Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) circa 1725, at the age of 15
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) circa 1725, at the age of 15


On July 14, 1708, the newly appointed court organist Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and his wife Maria Barbara Bach (1684-1720) arrived in the Thuringian (central German) city of Weimar from Bach’s previous post in the Thuringian city of Mühlhausen.  The young couple moved into an apartment in a house owned by another employee of the court, Adam Immanuel Weldig, who was master of the pages and a falsettist (a non-surgical male soprano) in the chorus of the court chapel.  (Coincidentally, this same Adam Weldig was an alum of the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, where Bach would be the master of music for the last 27 years of his life, from 1723 to 1750).

Whatever else its amenities, Weldig’s house had location in spades.  It was located at number 5 Markt, on Weimar’s Markplatz (market square), which had been the city’s most important public space since around 1300.  From there, it was just a five-minute walk to the Ducal palace (the Wilhelmsburg), where both Bach and Weldig worked.  It was at the Weldig house that Bach’s first child, Catharina Dorothea, was born on December 29, 1708, and where his second child – Wilhelm Friedemann – was born on November 22, 1710.

As the first son of a professional musician, there was never any question as to what Friedemann was going to “be” when he grew up.  And as the first son of Sebastian Bach, there was no doubt that Friedemann Bach was going to receive a music education pretty much second to none.  Such an education was, we might say, a family tradition.  Friedemann Bach’s great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather, various great-uncles and three uncles, cousins, and three of his brothers were all high-end professional musicians.  Growing up, he was surrounded by his father’s musical colleagues, students, and apprentices.  There was no aspect of music that wasn’t part of Friedemann’s everyday life, from maintaining and tuning instruments, to preparing materials for performance (for many years, Friedemann acted as his father’s copyist), to contracting musicians for performances, to say nothing for practicing, performing, teaching, and composing himself.  Growing up in his father’s house, Friedemann Bach was exposed, on a daily basis, to what were the very highest standards of musical performance and composition that existed at the time.  When Sebastian Bach himself was asked why his sons were his greatest pupils, he responded:

“Because they had, from their earliest youth, opportunity in their father’s house to hear good music, and no other.  They were therefore accustomed early, and even before they had received any instruction, to what was most excellent in the art.”

Of course, it was rather more than that.  It was also a matter of genetic predisposition (talent!), a predisposition that was then developed and perfected through constant hard work.…

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