Johann Christian Bach


A pupil of not one but two Bachs, Johann Christian Bach studied first under his father, the great Johann Sebastian, but following his death was taught by his elder brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel.  While living in Berlin with Carl, he gave regular performances and was introduced to Italian opera. This new music influenced his chosen direction greatly - not only was it to fuel his inspiration for later works, but it is possible that it led him to Italy where he studied under Martini. 

It was also in Italy that he began his first appointment, working under the patronage of Count Agostino Litta of Milan.  His duties were religious, and he was required to convert to Catholicism in order to continue as organist at Milan Cathedral.  It was here that major works of his were first performed, including some well received masses.

Operatic commissions led him away from his obligations, beginning with Turin in 1760 (his first opera, Artaserse), then to Naples in 1761 and London in 1762.  It was here that he was to stay for much of the rest of his life, reaffirming his reputation for opera with the successful Orione.  Bach's operatic aspirations were dealt a blow when the King's Theatre's new co-director, Italian composer Giardini, took exception to his status as a rival and a German and decided that his services would no longer be required. 

Bach's German lineage was somewhat less of a problem to the British monarchy.  Queen Charlotte herself was of German birth, and it was to her that Bach dedicated his Op.1 concertos.  This found him in favour with the Queen, and he was granted the post of her music master, which he retained until his death. 

One of Queen Charlotte's chamber musicians, Karl Friedrich Abel, had been a pupil of J.S. Bach's back in Leipzig.  Although we do not know whether Abel and Johann Christian knew each other from those early days, their shared backgrounds and concurrent status helped them form a firm friendship.  They shared lodgings, and the many concerts they gave in London brought them fame and a high reputation.  A guest performer at one of these concerts was the eight-year-old Mozart, with whom Bach struck up an immediate bond.  He gave the young composer advice on his compositional technique, and they are known to have improvised together.

The relationship between J.C. Bach and Mozart is seen as important not least because of the links between their compositions - Bach is seen as a major developer of the sonata forms and classical style which Mozart brought to perfection.  He was instrumental in expanding the operatic overture into the symphony we know today, and here again his music is overshadowed by Mozart's refinements.  Their intentions were largely similar - music with simple sounding elegance, sometimes deceptively so, and an expansion of existing structures.  As such, his music still enjoys much popularity.

Bach's later years were not as marked by success - he was largely a victim of circumstance and a capricious public.  He died leaving severe debts, and although friends and nobility rallied around his family he was buried in a long-lost plot by St Pancras Church.

- MIDI FILE - Fughetta in G (0’53’’)

Related composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


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