Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: The Wayward Bach, His Wayward Daughter, and the Bachs of Oklahoma

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) circa 1760, oil on canvas by Wilhelm Weitsch
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) circa 1760, oil on canvas by Wilhelm Weitsch

We mark the death on August 1, 1784 – 238 years ago today – of the German composer and organist Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in Berlin at the age of 73.  Born in the central German city of Weimar on November 22, 1710, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, who from here on we will refer to as Friedemann Bach, was the second child and first son of Johann Sebastian Bach (who from this point forward we will refer to as Sebastian Bach).

Friedemann Bach was a gifted musician, the equal (in my opinion) to his more famous brothers Carl Philip Emanual and Johann Christian Bach.  But unlike his brothers, Friedemann harbored personal demons that poisoned his relationships with others and led to his financial ruin later in his life.  We’ll discuss these issues in detail in tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post, as well as the singular disaster Friedemann’s poverty eventually wrought, when he chose to the sell off so many of his father’s precious musical manuscripts, which were then lost for all time.

For the remainder of this post, we’re going to shift our focus to Friedemann Bach’s only surviving child, his daughter Friederica Sophia, who was born in the Saxon city of Halle (today in central Germany) on February 27, 1757.

On the Move

On May 29, 1746, Friedemann Bach took up the position of organist at the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle.  On February 25, 1751, the 40-year-old Bach married Dorothea Elisabeth Georgi (1725–1791).  Though the couple eventually had three children, only one survived her infancy.  Her name was Friederica Sophia Bach.

After unsuccessfully trying to find a new job for many years, Friedemann walked off his job in Halle in 1771, with no new prospects of employment.  After kicking around Germany for three years, the family settled in Berlin in 1774, where Friedemann lived in increasing poverty and abject bitterness until his death on August 1, 1784, 238 years ago today.…

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