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Classical Composers A-Z: The Bach Family

Peter Wintersgill introduces the four sons of the great Johann Sebastian Bach - all of them considerable composers in their own right.

Four of Bach's sons were composers in their own right: Wilhelm Friedmann and Carl Philip Emmanuel from his first marriage, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian from the second.

Wilhelm Friedmann

The Halle Bach, the eldest son, born in 1710 was very close to his father all his life. His father used to take him to the opera as a boy and as mentioned wrote Part I of the "48" for him. Although he was very gifted as a composer, none of his works are heard to day. He was however rather unstable in temperament. After a short period in Dresden, he moved to Halle, where he met Handel. He accompanied his father on his famous visit to Potsdam. Much of his work was chamber music. He married at 41 and had three children, only one of whom reached maturity. He moved to Berlin, having quarrelled with his employers at Halle. He had little sense of responsibility, tried to pass some of his father's work off as his own. He died in 1784 aged 74.

Carl Philip Emmanuel

His second son, born in 1714, was quite a different person, balanced and methodical. After his father's death he carefully listed all his father's works. In 1740 he became Kappelmeister to Frederick the great at Potsdam, a post he kept for 30 years. The King was an accomplished flautist and had a wide interest in music. He had many pupils, including his young half brother Johann Christian. He married at 30 and had three children, but no grand-children. In 1768 aged 54, he moved to Hamburg, to succeed his god-father Telemann as cantor. Like his brother he wrote much chamber music, also many church cantatas. He died in 1788 of a chest infection aged 74.

Johann Christoph Fredrich

The "Buckeburg Bach" was the first born, in 1732, of his father's second marriage. At the age of 18 he became a chamber musician to Count Wilhelm at Bucheburg. He married in 1755, aged 23, the daughter of a court musician. He wrote every type of music; chamber, opera, orchestral and church music, but none of his works are outstanding. He had one son, Wilhelm, with whom he travelled to England, to see his brother Johann Christian. Wilhelm attended the unveiling in 1843 of the Leipzig statue of his grandfather, the cost of which was born by Mendlessohn . He died in 1795, aged 63.

Johann Christian

The London Bach was his father's youngest son, born in 1735. He went to London in 1762, where he gave lessons to young Mozart. He played to George III and Queen Charlotte. He died in 1782 aged 46.

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