All About Bach: Part 1 (Attack of the Germanes)
Our dubiously-researched look at the greatest composer ever named Johann. (Sorry, Strauss.)

Dan Van Oss Biographies, Complete Columns, History, Musicians, Authors & Artists 1 Comment

When you think of the name Bach, you probably think of that hard candy your grandma kept in the dish by the breadbox that you couldn’t have until after dinner, but that’s called Brach’s, which of course isn’t germane to our story. But, speaking of Germanes, did you know that the Jackson Five never recorded a single Bach song? And that Bach was actually BORN a Germane? Well, now that you’re totally confused, you’re in the right mode for a musical adventure we’re calling “Bach To The Future”, because we really want to get hammered in the comments section.

Early Life, Including a Gardening Metaphor

[su_pullquote align=”right”]They instructed Bach at an early age in the fundamentals of music, such as how to trick your bass player into buying a van for your gigs, and where to get the cheapest band t-shirts printed.[/pullquote]Johann Sebastian Bach, like most composers, was born. His particular birth area was called Eisenach, Germany, known mostly for the very poor Italian joke involving its name (“Luigi, Eisenach, butta you no ansa the door”) which we just made up. He was born the youngest of 8 children into a very musical family; his father was the town director and all of his uncles were musicians, and they instructed Bach at an early age in the fundamentals of music, such as how to trick your bass player into buying a van for your gigs, and where to get the cheapest band t-shirts printed. His uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, was already a noted composer, and he also had a cousin, Johann Ludwig Bach, who was also a Johann as well as a renowned violinist. Apparently there was a law in Liepzig that you needed to be named Johann if your name was Bach, as all of his brothers were named Johann, his sister was named Johanna and we suspect his dog was named Johann Dog Bach, and probably barked in counterpoint. Bach flourished in this hothouse of fertile, loamy, musical dirt, reaching rhapsodic roots deep into rich cultural heritage and bursting forth blossoms of notational beauty, to be plucked by, um, the… okay, what were we saying?

Johann, Johann, & Johann

Both of his parents died when he was young, and so he had to move in with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach — say, can someone get a us a Bach genealogy chart, please? Thank you. Good grief; they’re all named Johann. Anyway, his older brother taught him to play the clavichord, kind of a prehistoric piano, and he received training in theology, Latin, Greek, French, and Italian at the local gymnasium, which apparently was staffed with some well-educated boxers. J. C. Bach also introduced him to composers such as Johann Pachelbel, who also founded a German taco restaurant chain, Johann (of course) Jakob Froberger, a bunch of Frenchmen, and the Italian clavieronimist… clavichordalissimo… clavi… clavierist Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose name we will not make a joke about at this time. And from here it was overnight stardom, champagne-filled claviers, screaming courtesans with those weird fake moles on their cheeks, and the knowledge that at least your son won’t be named Johann. Ohwait. Never mind.

High-Jinks and Blue Öyster Cult

Actually, no, like most composers, Bach was not an overnight success, and achieved no real fame during his lifetime, except for maybe having devilish good looks and a righteous wig. He first had to follow what his biography was telling him happened and go to St. Michael’s School in Lüneburg, which, despite the name, has no insane asylums, because we checked. Like most students, he spent his time involved not only with his music studies, but in spirited high-jinks; filling the organ pipes with baby powder, tying the KapellMeister’s wig onto his cat, and taunting rival schools with barbed cheers of Unsere orgel ist viel mehr verfeinert und majestätischer als das Organ, das Ihre Schule besitzt . Und Sie riechen schlecht. (“Our organ is much more refined and majestic than the organ which your school possesses. And you smell bad.”) It was in this rich musical atmosphere that his talent for playing the organ evolved, with all of the double-entendre possibilities this naturally entailed. His next challenge was what to do after graduation. Where would he find work? How would he pay off his student loans? Would he have to live in his parent’s basement and play clavier on weekends in a Blue Öyster Cult tribute band? Find out next time, if we ever finish it.

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