IFC Blog

12 things you might not have known about J.S. Bach

12 things you might not have known about J.S. Bach

12 things you might not have known about J.S. Bach

The title says it all. Let’s dive in…


1. The young Bach practically devoured musical knowledge around him. Even at the age of ten, he was studying and copying scores — despite being told not to as blank ledger paper was expensive.


2. But he didn’t have a very good school life and was repeatedly absent from school. In Eisenach, where he was born, the young Johannes suffered under a teacher who was known for his sadism and creulty.


3. Bach was trying to duel keyboards way before it was a thing in piano bars. In 1717, he challenged the harpsichordist Louis Marchand to a keyboard duel. Unfortunately, Marchand was a no-show on the day and the duel never took place.


4. Also in 1717, our friend Johannes served jail time. He was serving as Konzertmeister to the Duke of Weimar, but because wasn’t promoted to Kappellmeister, he decided to take up a better position in Anhalt-Cothen. The Duke wasn’t too happy about losing Bach, so threw him in jail for a month before firing him. Talk about terrible bosses.


5. It wasn’t just music that kept Johannes busy; he fathered 20 children in his lifetime.


6. Bach never travelled beyond a 150-mile radius of his birthplace in Eisenach, Germany.


7. It seems Bach wasn’t above getting into the odd scuffle. When he was 20, he got into a fight with a bassoonist named Geyersbach, who had assaulted Bach with a stick. Bach pulled out a dagger from his belt (very handy to have) and the two musicians had to be pulled apart by other students. Why had Geyersbach attacjed Bach anyway? Apparently Bach had called him a “nanny-goat bassoonist” at a rehearsal.


8. The B-A-C-H musical motif, which consists of the notes B flat, A, C and B natural (H in German), was used extensively by Bach himself in addition to other composers.


9. Bach was also known to have used the numbers 14 and 41 in his compositions.


10. Bach wasn’t all about ‘serious’ music. He composed a light, humourous piece called Cofee Cantata, inspired by the Zimmermann Coffeehouse in Leipzig which often hosted musical events, and where he liked to hang out (kind of like the Central Perk of the times, maybe?).


11. It’s well-known that Beethoven went deaf later in his life, but not many people know that Bach went almost completely blind after an operation to treat his cataracts. However, he regained his sight and he used the time to work on his final work, The Art of the Fugue. He died ten days later at the age of 65.


12. As influential a composer as Bach is today, most people didn’t give his music much thought after he died. The composer Mendelssohn is credited with giving Bach’s music attention and bringing it to the forefront of the music landscape.