The Bach family was of importance in the history of music for nearly two hundred years, with over 50 known musicians and several notable composers, the best-known of whom was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). A family genealogy was drawn up by Johann Sebastian Bach himself in 1735, his 50th year, and completed by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel.
The Bach family never left Thuringia until the sons of Sebastian went into a more modern world. Through all the misery of the peasantry at the period of the Thirty Years’ War this clan maintained its position and produced musicians who, however local their fame, were among the greatest in Europe. So numerous and so eminent were they that in Erfurt musicians were known as “Bachs”, even when there were no longer any members of the family in the town. Sebastian Bach thus inherited the artistic tradition of a united family whose circumstances had deprived them of the distractions of the century of musical fermentation which in the rest of Europe had destroyed polyphonic music.
Ancestors of Johann Sebastian Bach
Four branches of the Bach family were known at the beginning of the 16th century, and a Hans Bach of Wechmar is documented to have been alive in 1561, a village between Gotha and Arnstadt in Thuringia, who is believed to be the father of Veit Bach.
- Veit (Vitus) Bach (c. 1550 – 1619, Wechmar) was, according to Johann Sebastian’s genealogy, “a white-bread baker in Hungary” who had to flee Hungary because he was a Lutheran, settling in Wechmar. He “found the greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill”.
- His son Johannes (Hans) Bach (de) (c. 1580 – 1626) “der Spielmann” (lit. “the player”), was the first professional musician of the family. “At first took up the trade of baker, but having a particular bent for music” he became a piper.
- His second grandson Christoph (1613–1661) was an instrumentalist.
- His first great-grandson Johann Ambrosius was Johann Sebastian Bach’s father.
Others born before 1685
Johann Ambrosius’ uncle, Heinrich of Arnstadt, had two sons: Johann Michael and Johann Christoph, who are among the greatest of J. S. Bach’s forerunners, Johann Christoph being once supposed to be the author of the motet, Ich lasse dich nicht (I will not leave you), formerly ascribed to Sebastian Bach and now confirmed to be his (BWV 159a). Another descendant of Veit Bach, Johann Ludwig, was admired more than any other ancestor by Sebastian, who copied twelve of his church cantatas and sometimes added work of his own to them.
Descendants of Johann Sebastian Bach
- Of the seven children that Johann Sebastian Bach had with his first wife only three survived him. Two of these had musical careers of their own: Wilhelm Friedemann and the aforementioned Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
- After his first wife died, Johann Sebastian Bach then married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, herself a gifted soprano and daughter of the court trumpeter of Prince Saxe-Weissenfels. They had 13 children, of whom Gottfried Heinrich, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian became significant musicians. A further three survived into adulthood: Elisabeth Juliane Friederica (1726–1781) who married Bach’s pupil Johann Christoph Altnikol, Johanna Carolina (1737–1781) and Regina Susanna (1742–1809).
A list of Bach Family member that were musicians and composers can be found HERE.