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Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the world’s most famous composers, so much so that more than 250 years after his death, he continues to inspire artists of the present day, starting with Philip Glass.

Article produced in partnership with La Seine Musicale

Decipher the work of Johann Sebastian Bach during an educational concert

What are the links between the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, a Baroque composer, and Philip Glass, who is associated with the minimalist movement? This is what conductor Mathieu Herzog and pianist Vanessa Wagner propose to discover in the next edition of the educational concert “Do you think it’s Classical?” which will take place on Saturday 21 May at 7 pm at La Seine Musicale in Boulogne-Billancourt.

How well do you know Johann Sebastian Bach? 1
Created with RNI Films app. Preset ‘Agfa Optima 200’

But how well do you know Johann Sebastian Bach? Here are 5 little-known anecdotes about the composer.

5 facts about Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach: the most famous of a long family of musicians

How well do you know Johann Sebastian Bach? 2
Johann Sebastian Bach in 1746,
portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann

When we say Bach, we of course think of Johann Sebastian, but behind this world-famous composer lies a whole dynasty of musicians, considered the most prolific family in the history of Western music!

For more than two centuries, between the 16th and 18th centuries, the Bach family gave birth to numerous organists and composers, so much so that in 1793, all the musicians on the council of the city of Erfurt in Germany were Bachs!

He spent time in jail

At the beginning of the 18th century, while he was organist and 1st violinist for Duke Wilhelm II, Johann Sebastian Bach was offered the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Köthen, a position he accepted.

But William II, who did not want his protector to leave, sent him to prison “because of his stubbornness in trying to force his resignation”. Johann Sebastian Bach spent almost a month in prison in 1917.

He had a strong appetite!

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Johann Sebastian Bach at thirty (1715) by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Old

Bach, the ‘composing machine’, needed energy and it seems that it was in beer, cider, wine, tobacco, coffee or even hot chocolate that Bach often turned!

Expense accounts for large meals and orders for several barrels of beer have been found. Bach also took advantage of an ordinance of 1646 creating a franchise for church and school employees to be reimbursed for the tax on beer.

He and Handel had the same surgeon

… and that’s a shame for them! Both Bach and Handel suffered from cataracts and turned to the doctor John Taylor. Unfortunately, Taylor was a charlatan and Bach’s operations in 1750 and Handel’s in 1753 were not very successful.

The surgical procedure must have been particularly painful, as the description of the operation shows: ‘Taylor (…) removes the lens of the eye by thrusting a small pointed iron, half a foot long (15-16 cm), into the cornea or the white of the eye’. Tired from the operation, Bach died six months later.

His work was not widely noticed during his lifetime

In the city of Leipzig, where he spent his last years as Cantor (church choirmaster), Bach was not particularly well liked. There are traces of some of the reproaches made to him: “the cantor does nothing”; “he was called to order and admonished”

When he died, there were no great celebrations. The local newspaper only mentioned “a 67-year-old man, Mr Johann Sebastian Bach, choirmaster and Cantor of the St Thomas School, has died”.

During his lifetime he was little known outside Germany. It was not until the 19th century that Bach’s music was rediscovered. His music is now considered the crowning achievement of the Baroque musical tradition and Bach is now considered by many to be one of the greatest composers of all time.

How well do you know Johann Sebastian Bach? 4
First page of Counterpoint 1 of The Art of Fugue, autograph manuscript by Bach (detail). Berlin State Library, Germany

Make the link between the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and that of Philip Glass during a 1-hour discovery concert at La Seine Musicale

You think classical music is stuffy, uptight or out of fashion? Think again! Classical music is a musical style that is open to all and continues to inspire many contemporary artists.

During “Do you think it’s classical?“, 1h15 discovery concerts presented in the auditorium of La Seine Musicale, the conductor Mathieu Herzog explains the keys to understanding the intentions of the great composers.

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The auditorium of La Seine Musicale, photograph by Ludwig Favre

In the next concert, on Saturday 21 May at 7pm at La Seine Musicale, a concert hall located on the Ile Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt, he will be accompanied by the pianist Vanessa Wagner and her orchestra Appassionato to show you the bridges that exist between Johann Sebastian Bach and Philip Glass, two composers who seem to be in opposition but who are nevertheless much more similar than you might imagine! After this concert you will never listen to classical music the same way again!

“My basic musical training was very much influenced by the study of Bach (…) his music is by definition a part of my own.”Philip Glass

How well do you know Johann Sebastian Bach? 6
Mathieu Herzog and Appassionato © Rémi Rière

ALSO READ: Who was Ludwig Van Beethoven? 10 anecdotes about this genius composer

Article proposed in partnership with La Seine Musicale

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