Instead, Bach spent a few months as a court musician at Weimar
before visiting Arnstadt in 1703 to see the new organ at the
Neuekirche. He so impressed the authorities that he was offered
the job of organist, already promised to Andreas Bonier. His
playing was clearly astonishing but he was too young to be an
effective teacher; conflicts arose between Bach and the
authorities over the teaching of choristers. Matters deteriorated
further in 1705 when Bach took extended leave of absence to walk
to Lubeck to hear the composer Buxtehude play the organ.
Two years after this episode Bach resigned and took another
post in Muhlhausen. That same year he married and was settling
into his post when in 1 708 he was required to play before the
Duke of Weimar, who promptly offered him better employment as organist and chamber musician and later as
At Weimar Bach developed his composing. He studied and made
arrangements for organ or harpsichord of a number of Vivaldi's
concertos, experience which was later to influence his own two
Violin concertos in E and A minor and the
violin concerto in D minor.
During 1716 Bach heard rumours that the Duke of Weimar intended
to hire Telemann as his Kapellmeister, a position he had expected
himself. Bach responded by finding a rival Kapellmeister's
position in the court at Cothen. In order to prevent him taking up
the post, the Duke had Bach arrested and imprisoned in November
1717. A month later he was discharged and he and his family left
the court in disgrace.
Prince Leopold at Cothen was a far more congenial patron; it
was under his patronage that Bach composed the six
Brandenburg concertos, named after their dedication to
Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, in 1721. The pieces
were described as "concertos for several instruments" and feature
a group of soloists contrasted against the bulk of the orchestra.
Unlike the Concerti grossi of Corelli, the Brandenburg
concertos call for unusual combinations of instruments: the
fifth concerto, for example, has a solo group consisting of flute,
violin, and harpsichord; the second combines trumpet, flute,
violin, and oboe. While at Cothen Bach also wrote prolifically for
the keyboard, including his Italian Concerto and Book 1 of
The well-tempered clavier, consisting of preludes and
fugues in every key.
Bach's wife died in 1720, and the next year he married Anna
Magdalena Wilcke. His position at Cothen soured late in 1721 when
Prince Leopold himself married. The prince's wife did not enjoy
music and disliked Bach's involvement at court. Fortunately in
1722 the post of Kantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig became
vacant. It was initially offered to Telemann, and then to Johann
Graupner, but neither was released by his current employer. Bach
was eventually invited to accept the position and in 1723 moved to
Leipzig, where he-was to remain the rest of his life.
Bach approached the new task with enthusiasm. His duties at the
school included teaching music and other subjects to the 50 or 60
pupils, and writing a cantata for Sunday services and church
feasts. The wealth of singers and instrumentalists at the school
allowed Bach to compose works on a grand scale: one such piece was
the St Matthew Passion. This huge work is a setting of the
Gospel text for soloists, a double choir, and 40 players and was
first performed in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig on Good Friday
1727 or 1729. It combines chorales (hymn settings) with choruses
and arias, all woven together by a narrator, the Evangelist, who
sings the Gospel text to a simple organ accompaniment. Together
with the St John Passion, first heard in 1724, the work
represents the pinnacle of devotional music up to that time.
In a letter to the diplomat Georg Erdmann in 1730, however,
Bach voiced his great dissatisfaction with the remuneration and irksome
duties of his employment and expressed the desire for another
opportunity elsewhere. He tried for a post at Dresden, submitting
the Gloria and Kyrie from his then unfinished Mass in В minor,
but was not successful. His teaching workload grew enormously
and council records register his frequent absence from some duties
- presumably because he was teaching or composing at home.
Bach entered on a new phase of composition with the Goldberg
variations, published in 1741, which was commissioned by the
insomniac Count Heyserling for his harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb
Goldberg, to play to him during his sleepless nights. Bach
followed this with two works that reflected his increasing
preoccupation with the fugue — the Musical offering, and
the Art of fugue, which remained unfinished at his death.
Towards the end of his life Bach was troubled with cataracts,
which made work increasingly difficult. Two operations failed to
cure the problem, and in the last few months of his life Bach was
practically blind. In the summer of 1750, weakened by the
operations, he died of a stroke, leaving his fellow musicians to
mourn one of the greatest composers of the time.