Johann Sebastian Bach
(1685 –1750)

The works of Johann Sebastian Bach have been central to the repertoire of the Canterbury Choral Society since its very first season, when the oratorio was performed on April 19, 1953. This renowned Baroque composer was born into a leading musical family on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia, in what is now Germany.  He was the eighth and youngest child of Johann Ambrosius, and learned to play the organ, and likely the violin, harpsichord and clavichord. His parents died when he was only a boy, and he was raised by his eldest brother Johann Christoph Bach, the organist at at St. Michael's Church in Ohrdruf. Johann Sebastian Bach was influenced by the great composers of his day, including Pachelbel, Frescobaldi, and Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose Te Deum was performed by Canterbury Choral Society earlier this season.

JS Bach was regarded more for his ability as an organist than as a composer during his lifetime, but he was a prolific composer, considered today to be one of the most brilliant and accomplished of all time. This is one of two Passions composed by Bach, the other being the St. John Passion, most recently performed by Canterbury Choral Society on March 9, 2014, and these compositions, along with the Mass in B minor and the Brandenburg Concertos, and hundreds of cantatas, demonstrate his artistry as well as his technical virtuosity.

First performed in 1727, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is a monumental work which captures his brilliancy as a composer. The St. Matthew Passion, based upon Chapters 26 and 27 of the Gospel of Matthew, retells the Easter week story through chorales, arias and narrative all, through a unique voicing of double choir and orchestra. 

At the time of his death, Bach was admired as a virtuosic organist (and adviser on organ building and organ repairs), a sound church musician and a competent - though by no means great - composer. Bach died in the summer of 1750; he never recovered from the painful complications stemming from eye-surgery and a stroke. Bach's children, widow, and many students preserved his musical legacy, but Bach himself would never have any inkling of the future's assessment of his genius.