin concertos written since his time are much harder technically. In terms of large stretches on the violin, one thinks of several nasty passages in 10ths in the first movement of the Brahms concerto...hard to stretch and harder still to play reliably in tune.

Douglas wrote (January 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thanks, Brad, for a very thoughtful posting.

I would just add three points:

1) octave spans: as I'm sure you know but others may not know, are not standard on historic organs or harpsichords. The octaves on my own two Flemish doubles (so-called Dulcken and Couchet copies) are noticeably different; there is approx. 3 mm difference, which makes a real difference when you have to stretch to a tenth. Historic instruments sometimes have very narrow octave spans which would make some of Bach's stretches easier.

2) Regarding your comment about Bach being perhaps the only composer in the first half of the 18th century who wrote extremely difficult keyboards pieces which are, however, just about playable: couldn't the same thing be said about Scarlatti?

3) It is definitely a different experience for the performer, and I think for the audience too, when he/she performs Bach on an instrument which has the same "limitations" which Bach would have experienced. For example, I have sometimes played organs with the sort of bellows and wind channels which North German organs had (I have also played original North German organs), and Bach's writing often puts the winding to the test. In pieces such as the Passacaglia in c minor, you feel that the organ can go so far but no further. And you feel that Bach's imagination exploited the available resources to their fullest. On a 20th-century organ with electric action, zillions of stops, massive wind reservoirs, etc you just don't get that effect, and it makes all music sound equally eff. But I think that sounding like "hard work" for the player/instrument/intellect/emotions is occasionally a conscious aspect of the music - and you need original instruments to achieve that effect.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 24, 2004):
[To Douglas] Good posting, Douglas, thanks for sharing those further details...

For #3, another good example is the Goldberg Variations. When played on a harpsichord where the keyboard compass is "only" GG to d''', Bach's use of those extremes (as a gesture, as part of the music) becomes apparent in a way it's not when the piece is played on piano (with all those extra unused keys sitting out there), or played on a fully five-octave harpsichord FF-f'''.

Variation 15 climbs to the highest note on the keyboard, melodically, and it's a wonderful moment hanging up there before the opening crash of 16. And some of the most sparkling variations similarly make special use of that top d'''. And the resonant low GG at several other places, "turbo bass" as low as we can go.

It's also sort of like playing Mozart and early Beethoven on FF-f''' fortepianos, and seeing them bash up against that top end and "wish" they could go higher...for example in Beethoven's sonata #7 in D, and in his F major cello/piano sonata that uses those five octaves to the fullest.

For #2, yes, Scarlatti as well. And Soler's "Fandango."

 

Bach and his habits

Anne Smith wrote (February 5, 2004):
I have read that Bach liked his beer. Does anyone know if he was a smoker?

I would like to hear off list from anyone who has, or is, trying to kick the smoking habit.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 5, 2004):
Anne Smith wrote: < I have read that Bach liked his beer. Does anyone know if he was a smoker? >
Well, there's the song he wrote about pipe-smoking, in the Magdalena book.

And there's an anecdote about him as a schoolboy pulling some fresh herring heads out of the garbage (see the New Bach Reader p409). He's walking along with hardly any money in his pocket but he's hungry, so he goes into an inn. He's sitting there lamenting this situation, and he hears a window grind open and sees the fish heads thrown out. So he rushes out to get them, and he rips them apart to eat them, and he finds money inside!! This lets him come back in and buy some better meat for his meal, with some money left over for another trip later. [Anecdote told by FW Marpurg, Berlin, 1786]

Anne Smith wrote (February 5, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote: < Well, there's the song he wrote about pipe-smoking, in the Magdalena book. >
Thanks Brad. That's what I remember. Nice to think that J.S. was human.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 6, 2004):
[To Anne Smith] My understanding was that Bach was also a portly man (loved his port) in addition to Beer (receipts extant) and tobbacco. Indeed, he suffered from a grisly series of operations for cataracts (now common procedure) that ended in his death.

With regard to smoking (green or brown), I'm afraid I don't have any helpful suggestions.

Smoking may be a huge topic - any suggestions from anyone for quiting smoking ?

Donald Satz wrote (February 6, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Smokers could take the route I did - a three month collection of patches - put them on at the designated times and no smoking during the process - with just one week left, get into a big argument with significant other - drive off in a huff and buy a pack - smoke one and throw the pack in a dumpster (pack lands at top of full dumpster) - go back the next day and retrieve pack.

