Johann Christian Bach
• 1735 — 1782
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Johann Christian Bach had more fame in his lifetime than his father, the illustrious Johann Sebastian Bach, ever enjoyed. One of the leading composers of the Classical era, he is no longer eclipsed entirely by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, who presumably gave the boy solid musical instruction but died when Johann Christian was 15. He was sent to Berlin to live and study with his well-established half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Johann Christian gained a desire to write opera, and at the age of 19, he disregarded his brother's advice and set off for Italy. After some time writing church music, he was commissioned to write an opera to Metastasio's libretto Artaserse in 1760. It was the first in a string of three successful operas, which resulted in a call from London to write operas for the new king's theater. His first London effort, Orione, was produced on February 19, 1763. It won considerable praise and was transformed into a sensation when King George III and Queen Sophie Charlotte returned to see it again the next night.
The 20-year-old queen was German, homesick, and happy to hire a young German as her household musician and teacher for herself and her children. He was also an on-call accompanist for whenever King George decided to play flute. He met the Mozart family when they visited in 1764 and became a strong influence on the talented young Wolfgang.
A new impresario broke the king's theater contract with Bach, who then founded (in 1765) the Bach-Abel concerts with notable composer Carl Friedrich Abel. This became the leading concert series in London, initially held at Carlisle house in Soho Square, but later moving to Almack's Assembly Rooms on King Street. The series ran through 1782 and Bach soon found his operas back in favor. In 1768, Bach made history by becoming the first person to give a solo piano performance in London.
Bach also wrote music for notable political occasions on the Continent as well as in Britain. In the late 1770s, his fortunes declined. His music lost its popularity, and his steward embezzled practically all his wealth. His health declined, and he died in 1782 in considerable debt. Queen Sophie met the immediate expenses of the estate and established a life pension for Bach's widow, Cecilia.