Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
The youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, he was born in Leipzig, Germany when his father was 50 years old. One of the most notable of Bach’s children, J.C. Bach (or John Bach, as he would be called in London) branched away from his father’s highly contrapuntal music, instead forging a very clean and melody-oriented musical style that would serve as one of Mozart’s primary musical inspirations.
When his father died in 1750, Johann Christian Bach went to Berlin to study with his older brother, the notable Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (C.P.E. Bach), who helped further his keyboard & composition skills. J.C. Bach began performing keyboard compositions publicly in Berlin to acclaim, thus beginning a long career as a successful performer-composer.
After living and studying with his brother through 1754, he traveled to study in Italy and soon gained a patron. After converting to Catholicism, he was appointed as one of two organists at the Milan Cathedral, and the security of a church organist position seemed in his future. Instead, J.C. Bach started writing Italian operas, and his second opera, Catone in Utica, became an instant hit, having no less than six revivals throughout Italy in the first three years after its premiere.
Soon J.C. Bach received opera commissions from both London and Vienna, and went to London to write for the King’s Theatre. While he initially intended only to stay in London for a one-year “leave of absence” from Milan, it ended up becoming the place J.C. Bach would spend the rest of his life. While in London, his operas garnered wide praise, and he was commissioned by the King’s Theatre many more times and enjoyed the Queen’s personal patronage.
He soon teamed up with an old friend from childhood, the viola de gamba player and composer Carl Friedrich Abel, to put on a public series of concerts together. These 10-15 same-time-every-week events, featuring a variety of performances of both composers’ works performed by ensembles and the composers themselves, grew so popular that they eventually a larger venue was needed. The Bach-Abel concerts, as they were known, became the basic template for the classical concert series most performing arts organizations use today.
When the eight-year old Mozart toured London, he came to admire J.C. Bach’s charming, effortless music and his relatively independent lifestyle. The two formed a warm friendship and improvised together at times. The music of J.C. Bach became an important early influence for Mozart as he developed his own personal musical style.
Towards the end of his life, J.C. Bach’s music fell more and more out of fashion in London, and his concert series dwindled in popularity. A kind and giving man, he still appeared in benefit concerts throughout London for no fee, as he had for much of his life. After a former housekeeper ran away with much of his fortune, he died in debt, but the Queen helped his widow pay immediate dues and allowed her to return to her native Italy. J.C. Bach’s death was largely unnoticed by the London public, and he was mourned mostly by his close friends and Mozart. A prolific composer, he left over 90 symphonies, many operas & keyboard works, and most importantly – considering his family – a body of work that was uniquely his own.