What I like about this process is that you end up exactly where you started.

Carol wrote (February 7, 2004):
Some time ago I asked if anyone knew whether Bach has any living ancestors, but never got an answer. I assumed I wasn't asking an appropriate question. Since the smoking and drinking issue popped up, though, my guess is no one read my post. (Sorry, Jack; I never smoked, but good luck to you. Maybe you could consider each cigerette may mean a loss of 10 minutes in your lifetime, to play or listen to music).

I have a question, though. I think I may know the answer (I'm almost afraid to know); but I've always wondered why Bach's choruses in the minor key often end with the last few measures in the major. It's usually the well known melodies people sing in church, and since I haven't been since long before I became interested in knowing these things, I don't remember if all those I am thinking of showed Bach to be the composer, or if some were hymns taken from unknown sources, so known as "traditional". I'd hate to think Bach didn't write some of my favorite melodies in the cantatas, despite anyone's saying it's what Bach did with the melody that's important.

But maybe someone can answer these two questions?

Jack Botelho wrote (February 7, 2004):
[To Carol] I'm sorry your question about Bach's living ancestors went unanswered; perhaps no one had an answer?

I'm happy you do not smoke! I tried when a teenager but it gave me a sore throat.

I admire your admiration for Bach's melodic invention. However, it could be argued that almost all of Bach's melodies were inherited from already existing traditions but I won't attempt to argue that here. In my view Bach's strongest point was his conservative use of melodic material tempered with an impeccable good sense of when to call it a halt.

Jose E. Amaro wrote (February 9, 2004):
Dear Carol , Jack, etc

I believe that a non-negligible part of Bach music uses melodies from other sources. Think for instance in the many transcriptions and rearrangements of works from contemporary composers like Vivaldi, Marcello, Pergolesi... (His setting of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater as a German Psalm would be today a serious case of plagiarism).

Jack Botelho wrote (February 9, 2004):
[To Jose E. Amaro] Thanks for that input Jose,

I should say that Bach's "greatest" strength was his counterpoint, but even here, earlier Franco-Flemish, English, Italian, and other masters equal Bach at this skill. Bach's admiration for the works of Fux and Caldara indicate his respect for composers of his time who mastered this skill, which was becoming a lost art by the mid-18th century.

The following is an opinion only:

Bach's most difficult task was the composing of "beautiful" melodies, however one may define this aesthetically. Perhaps the strongest tradition he worked from was the Lutheran chorale hymn, which we so admire today for its beautiful simplicity. Above I mentioned Bach's good sense of when to call invented melodies to a halt, but there are many instances where Bach becomes obssessive with a melodic motif, and it is this "failure" that separates those who love his music in general and those who fail to appreciate his work (and, believe it or not, there are many in this latter category).

I wish I had more time to elaborate on the above ideas. I will try later.

Tony wrote (February 23, 2004):
Hi, Jose, Jack-

I have finally realized it's easy to delete posts, and it's resulted in ending some mass confusion that has, in part, contributed to my delinquent responses to people.

I have I learned a lot in the past month about Bach's procedure of composition.!!!! Jack, your very tactful remark was much needed. First, I guess I believed it to be almost common knowledge that one of Bach's major contributions to music was bringing counterpoint to its highest realm; so that went without saying. What has struck me lately, however, in hearing so many compositions I had never heard before, was how varied his music is. Perhaps I should have used those words instead of melody; but then we wouldn't be having these helpful exchanges, would we?

I have only recently, been aware of traditional musical sources from which Bach drew (knowing that a few were from hymns). This has been due in part to my blindly listening to his music without reading accompanying information; especially in the past. In part this mistake was due to my memory of violin instruction books attributing compositions to Bach; maybe they should not have??? Now I'm placing blame away from myself; my musical approach all my life has been intuitive; I exasperated teachers by not learning to read notes;one even dropped me as a student for that reason.

I also; intuitively, loved Bach because I never grew tired of hearing or playing it, like I have with Mozart and Händel, for example. I hear something new in Bach's music, all the time. And I agree with you that he knew where to stop. (Except for maybe two cantatas I've heard, and I can name and be specific about those if you care to hear about them.)

