Johann Christoph Bach
• ca1642 — ca1703
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The Bachs were a huge family of several lines with many musicians among them. Of these, Johann Christoph was second in genius and compositional skill only to Johann Sebastian. Johann Sebastian is said to have first become acquainted with the organ through his uncle Johann Christoph. J.S. Bach also studied and performed his works, which were contrapuntally complex, imaginative, and lyrical. He was a fine improviser on the keyboard, and was influenced in his compositional style by Pachelbel. The genres in which he worked include keyboard pieces, organ preludes and fugues, vocal music, and concerti. His church music mixed the older style with the newer. The old German motets consisted of alternations between chordal and imitative sections, and the newer contained livelier lines, concertante writing, and elaborate instrumental writing. His concerted church music was excessively fine, and superior to that of most of his contemporaries, and in his motets we have been left with masterpieces of the form.
We possess only one oratorio by Johann Christoph, which was a relatively new form, about the struggle between Michael the Archangel and the Devil. It is a tone picture of rare quality, full of images of bold power and apocalyptic vision. Scored for two five-part choirs and an orchestra which includes four trumpets, drums, and organ, it is a grand, magnificent, and dramatic composition. After an opening instrumental movement, the basses begin in canon, and the trumpets answer one another in distant military calls. The two choirs sing in angry counterpoint, and the trumpets rage above them in sonorous fury. The huge turmoil of sound continues until a move to the dominant signifies Satan's defeat. There is a choral fugato, a triumphant instrumental sinfonia, followed by another glorious, magnificent choir. After several more numbers, the choirs close in joyous antiphony. The whole is quite dramatic, vigorous, and emotional.
Johann Christoph studied music with his father when young, and was appointed the organist of the chapel in Arnstadt in 1663. In 1665 he was made organist of the Kapelle of the Duke of Eisenach, where Johann Pachelbel was a member. While Johann Christoph was organist at the Duke's Kapelle, Pachelbel was for a time organist of the court, and the two knew and influenced one another. Johann Christoph was also appointed the Duke's court harpsichordist at a later date. Telemann's father-in-law was Kapellmeister for the duke, so the Bachs knew the Telemann family as well.