Regarded as perhaps the greatest composer of all time, Bach was known during his life primarily as a virtuoso organist and composed more than 1,100 (surviving) works. How did he become a musician? Was it any different than our modern day educational path? Yes and no.

Most modern-day musicians start taking lessons at an early age, as Bach did. The ones who are identified as talented will move on to conservatories or music programs to pursue advanced degrees in music, spending countless hours honing their skills in lonely practice rooms.

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Portrait of the young Bach

During Bach’s time and through most of Classical period, there were mainly two ways to become a professional musician: be trained by your parents or sing in a church choir. Both Mozart and Haydn belong to these cases.

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Johann Ambrosius Bach, Bach’s father

Bach’s educational journey was no different. He was first taught by his father and later by his older brother when he became an orphan at the age of 10. His rather unfortunate early childhood must’ve had a big impact on his faith and preoccupation with death and afterlife, which became quite evident in his compositions, especially in his sacred cantatas. He was also taught Latin and, most importantly, Lutheran theology!

However, Bach remained a life-long learner.

In his early years as a young professional musician, he didn’t mind traveling (by foot!) 300 miles to hear the great master, Dietrich Buxtehude, play organ and attend famous evening concerts in the Marienskirche when Buxtehude’s church cantatas were performed. He was also very keen in learning Italian style mostly by copying (by hand!) the parts of great Italian masters.

All the above sound quite primitive compared to our experiences in the 21st century, though we must remember that there were no recordings, YouTube, TV/radio, and no music-transcribing software. If you wanted to hear something, it had to be a live performance. Even as a composer of his own music, Bach must’ve heard his own St. Matthew Passion only 3 or 4 times throughout his career. Can you imagine that?

As we journey through Colorado Bach Ensemble’s upcoming season, I continue to marvel at the sheer power and magnificence of live performances. One of the greatest composers was no different than any of us: he struggled as an orphan, a student, and an employee whose bosses didn’t really value much of his artistry. I’m sure we all relate to that to a certain degree…

I invite you to experience Bach’s powerful music first-hand and hope that you will be inspired by Bach, as I am, to remain a life-long learner.

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Experience Bach’s music with us this season. CLICK HERE to learn more about each of our concerts and to buy tickets.
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Watch Colorado Public Radio’s introduction to Colorado Bach Ensemble.