The youngest of Johann Sebastian Bach's children, Johann
Christian was born on September 5, 1735 when his father was already fifty years
of age and served as Cantor in Leipzig. For the first fifteen years of his
life, he grew up under the tutelage of his eminent father until the elder
Bach's death in 1750. Though Johann Christian undoubtedly learned much from his
father, the disparity between their ages and the relatively brief time he
learned from him, compared to his siblings, his music consequently was markedly
different from the contrapuntally infused work of his father. Following his
father's death, Johann Christian was sent to Berlin to work with his elder
brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel, who had already established himself as the most
gifted of Bach's sons.
At the age of nineteen and against the advice of his brother,
Johann Christian left Berlin for Italy to pursue his dream of composing operas.
He studied with Padre Martini in Bologna and after some time of composing
church music, received his first commission to compose an opera. Three
successful operas in Italy brought Johann Christian an invitation from the
British capital to compose operas for the King's Theater, and his English debut
work, Orioine, premiered on February
19, 1763, won him praise and support of the British crown, particularly Queen
Charlotte. The young 20-year-old wife of King George III was from Germany
herself and was quick to hire Johann Christian as a musician and teacher for
herself and her children. Under the patronage of Queen Charlotte, he met a
young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when the Mozart family visited England in 1764.
He would become a powerful influence on the young lad, particularly in regards
to concerto style. Later, Mozart would pay homage to Johann Christian by arranging
three of his keyboard sonatas as concertos.
Johann Christian enjoyed a successful career in London,
easily outshining his father in terms of popularity. He became a leading
composer of the Galant style, a reactionary style to the intricate counterpoint
of the Baroque, which focused on the dominance of melody,
balanced phrases and unobtrusive accompaniments. Johann Christian's operas
eventually fell out of favor, but in 1765, he partnered with the famed viola da
gambe player, Carl Friedrich Abel. The two began a successful concert series in
London, which continued to run through 1782.
By the late 1770s, Johann Christian's fortunes began to
decline. His music was falling out of style, supplanted by the matured
Classical style and a renewed interest, spearheaded by Joseph Haydn, in
counterpoint. His health declined and his money was embezzled. On January 1,
1782, he passed away with a looming debt. Queen Charlotte, however, met his
expenses and established a pension for his widow.
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