Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, renowned organist, improviser and compositor
Date of Birth: 22.11.1710
Country: Germany

  1. Early Life and Career
  2. Rise to Prominence
  3. Decline and Struggles
  4. Musical Contributions
  5. Contribution to Bach's Biography

Early Life and Career

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, also known as the "Halle Bach," was the eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was a renowned organist, improviser, and composer, particularly skilled in counterpoint. Unlike his other musical family members, Wilhelm Friedemann was a person of little activity, and his career can be seen as a series of missed opportunities. He was born in Weimar and received his education at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig.

Rise to Prominence

In 1733, Wilhelm Friedemann was appointed as the organist of St. Sophia's Church in Dresden. Later, in 1746, he became the organist of Liebfrauenkirche in Halle. His father's fame and influence were sufficient to secure him the latter position without the traditional audition.

Decline and Struggles

With the death of his father in 1750, Wilhelm Friedemann's life in Halle ceased to be a happy one. He occasionally left the city in search of other employment opportunities. In 1762, he was offered the position of Kapellmeister at the court of Darmstadt, but for unclear reasons, he rejected the offer. Two years later, in 1764, he resigned from his position in Halle, and from then on, Wilhelm Friedemann remained unemployed (at least formally) until the end of his life. He wandered around the world and died on July 1, 1784, in Berlin, in deep poverty.

Musical Contributions

Among his compositions, only a small part has been published. These include numerous church cantatas and instrumental works, with fugues, polonaises, and fantasies for keyboard being the most well-known. He also composed a sextet for strings, clarinet, and horns. Some of his manuscripts are preserved in the Berlin Library.

Contribution to Bach's Biography

Wilhelm Friedemann, along with his brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, provided significant information to the first biographer of Bach, Johann Nikolaus Forkel. Forkel used this information in his biography of Johann Sebastian, published in 1802. However, unlike his brother, Wilhelm Friedemann was a very poor custodian of his father's manuscripts, many of which he inherited. Not only did many of Johann Sebastian's manuscripts disappear under his care, but Wilhelm also altered some of them to pass off his father's works as his own. For example, the organ concerto BWV 596 was mistakenly attributed to Wilhelm Friedemann for a long time due to his markings on Johann Sebastian's manuscript.