But, I guess I'm wondering; where does he vary on a given melody (from a traditional source), and where does that evolve into some new melody of its own? Again, I can find examples of what I mean if you are interested.

Also, he must have composed many choruses himself. For instance, do you have Cantata #42? There's a choral duet soprano/tenor, "Verzage nicht, Haufoein klein " "Be not disheartened, Oh little creature, though it (the foe) make you fear and tremble.....) - just one example - that can't possibly have had a traditional source, let alone have been a traditional hymn. Fantastic, but it's too wacky! You have to know it, or listen to it to know what I mean. I call that melodic invention. Probably the ending choral was from a traditional hymn. I can find plenty of other examples like that.

And every great composer did draw on the best of what (he) heard before, incorporating all of it into his own work, to invent something new.

Now, thanks to you, Jack and Jose, I have uncovered another layer, so to speak; in Bach's using a traditional hymn for Cantata #80, which I have known for some time. The other day, I read as much background material as I have of the cantata, and then read the words in German, and English, while listening to it; I loved and marveled at it immediately, where I really didn't appreciate it before! Then I listened to it again and again. It was an epiphany! However, on the bases of Cantata #80 alone, I have to disagree with you, Jack, that other composers equaled him in contrapuntal invention. Anything other than the variations he used would have been less than the perfection it is.

On << I admire your admiration for Bach's melodic invention. However, it could be argued that almost all of Bach's melodies were inherited from already existing traditions but I won't attempt to argue that here. In my view Bach's strongest point was his conservative use of melodic material tempered with an impeccable good sense of when to call

Jose Enrique Amaro wrote:
< I believe that a non-negligible part of Bach music uses melodies from other sources. Think for instance in the many transcriptions and rearrangements of works from contemporary composers like Vivaldi, Marcello, Pergolesi... (His setting of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater as a German Psalm would be today a serious case of plagiarism). >
Jack Botelho wrote:
< Thanks for that input Jose,
I should say that Bach's "greatest" strength was his counterpoint, but even here, earlier Franco-Flemish, English, Italian, and other masters equal Bach at this skill. Bach's admiration for the works of Fux and Caldara indicate his respect for composers of his time who mastered this skill, which was becoming a lost art by the mid-18th century.
The following is an opinion only:
Bach's most difficult task was the composing of "beautiful" melodies, however one may define this aesthetically. Perhaps the strongest tradition he worked from was the Lutheran chorale hymn, which we so admire today for its beautiful simplicity. Above I mentioned Bach's good sense of when to call invented melodies to a halt, but there are many instances where Bach becomes obssessive with a melodic motif, and it is this "failure" that separates those who love his music in general and those who fail to appreciate his work (and, believe it or not, there are many in this latter category). >
An important aspect of Bach's procedure of composition. is its systematic and encyclopedic nature. He habitually wrote works of one particular type within a relatively limited period: for example the 'Orgel-Buchlein', the '48', the solo violin sonatas and partitas, the canons, the chorale cantatas etc. He was concerned to try out, to develop and to exhaust specific principles of composition. There are practically no completely isolated compositions. Relationships, correspondences and connections with other works can constantly be found. This approach to the procedure of composition is at once deep and yet of great natural simplicity; and it never results in mere repetition. Certainly there is repetition, of a kind, in the case of parodies or transcriptions of existing works. Yet even here it is inappropriate to speak of repetition, since in the process of parodying and transcribing, Bach always modified so that the end-product represents a fresh stage in the development of the original composition."

 

March 21, 1685

Teri Noel Towe wrote (March 21, 2004):
Today is the 319th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 22, 2004):
[To Teri Noel Towe] More or less. If we're keeping track of the relative positions of the earth and sun, to be really technical about it, it would be more accurate to celebrate it next Wednesday, the 31st.

Bach's birthdate of March 21 was reckoned by the old calendar, and then ten days were lopped out during his lifetime (in Germany, anyway). The adjustment happened during different years for various political and religious reasons, in some places as late as the 20th century. Most of the German Protestants made this change in 1700, after Catholic areas had changed more than a century earlier. But their calculation of the date for Easter remained different beyond that, for a while: in 1724 and 1744 the Protestants and Catholics in Germany celebrated Easter on different days.[Source: Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year by David Ewing Duncan: Amazon.com]

I celebrated Bach's birthday yesterday anyway by playing Contrapunctus 1 as offertory at church, and by leaving the computer turned off all day, and listening to the Partita BWV 1013 played on bassoon(!).

