Johann Christian Bach (1735 -1782)
Symphonies Op. 18, Nos.1- 6
Symphony in E flat major for double orchestra, Op. 18,No.1
Symphony in B flat major, Op. 18, No.2
Symphony in D major for double orchestra, Op. 18. No.3
Symphony in D major, Op. 18, No.4
Symphony in E major for double orchestra, Op. 18, No.5
Symphony in D major, Op. 18, No.6
Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of JohannSebastian, was born in 1735 in Leipzig, where his father had served as Thomaskantorsince 1723. By the time of his birth his two eldest brothers, born to Johann Sebastian'sfirst wife, had left home. Wilhelm Friedemann was employed as organist at the Sophienkirchein Dresden and Carl Philipp Emanuel was at the University of Frankfurt-am-Oder.
The fourth surviving son of Johann Sebastian's first marriage, Johann GottfriedBernhard had secured a position as organist at Muhlhausen, where his father hadonce served. Three surviving older children of the second marriage were athome, including the feeble-minded Gottfried Heimrich and the three-year-old JohannChristoph Friedrich. Johann Christian was taught by his father and perhaps byhis cousin Johann Elias, who had come to live with the family. By the time ofhis father's death in 1750 he was the last of the sons to remain at home,Johann Christoph Friedrich having recently found appointment as an organist at Buckeburg.
Johann Christian now moved to Berlin, where hishalf-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel was now harpsichordist to King Frederick theGreat. Here he was able to undertake further study with his brother and it was duringthe following three years in Berlin that he wrote his first keyboard concertosand a choral ode for the King's birthday, among other compositions. In 1754 heseized the opportunity to travel to Italy, where introductions enabled him toenter the service of Count Agostino Litta, a member of one of the leadingfamilies in Milan. His patron encouraged him to turn his attention to churchmusic and there followed a period of study with Padre Martini in Bologna. By1757 he had become a Catholic and in 1760 was appointed organist at MilanCathedral, although now he had turned his attention as a composer moreparticularly to secular forms. His first opera, Artaserse was written in1760 for the Teatro Regio in Turin and the following year his setting ofanother Metastasio libretto, Catone in Utica, was given at the San Carlotheatre in Naples, where his Alessandro nell'lndie was staged early in1762.
Offers had now come from Venice and from London forBach's services, while Naples still hoped for further operas from him. Takingleave from his duties at the Cathedral, to which he had recently givenrelatively little attention, Bach travelled to London for the 1762-3 operaseason, arranging a series of pasticcios before the mounting of his own Orioneat the King's Theatre in February 1763, followed in May by Zanaida.
Later the same year he finally resigned his position in Milan and now settledin London, where he enjoyed the favour of Queen Charlotte, whose music-masterhe became, sharing lodgings with the viola da gamba player Carl Friedrich Abel,whose father had served with Johann Sebastian Bach at the court in Weimar .WithAbel Bach established a series of subscription concerts that continued untilhis death. At the same time he enjoyed a reputation as a composer of Italianopera, notably for the King's Theatre. It was in London that the young Mozartmet Bach, shared improvisation with him on one recorded occasion and fell underhis lasting influence as a composer.
A commission for an opera at Mannheim took Bach there in1772 and this was followed by further commissions. In 1778 he responded to a commissionfor an opera from the Academie Royale de Musique in Paris, where he again metMozart. Meanwhile his popularity and fortunes in London had declined. Thesubscription concerts, which had involved a considerable investment, wereproving unprofitable and there was less demand for his work in the opera-house.
He still enjoyed considerable respect, but, in addition to the demands ofimportunate tradesmen which he could not meet, he suffered from thedepredations of a dishonest housekeeper. His health suffered and he died on 1stJanuary 1782, leaving very considerable debts. His widow, the singer Cecilia Grassi,whom he had married in 1773, was helped to return to Italy by Queen Charlotte, whowas able to assist with funeral expenses, although Bach's debts could never befully met.
The six symphonies that form Opus 18, described as SixGrand Overtures, include three, Nos. 1, 3 and 5, for double orchestra, thefirst consisting of pairs of oboes and horns, bassoon and strings and thesecond of two flutes and strings, while the others use the full orchestra, withclarinets, bassoons, trumpets and timpani. Symphony Opus 18, No.2 is theoverture to the opera Lucio Silla, written for Mannheim in 1774. Thethird is the overture to Endimione, a serenata given at the King'sTheatre in 1772 and the sixth is based in part on the overture to the Parisopera Amadis de Gaule, first given in Paris in 1779 with indifferentsuccess in the presence of Queen Marie Antoinette. The three double orchestrasymphonies reflect the style and abilities of Mannheim players and explore thepossibilities of contrast between the two instrumental groups, while the secondsymphony, the overture to Lucio Sillar represents Bach's ability as aninstrumental composer at its height, all in all a judgement that might beextended to the Opus 18 set of works as a whole.