By Linda de Vries
On this date in 1723 Sebastian’s eighth child and third daughter was born, Christiana Sophia Henrietta Bach.
This event provides our Bach Bagetelle for this date: The Family of Johann Sebastian Bach
In brief, Sebastian Bach married twice and had seven children with his first wife and thirteen with his second. Ten of his children lived to adulthood and nine were still alive when he died. The number of deaths may seem shocking, but these statistics are actually quite good for the period. In the eighteenth century in London, for example, 75% of children died before the age of five.
Sebastian’s first wife was his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, whom he had “entertained” in the organ loft in Arnstadt, earning a reprimand by the church. They were married in Mühlhausen on October 17, 1707.
They moved to Wiemar in 1708, where and when their first daughter was born. Catharina Dorothea lived to adulthood, never married, and died in 1774 at age 66—one year older than her father at his death.
The Bachs’ first son, Wilhelm Friedmann, was also born at Weimar, on November 22, 1710. He was one of five of Sebastian’s sons who became musicians. Although he was noted both as a composer and for his ability to improvise on the organ, his was not a happy life. He eventually died in poverty in Berlin in 1784. We’ll say a bit about him here, since we shan’t meet him again.
Friedmann’s legacy is mixed, some feeling he was a poor custodian of his father’s manuscripts, many of which he inherited. On the negative side, he sold a significant number of them to raise money to pay his debts. Then, too, his daughter Friederica Sophia immigrated to Oklahoma, where her descendants inadvertently lost or destroyed additional manuscripts. On the positive side, he taught Sarah Itzig Levy in Berlin, who gave Sebastian’s St. Matthew Passion to her nephew Felix Mendelssohn, whose performance of the piece initiated the 19th century Bach Revival. In addition, one of Friedmann’s students, Nikolaus Forkel, published in 1802 the first biography of J.S. Bach. In 1941 Wilhelm Friedmann was the subject of a film titled Friedmann Bach, starring Gustaf Gründgens.
Sebastian and Maria Barbara had four more children in Weimar. A twin boy and girl were born on February 23, 1713, but one died immediately and the other on March 13th.
On March 8, 1714, Carl Philipp Emmanuel was born, the fifth child and second son to become a musician, perhaps the best known musician of Sebastian’s sons. Certainly he was the one closest to his father. We’ll meet him again later in this series.
On May 11, 1715 Johann Gottfried Bernhard was born. He, too, became a musician, but soon gave it up to study law in Jena. He died unexpectedly of mysterious causes at the age of 24.
In 1717 Sebastian and Maria Barbara moved to Cöthen, where their seventh child, Leopold Augustus, was born in 1718. Sadly, he lived only ten months. Equally sadly, Maria Barbara died suddenly while Sebastian was traveling with his employer Prince Leopold and was buried on July 7, 1720. She was only 35 years old.
Sebastian had, however, had met Anna Magdalena Wilcke while traveling, and they were married on December 3, 1721. A noted soprano, she continued to sing professionally after her marriage, but her salary in Cöthen was half that of her husband. She also transcribed many of her husband’s manuscripts. Some recent scholars have suggested that she may have been the actual composer of works attributed to her husband. He dedicated a number of compositions to her, most notably The Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which includes compositions by other composers as well.
She bore Sebastian 13 children, only six of whom lived to adulthood. Her first child, Christiana Sophia Henrietta, whose birthday is noted above, was born in Cöthen, but only survived to age three.
In 1723 the family moved to Leipzig, where they remained until Sebastian’s death in 1750.
Child number nine, Gottfried Heinrich, was born in 1724. He lived until 1763, but was mentally handicapped. Christian Gottlieb (1725) was another who only lived until age three. But Elisabeth Juliana Friederika, born in 1726, lived to marry Christoph Altnikol, a pupil of her father who became a significant figure in the world of music.
Anna Magdalena bore four more children between 1727 and 1731, all of whom died before the age of four. On a happier note, Johann Christoph Friedrich arrived in 1732 and survived until 1795, another successful musician in the family.
Johann August Abraham, born in 1733, lived only one day, but Johann Christian, born in 1735, lived a long and successful life. He moved to England, where he became known as the “London Bach.” We will meet him again later in this series.
Anna Magdalena’s two youngest daughters, both of whom remained unmarried, were Johanna Carolina (1737) and Regina Susanna, born in 1742, when Sebastian was 57 years old.
When Sebastian died in 1750, he left no will, and his modest estate was evenly divided between his wife and his nine surviving children. Anna Magdalena and her two unmarried daughters and step-daughter living with her were evicted from the Cantor’s house by church officials in 1751.
For unknown reasons (some speculate that conflict among the sons had divided the family) none of the children offered monetary aid, and Anna Magdalena spent the last ten years of her life existing on charity. She died in an almshouse on February 27, 1760, and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave at St. John’s Church in Leipzig, where her husband had also been buried. Both graves were forgotten.
On October 22, 1894, however, when the church was being renovated, Sebastian’s remains were discovered. They were taken up and studied extensively. On March 8, 1895 a committee reported to the City Council of Leipzig that the remains were truly those of J.S. Bach. They based their conclusion on the location of the coffin, the fact that it was made of oak, and features of the skull. The results were later published by Wilhelm His in 1895 in a separate paper. The church was bombed during WW II, but before the demolition of the ruins by the Communist City Council in 1950, Bach’s remains were reburied in the crypt beneath the choir of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where they remain. Anna Magdalena’s grave has never been found.