Sato Fumitaka wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I always respect your scholarship and love toward Bach's music (or music general).

Let me correct one point.
This year (2004), March 21 on Julian Calendar (the old calendar) corresponds to Saturday, April 3 on Gregorian Calendar (the current calendar), as there is difference of 13 days between Julian Calendar and Gregorian Calendar this year. The discrepancy is becoming large by one day every 100 years (excepting the year 1600 and 2000). I am not sure whether Bach's birthday is depicted on Julian Calendar. I would appreciate if someone could tell what is the calendar on which Bach's life is usually described.

Bradley Lehman wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Sato Fumitaka] I'm still pretty sure it's just the 10 days, not more. This is one of those twisty "frame of reference" problems. Here are several ways to look at the calculation:

- First, we have to assume the present (Gregorian) calendar is correct enough: it has stayed aligned with the equinoxes for 422 years.

- From Bach's perspective, he "lost" 10 days of his life between his 15th and 16th birthdays, when in 1700 they adjusted the calendar in Protestant Germany, moving it ahead 10 days. If Bach would live to be 350 years old, he would still "lose" only those same 10 days as the calendar hasn't been adjusted again.

- Or, suppose Bach had been born on the same day he was, but in a Catholic country (which switched calendars in 1582) or some village that was already on the Gregorian. That same day was called "March 31" by the Gregorian calendar, 10 days off from "March 21" of the Julian calendar. Since we're still using the Gregorian calendar now, his birthdate (according to the positions of earth and sun) is really March 31st.

- It's a correct observation that the Julian and Gregorian are now off from one another by more than 10 days, but an irrelevant one. As soon as Bach in1700 got out of the Julian which was moving at the wrong speed, it is no longer relevant to him. The Julian is now more wrong than it was then, but so what? As soon as he adjusted his life to the Gregorian, by 10 days, there was no further adjustment. The observation below about 13 days would be relevant only if the Julian were the correct one.

I've been interested in this stuff since I realized as a teenager that I'd been born on exactly the same day (but 214 years later) that Bach died...same spot in the earth's orbit of the sun, according to the Gregorian calendar. This "passing of the torch" idea has amused me, not that it matters to anyone else...there are probably all sorts of things that could be tied into 214.

As for the question below, I've assumed that Bach's life is usually described on the Gregorian calendar after 1700, and on the Julian before that.

That thing I mentioned below about the two Easter dates in 1724 and 1744: the separate calculations stayed in place until 1776. In the "Church Calendar" article of the Oxford Composer Companion, last paragraph, the writer Robin Leaver observes that the SJP was premiered on Good Friday, April 7 1724 in Protestant Germany, while Good Friday was April 14th that year in the Catholic countries. That would indeed be confusing. Imagine a visitor wanting to come hear it, but living in a country where Easter was a different day, and not realizing there was a difference, and missing it by a week.

Not as confusing, though, as it must have been for people in bordering areas before the calendar changes. Just by traveling across a border it would be 10 days earlier or later, by the opposite calendar. If a couple got married on January 1st in a Gregorian country, then traveled to a nearby town that was still in the Julian, they'd be back in the last weeks of the previous year...and would they be married, or not, legally? What about taxation and other legalities, across the calendar adjustment?

Anyway, the concept of the world being on a single time-of-day standard is from the late 19th century and train timetables (et al). Before that, there was no reason to expect the time to be the same even from one town to the neighboring one. Only the date would agree, if that much. That's sort of like the variations of tuning pitch all over the place....

Sato Fumitaka wrote (March 23, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] I won't dispute anything about the birthday of Bach in this year on Julian Calendar, as it is almost meaningless. We are living on Gregorian Calendar now. (I have my computer programs for calendar calculations. You can ask me anything about calendars.)

For your information, the following is a link to pages of the dates of Gregorian change of the calendar.
http://homepages.tesco.net/~jk.calisto/calisto/calendars/change_dates_jg.htm#G

 

Bach Birthday [BACH-LIST]

Santu de Silva wrote (March 26, 2004):
Bach's birthday is celebrated on the list on the 31st of March, (though the adjusted date is later in the year).

I invite posts about any and all Bach-music-related matters.

