Bach, the name of a family of musicians, the most illustrious member of which was Johann Sebastian Bach, who is rightly counted among the greatest musicians which the world has ever seen. The founder of the family was Veit Bach, a baker and miller, who left his native land, Hungary, in 1550, to escape from the persecution of the Turks, who were then masters of the soil. He had two sons, who displayed great talent for music, in fact the love for the art was the distinguishing characteristic of the whole family, so that for two centuries, through six generations, no less than sixty members of the family became eminent in the art. The name of Bach and music were at one time and in one place synonymous. At Erfurt, where one branch of the family settled, the town musicians were called "Bachs," whether they bore that name or not.
Veit's eldest son followed his father's trade, his second son became a carpet maker. Their leisure hours were devoted to music, and in course of time, as the family increased and became scattered, they kept up their connection by a yearly meeting, either at Arnstadt, Erfurt, or Eisenach, where they spent the day in exchanging experiences, and making music.
Johann Sebastian Bach was the youngest son of Johann Ambrosius by his first wife, Elisabeth Lommerhirt. He was born at Eisenach, on the 21st March, 1685, and died on the 28th July, 1750. He lost his parents before he had completed his tenth year, and his musical education, begun by his father, was continued by his brother, Johann Christoph, who was his senior by fourteen years, and who held the post of organist at Ohrdruf, one of the most beautiful of the Thuringian valleys. Here he remained five years, and excited the jealousy of his brother by the remarkable progress he made in music. A book of organ studies which the boy desired to possess was locked up in a latticed bookcase, but young Bach, by rolling it up, managed to draw the precious volume forth, and copied the whole by the light of the moon during several months, only to have his labour taken from him when it was completed. It was restored to him after his brother's death a few months later. In 1700 he went to Luneburg to sing in the choir, and to pursue his musical studies at the School of St. Michael's. He often journeyed to Hamburg to hear Reinken, the most famous organist of his time, and to learn by hearing. When he removed to Weimar as violinist, and afterwards to Lubeck, he once walked 250 miles to hear Buxtehude the organist. Although pinched by poverty, he had earned a great reputation as an organist himself, and had many offers from different churches. He selected Muhlhausen, and settled there for a time, and married the daughter of Michael Bach, his cousin. He found Weimar a more suitable place, and he took up his residence there. On one occasion he travelled to Dresden for a "musical tournament" with Marchand, a French artist. He defeated the Parisian, and a second trial was arranged, but Marchand at the last moment failed to appear. Bach accepted the post of chef d'orchestre to the Duke of Cothen, and upon the death of Kuhnau was appointed musical director and choirmaster or cantor of St. Thomas's School of Leipzig, and here he remained until his death. Bach married his second wife, Anne Magdalene, the daughter of Wulkens, one of the Court musicians. His last days were embittered by the loss of sight. His compositions are full of ingenuity and power, and are in many styles, but he is chiefly pre-eminent for his wonderful mastery of the fugal form as well as for his strict conformity to law. He improved the art of playing upon keyed instruments, and taught the possibility of playing in all keys.
His sons by his first wife, Wilhelm Friedemann, also called the "Halle" Bach, a musician of great genius, was the father's favourite; but Philip Emanuel, the second son, the Berlin Bach, musician to Frederick the Great of Prussia, was his greatest comfort. His other sons, Johann Christoph, the "Buckeburg Bach;" Johann Christian, known as the "English Bach," all from the places in which they settled, continued the genius of the family. The last descendant, William Bach, son of the "Buckeburg Bach," died in Berlin in 1845, at the age of ninety, and with him ended the current of genius which had flowed with varying strength in one family for a period of nearly three hundred years in an uninterrupted line.