By 1695, his parents were dead, and the young Johann Sebastian went to live with his older brother, Johann Cristoph, an organist taught by composer Johann Pachelbel. It’s likely that his brother gave Johann Sebastian his first formal music lessons. With a strong performance in school and a good singing voice, Johann Sebastian earned a place in a “poor boys” choir in 1700.
By 1702, Bach had become a fairly accomplished organist, gaining experience that directed him away from the string-playing history of his immediate family. He was appointed organist for the New Church in Arnstadt, Germany, around August 1703.
The young Bach’s music had a powerful German influence, but he was also exposed to Italian music, particularly the work of Antonio Vivaldi. His style evolved to embrace both the German and Italian backgrounds.
A devoted Lutheran, Bach created several religious pieces while he worked for the church. He wrote more than 200 cantatas since (filling a requirement of one a week), five masses, three oratorios and other compositions. He also wrote The St. Matthew Passion, which has been called “one of western music’s sublime masterpieces.”
In 1749, Bach’s eyesight was failing, and a traveling English surgeon tried to fix the problem. Unfortunately, the procedure left the composer completely blind. Even with this handicap, and in deteriorating health, Bach continued to compose by dictating his work to a pupil. He died from a stroke in 1750, leaving behind a legacy of hundreds of beautiful musical pieces. Some say his organ music is “still regarded as the pinnacle of the repertoire” hundreds of years later. His most notable final works include “Musical Offering,” created for Frederick the Great, and the unfinished “Art of the Fugue.”
Of his impact on music, The BBC's Grove Concise Dictionary of Music writes, “Bach's output embraces practically every musical genre of his time except for the dramatic ones of opera and oratorio (his three ‘oratorios’ being oratorios only in a special sense). He opened up new dimensions in virtually every department of creative work to which he turned, in format, musical quality and technical demands.”