JD (Filsuf) wrote (March 26, 2004):
[To Santo De Silva] Bach is an Aries? I've always thought that he was a Pisces, that somehow is also more astrologically feasible than if he's an Aries.
Just a bystander comment...:)

Pat Maimone wrote (March 27, 2004):
J. S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany March 21, 1685. We celebrated his 319th birthday on March 21 at West Point, NY, and have celebrated him every year on the 21st of March.

Ron Chaplin wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To JD] Why would it be more astrologically feasible if Bach is a Pisces, rather than an Aries? What characteristics about the Pisces sign describe Bach more than characteristics of the Aries sign?

JD (Filsuf) wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To Ron Chaplin] Just from the typical perspective:

A typical Piscean characteristic: (as water) emotional, passionate, impetuous, dreamy, tends to be religious, very very artistically creative in unusual ways, it always feels that Piscean articulates his life on an other-worldly manner, etc.

A typical Arian characteristic: me-first attitude, fiery, inconsistent, always want to exert his ego above every thing else (being the first sign, thus the first thing that matters to man, that is 'I am'), etc.

Try to skim a standard astrological book --it doesn't have to be the best or what-- then relate what it says about Pisces to Bach; and also relate what it says about Aries to Bach.

If you know Bach well or also play his music intelligently (not just play it meaninglessly without any rational justification), you'll soon know what I meant.

Miguel Muelle wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To Ron Chaplin] I think Bach himself would have said he was born under neither the sign of the Fish nor of the Ram, but under the sign of the Cross. :o)

Happy Birthday, JS!

While on birth and Bach, I look forward to Easter when I play his Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) — one of my favorites of his sacred music.

Cory Hall wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To Ron Chaplin] I don't even see what the controversy is about. March 21 is the first day of Aries, so Bach was definitely Aries, not Pisces. However, he could have had Pisces traits in addition to Aries traits, since "cusp" people according to astrologers tend to have traits from both signs. Actually, I think Bach's personality was very close to mine, since I was born on March 20 in California at 10:00 p.m., which translates to March 21 in German time. I'm at the very end of Pisces, but I do indeed also have Aries traits. Why is it that I was born on the same day as Bach (in German time) and that he has been my favorite composer since I was a kid? Is this all coincidence or is there truth after all behind astrology?

Jim Groenevald wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To Cory Hall] I do not want to object on your use of and belief in astrology in general and with respect to Bach in particular, that is entirely up to you. But there are also Bach lovers, like me, who do not have any affinity with astrology and its claimed results. Above all I question whether Bach himself did; after all he was a convinced christian. And everyone of course decides for himself, christians too, but for myself I think I can not believe in astrology and at the same time believe in God. I know astrological facts are being described in the Bible, that is very true, but even from a scientific point of view (I am a statistician) I do not attach any value to astrology. So I am sorry to say, that I can't go along with you in discussing Bach's character on the basis of astrology, how interesting the discussion may be.

I do like Bach, his music, very much and I do have interest in his character and way of living, which knowledge may make his music even more vivid and understandable. Let us memorize his birthday by memorizing him as a great composer, if not the greatest.

Santu De Silva wrote (March 29, 2004):
[To Pat Maimone] My error; yes, it is celebrated on the 21st. Apologies!

[I ought to say something about the confusion regarding the date.

As you know, the earth goes around the sun in roughly 365 ¼ days. Hence, the 1/4 days were collected and February was given an extra day evert four years, which was a fine adjustment. This was thought to be exact enough --after all, how much of a difference would it make?

After a while, though, the errors began to add up, and the seaasons began to creep round, until around Bach's birth, the date was March, but it felt more like April.

The vatican mathematicians and astronomers figured that the leap-years were over-correcting; Pope Gregory (?) decreed that every twenty-five leap-years (once a century) that February would not have an extra day. However, the Lutherans would not accept this decree (naturally) for several years, I believe. So there's a 10-day difference between the date as recorded in Bach's parish, and the date as it would have been recorded in the Vatican. To the frustration of Lutherans of that time –and the rest of us, for whom Papal infallibility is irksome in a minorway-- the Vatican date (1685-03-31) is more in line with the date of Bach's birth in the sense that the sun would have been in the same part of the sky then (at bach's birth) as it would be every year on that date, and it would rise at the same time of day. That's all it amounts to. However, we celebrate --with West Point-- on the 21st. For no really good reason!]

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 5, 2010 ý13:34:24