Johann Christian Bach

Johann Christian Bach

 (5 September 1735, Leipzig – 1 January 1782, London)

J.C. Bach was a composer and pianist of the Classical era, the eleventh surviving child and youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Sometimes referred to as ”the London Bach” or ”the English Bach” he first received musical lessons from his father. It is thought that the second volume of the Well Tempered Clavier was composed for his musical education. After the death of his father in 1750, he moves to Berlin, to live with his brother C.P.E. Bach, who becomes his teacher.

In the 1754-1762 period, he studied counterpoint in Italy with Giovanni Battista Martini and accepted the organist position at the cathedral in Milano (1760). In the same period he switches from Lutheranism to Catholicism. He is the only son of Bach to write opera by the Italian tradition of the time.

He enjoyed a promising career, first as a composer then as a performer playing alongside Carl Friedrich Abel, the notable player of the viola da gamba. He composed cantatas, chamber music, keyboard and orchestral works, operas and symphonies.

In 1762 he settled in London for good, hence his nickname ”the London Bach”. In his 20 years spent in London he becomes the most popular musician in all England, particularly due to his operas played at the Royal Theater. Here he holds the position of Queen's musician, and one of his duties  was the musical education of the royal children, as well as to provide piano accompaniment for the king, who played the flute. Shortly after, his concerts became events of great attraction for the Londoner public.

In his first years spent in the British capital, he met and was drawn by a sincere friendship towards Mozart the child prodigy, which at that time was touring with his father. Many historians agree on the special influence that was exerted by Johann Christian Bach on little Mozart. After the death of ”the London Bach”, Mozart wrote to his father ”It's a great loss for the musical world!” The number 12 Piano Concerto in A major KV 414 is dedicated to his dear friend (J.C. Bach), which incorporates in its second part variations on a theme by Johann Christian Bach.

Bach also wrote music for notable political occasions on the Continent as well as in Britain. In the late 1770s, his fortunes declined. His music lost its popularity, and his steward embezzled practically all his wealth. His health declined, and he died in 1782 in considerable debt. Queen Sophie met the immediate expenses of the estate and established a life pension for Bach's widow, Cecilia.

Johann Christian Bach was one of the first composers to prefer the piano for harpsichord or other Baroque keyboard instruments. A full account of J. C. Bach’s career is given in the fourth volume of Charles Burney's History of Music. There are two others named Johann Christian Bach in the Bach family tree, but neither was a composer.

J.C. Bach’s music reflects the pleasant melodiousness of the galant, or Rococo, style. Its Italianate grace influenced composers of the Classical period. His symphonies,

contemporary with those of Haydn, were among the formative influences on the early Classical symphony; his sonatas and keyboard concerti performed a similar role. Although he never grew to be a profound composer, his music was always sensitive and imaginative.

Here  you can find a full list of Johann Christian Bach's compositions.