For some of us, Bach is just another name we come across alongside Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, and many others. These classical musicians are sometimes overlooked as figures of the past that we just don’t listen to today anymore.
However, did you know that without these people, we probably wouldn’t have the music we enjoy today? Additionally, these are some of the most talented people to ever walk the Earth, and learning about them should significantly expand your knowledge of music.
For instance, Bach possesses a mastery of a wide range of instruments that made him the music legend he is today. That’s what we’re here to talk about.
Who is Bach?
Before we dive deep into the list of instruments Bach played, let’s first learn some basic information about him.
Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685, in Germany. He came from a family of remarkable musicians and is one of the best composers of the Baroque era and of all time.
Since childhood, Bach experimented and expertized in various instruments, almost being able to play all musical instruments known to man.
What Instruments Did Bach Play?
With a life as eventful as Bach’s, it’s no wonder that he became one of the most celebrated composers and artists in the music industry. His legacy, however, would not be possible without his ability to play numerous musical instruments.
Violin and Harpsichord
Johann Sebastian Bach was the youngest son of Johann Ambrosius Bach and Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. Ambrosius, as well as most members of the Bach family, is a string player. Learning the violin and harpsichord from his father is perhaps where Johann began his musical journey.
At around 1692 or 1693, Johann Sebastian attended the Georgenkirchie, where his brother Johann Christoph was an organist.
Christoph was actually a student of another musical legend, Johann Pachelbel. Christoph passed on his learnings to his brother, and this is believed as Johann Sebastian’s first lessons on the clavichord.
Johann Sebastian soon landed a spot in a choir of poor boys at Lüneberg. He stayed there and was able to hear a large collection of church music.
This includes the works of Georg Böhm, an organist at Johanniskirche. He then visited Hamburg to hear another organist named Johann Adam Reinken.
By the time he went back to Lüneberg in the summer of 1702, he was already an astounding organist. All of his encounters with the organ strayed him away from the secular string music of his family.
In 1717, Bach moved to Köthen as a musical director. Being appointed at such a significant post allowed Bach to widen his musical knowledge and get his hands on different instruments.
He produced a few sonatas and some of which include his expertise in the clavier.
It was also through these sonatas and his post as a musical director that Bach further enhanced his skills in playing the cello.
In fact, Bach went on to produce a compilation of unaccompanied cello compositions called theCello Suitesor the BWV 1007-1012.
In theBrandenburg Concertosand a fewcantatashe composed while still working as a musical director, Bach played the viola.
This is perhaps because of how much he wanted, per his own words, to be “in the middle of the harmony.”
While there have been numerous accounts of Bach playing all sorts of instruments, including the trumpet, it is perhaps in 1721 that he had further encounters with it.
When his wife, Maria Barbara Bach, died in July of 1720, he married Anna Magdalena Wilcken in December of 1721. Anna was the daughter of a Weissenfels trumpeter.
This, in addition to his father being a court trumpeter, is proof that Bach is surrounded by trumpeters and has a wide knowledge of it as well.
In fact, he even has multiple compositions that include the trumpet.
Aside from all of the instruments above, it is believed that Bach also knows how to play numerous other instruments. It is only because of his works and eyewitness accounts that we mainly focused on these instruments.
However, at the time of his death, Bach’s estate is found to have five harpsichords, three violins, two lute-harpsichords, two cellos, a spinet, a lute, and a viola da gamba.
While it’s possible that Bach’s family of musicians is responsible for the number of musical instruments he owned, it’s still not a secret that he has a wide knowledge of these.
Additionally, his proficiency in music composition is a testament to his knowledge of the instruments. This means that he also knows how to play the horn, bassoon, recorder, flute, lute, and the oboe family.
What is Bach’s Favorite Instrument?
Despite the long list of all the instruments Bach can play, just like us, he has a favorite. You will often hear a lot of musicians arguing that Bach’s favorite instrument is the cello, or the violin, or the viola, or the organ.
However, it was actually something you may not see or hear today. Bach’s favorite instrument is called thelautenwerck.You will see two of these in the list of instruments he owned at the time of his death, but it goes by a different name; the lute-harpsichord.
Unfortunately, no lautenwerck was able to survive past the 19th century. All of the lautenwercks you will see today are reconstructions made by forensic musicologists through years of research of what they look and sound like.
Lautenwercks are almost identical to harpsichords, except that the strings are made out of sheep guts. This significantly reduces the metal and brassy sound of a traditional harpsichord and gives the lautenwerck an intimate and warm tone.
The lautenwerck is an integral part of Bach’s works and musical journey, along with the organ and the harpsichord. In fact, Bach specifically wrote numerous compositions for the lautenwerck.
However, because of the absence of the instrument in today’s time, most of these compositions are mainly played on the harpsichord.
Other Interesting Facts About Bach
As if the numerous instruments above are not enough to impress you, there are actually a lot of things that make Bach’s life very interesting.
He Has More Than 1,100 Compositions
In total, Bach has produced more than 1,100 compositions ranging from cantatas, sonatas, suites, and liturgical pieces. His first composition was produced when he was 23 years old. This means that since then, he has composed no less than 26 pieces per year or two pieces per month.
He Walked a 280-Mile Music Pilgrimage
Yes, you read that right. He WALKED 280 miles for music. When he was 20 years old, he walked from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the works of Dieterich Buxtehude. What’s more confounding is that he walked the same distance back home.
He stayed in Lübeck for four months, studying music and hoping to succeed Buxtehude as St. Mary’s Church’s organist. However, one condition to do so is to marry Buxtehude’s daughter. Bach didn’t want to, so he walked another 280 miles to get back home.
He Loved Coffee So Much He Wrote a Song About It
“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht”which literally translates to “Be still, stop chattering,” is a song about a woman who is so obsessed with coffee that her father prohibited her from drinking it.
His Composition Reached Outer Space… Literally
NASA, in an attempt to provide extraterrestrial life forms with brief information about the Earth, placedtwo phonograph recordson the Voyager spacecraft. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is included in one of the phonographs.
Bach is not only a great singer but is also a multi-instrumentalist ever since he was a child. He is one of the most celebrated composers we know today, and a lot of the music we now enjoy would not have been present without his works.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.