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Johann Christian Bach


Johann Christian Bach (September 5, 1735 – January 1, 1782) was a composer of the Classical era.

He was the eleventh son of Johann Sebastian Bach, and was born in Leipzig, Germany. His father, and possibly also Johann Elias Bach, trained young Johann Christian in music. It is believed that Book II of Johann Sebastian’s The Well-Tempered Clavier was written and used for Johann Christian’s instruction. Johann Christian served as copyist to his father. On the death of his father in 1750, Johann Christian became the pupil of his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Berlin.

In 1754 he went to Italy where he studied counterpoint under Giovanni Battista Martini, and from 1760 to 1762 held the post of organist at Milan cathedral, for which he wrote two Masses, a Requiem, a Te Deum and other works. Around this time he converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism.

He was the only one of Johann Sebastian’s sons to write opera in Italian, starting with arias inserted into the operas of others, then pasticcios, the Teatro Regio in Turin commissioned him to write Artaserse, an opera seria that was premiered in 1760. This led to more opera commissions, leading to commissions for the King’s Theatre in London, an invitation in 1762 to go there, where he spent the rest of his life. Thus, he is often referred to as the ‘London Bach’. The Milan Cathedral kept his position open, hoping he would return.

For twenty years he was the most popular musician in England. His dramatic works, produced at the King’s theatre, were received with great cordiality. The first of these, Orione, was one of the first few musical works to use clarinets. He was appointed music master to the Queen, and his duties included giving music lessons to her and her children, and accompanying on piano, the King playing flute. His concerts, given in partnership with Abel at the Hanover Square rooms, soon became the most fashionable of public entertainments.

During his first years in London, Bach made friends with a very young but very promising musician, Mozart, who was there as part of the endless tours arranged by his father Leopold for the purpose of displaying him as a child prodigy. Many scholars judge that J. C. Bach was one of the most important influences on Mozart, who learned from him how to produce a brilliant and attractive surface texture in his music. This influence can be seen directly in the opening of Mozart’s piano sonata in B‐flat (KV 315c, the Linz sonata from 1783 – 1784) which very closely resembles that of two sonatas of Bach’s which Mozart would have known; and indirectly in Bach’s attempt in an early sonata (the C minor piano sonata of the opus 5 set) to more effectively combine the galant style of his day with fugal music.

Johann Christian Bach died in London on the first day of 1782. Mozart said in a letter to his father that it was ‘a loss to the musical world’.


Johann Christian Bach
Date of birth
September 5, 1735 – January 1, 1782

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