The world of classical music owes much to German composer and virtuoso Johann Sebastian Bach, born on March 21, 1685. In his own time, he was mostly recognized as a master of the organ and harpsichord, and was extensively sought during the construction, testing, and dedication of new organs. Now, however, he is most remembered for his Baroque compositions. By the time he died in 1750, Bach had written much of the music of the Baroque era, including sacred works for choir, chorale preludes, orchestra pieces, duets, cello suites, sonatas for violin, a partita for solo flute, several works for the lute, and the Lutheran mass set to music.
Bach was firmly convinced that “the aim and final reason…of all music…should be none else but the Glory of God and the recreation of the mind.” When this aim is forgotten, “there will be no real music but only a devilish hubbub.” Thus is it no surprise that his cantatas were signed S.D.G. — Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).
Musical experts have noticed that this worldview greatly affected Bach’s work. His church music always shows signs of careful craftsmanship, rarely if ever failing to inspire or to reflect the text of the service it was written for. Of all the 18th century organ chorales written, the most outstanding have come from Bach’s gifted pen. The famous St. Matthew Passion (shown at right) is another prime example of the fruit of Bach’s aim. The depth, power, and drama of this piece do not merely appeal to the emotions of the listeners. They posses a certain grandeur that complements the story behind the music well.
In spite of Bach’s obvious gift for composing music, his work was quickly forgotten after his death. His current prominence in classical music is due to a rediscovery of his music which occurred during the first half of the 19th century. Because this was the heyday of the Romantic era, and because of the expressiveness of Bach’s music, some attempts have been made to classify his work as Romantic. Both in date and style, however, Bach is purely Baroque, as testified by the fact that the rhythms of his works do not lend themselves to stylistic fluctuations as readily as Romantic pieces do. Nevertheless, the rediscovery of Bach was key to his recognition as one of the greatest composers of all time. Since then, many streets in Germany have been named after him. Statues and museums have all been constructed in his honor. Even a crater on Mercury bears his name. And yet, in the words of Bach himself, “I play the notes as they are written, but it is God who makes the music.”
Johann Sebastian Bach, Composer
Brief synopsis and sample of Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ from the DSOKids site (Dallas Symphony Orchestra).
Johann Sebastian Bach’s life (1685-1750)
Very detailed history.
J.S. Bach: Timeline of His Life
Bach timeline along with contemporary musicians.
Bach’s Life in Pictures
Illustrated Bach with downloadable music samples. Nicely done.
Anatomy of a Canon
What makes a canon a canon?
Anatomy of a Fugue
What makes a fugue a fugue?
The Well-Tempered Clavier
In two volumes, each containing a prelude and fugue in every major and minor key of the chromatic scale. Interactive presentation with scores, digital music, and analysis. Wonderful site!
St. John Passion
Description and tracks from the BBC.
Bach: Greatest Hits
Our favorite series for classical music appreciation. Even if you choose not to purchase the music, scroll down and enjoy the preview. You’ll be surprised at how many of these compositions will be familiar to you!
Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concerto # 2
A series of shows on Bach from Classics For Kids. Press “Listen to the Show.” Also below is a link to the corresponding activity sheet.
- About Johann Sebastian Bach
- The Sons of Johann Sebastian Bach
- What’s a Concerto?
- The Story of the Brandenburg Concertos
- Bach Activity Sheet
Color the Classics: Godly Composers I
Color while you listen to the story of Bach. Developed by a homeschool mom for her family. Nice activity for younger children.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Nice biography from The World’s Great Men of Music by Harriette Brower in the public domain.
Bach by Imogene Holst
Our favorite biography and Bach resource.
The Gift of Music: Great Composers and Their Influence by Jane Stuart Smith & Betty Carlson
Our favorite overall music appreciation reference book. Over 300 pages long covering Bach and 42 other composers, along with Christmas carols. Not only covers the influence of the composer but also how his faith influenced his works. Recommended reading and listening guides at the end of each section. Highly recommended!
Units & Lesson Plans
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 Unit Study
Free 50-page 12-lesson unit study for older, musically inclined students and a mentor with musical background. Detailed lesson plans, assignments, and handouts. Can be somewhat adapted.
“Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major” Unit Study
24-page unit study for band, but can be adapted.
Bach’s Big Adventure Unit and Printables
14-page unit study download with a variety of notebooking forms, foldables and worksheets. This goes along with the book of the same name, but can easily stand alone. From HomeschoolShare.com.
Going for Baroque – A Study of Bach
Nine-lesson Core Knowledge plan including activity sheets, worksheets and quizzes.
Composer Notebooking Set: Bach
Very nice 21-page download with all types of forms for notebooking Bach and the Baroque period. From ThatResourceSite.com.
Also from ThatResourceSite.com, timeline and coordinating composer timeline pieces for those that are studying Bach as a part of a more general composer study.
Bach Notebooking Pages
Nicely done 30-page download of Bach notebooking pages. Includes listening pages. From HomeschoolNotebooking.com
Classical Music Listening Guide
Notebooking sheet for listening to any composition.
The Baroque Period
Free lapbook foldable from HomeschoolHelperOnline.
Johann Sebastian Bach Coloring Page
Perfect for notebook page. From MakingMusicFun.net.