Johann Christian Bach
Johann Christian Bach, 1776
Born(1735-08-05)5 August 1735
Died1 January 1782(1782-01-01) (aged 46)
Site of where J.C. Bach was buried. A modern image.

Johann Christian Bach (September 5, 1735 – January 1, 1782) was a German composer of the Classical era, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach.[1] He received his early musical training from his father, and later from his half-brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Berlin. After his time in Berlin he made his way to Italy to study with famous Padre Martini in Bologna. While in Italy, J.C. Bach was appointed as an organist at the Milan Cathedral. In 1762 he became a composer to the King’s Theatre in London where he wrote a number of successful Italian operas and became known as "The English Bach".[2] He is responsible for the development of the sinfonia concertante form. He became one of the most influential figures of the classical period, influencing compositional styles of prolific musicians like Haydn and Mozart.


Johann Christian Bach was born to Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach in 1735 in Leipzig, Germany. His father, Johann Sebastian Bach, instructed him in his early musical training. After his father's death, he moved to Berlin to pursue his studies with his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach,[3] who was twenty-one years his senior and, at the time, was considered to be the most musically gifted of Bach's sons.

J. C. Bach's memorial,
St Pancras Churchyard, London

In 1754 he moved to Italy[1] to study with Padre Martini in Bologna. He was appointed as an organist at Milan Cathedral in 1760. During his time in Italy, he converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism,[3] supposedly due to political reasons. He devoted most of his time composing church music, including music for a Requiem Mass and a Te Deum[4] and Latin Mass settings.[5] His first major work was a Mass, which received an excellent performance and acclaim in 1757.[4] In 1762, Bach travelled to London to première three operas at the King's Theatre, including Orione on 19 February 1763. In 1764 or 1765, the castrato Giusto Fernando Tenducci, who became a close friend, created the title role in his opera Adriano in Siria at King's.[6]

That established his reputation in England, and he became music master to Queen Charlotte. In 1766, Bach met soprano Cecilia Grassi (1746-1791), who was eleven years his junior, and married her shortly thereafter. They had no offspring. J. C. Bach performed symphonies and concertos at the Hanover Square Rooms. This was London's premier concert venue in the heart of fashionable Mayfair. The surrounding Georgian homes offered a well-to-do clientele for his performances. One of London's primary literary circles, which included Jane Timbury, Robert Gunnell Esq., Lord Beauchamp, and the Duchess of Buccleuch, was acquainted with Bach, and members were regular attendees at his events.

In 1777, he won a landmark case, Bach v Longman, which established that (in English law) copyright law applied to musical scores. Even before then, Bach demanded a proper credibility for his compositions almost at the same time upon his arrival to London in 1762. He was granted an exclusive right to publish his music for 14 years.[7]

By the late 1770s, both his popularity and finances were in decline. By the time of Bach's death on New Year's Day 1782,[8] he had become so indebted (in part due to his steward embezzling his money), that Queen Charlotte stepped in to cover the expenses of the estate and provided a life pension for Bach's widow. He was buried in the graveyard of St. Pancras Old Church, London.


In the fourth volume of Charles Burney's General History of Music there is an account of J. C. Bach's career.[9]

There are two others named Johann Christian Bach in the Bach family tree, but neither was a composer.

In 1764, Bach met with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was aged eight at the time and was in London during the Mozart family grand tour.[10] Bach then spent five months teaching Mozart in composition.[10] Bach is widely regarded as having a strong influence on the young Mozart, with scholars such as Téodor de Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix describing him as "The only true teacher of Mozart".[10] Mozart arranged three sonatas from Bach's Op. 5 into keyboard concertos, and in later life Mozart "often acknowledged the artistic debt he owed" to Johann Christian.[11] Upon hearing of Bach's death in 1782, Mozart commented, "What a loss to the musical world!"[12]

J.C. Bach had an immense influence on Mozart. In fact, Mozart’s partiality to wind instruments in his early symphonies were influenced by Bach. As J.C. Bach believed that wind instruments should be carriers of their own melodic material and not just act as doubled instruments, Mozart followed suit. J.C. Bach’s influence on Mozart was so grand that the theme of the slow movement of Mozart’s Concerto K414 contains a reference to the overture of Bach’s opera, La calamita de cuori.[13]

J.C. Bach is responsible for the development of a distinct Classical musical form known as Sinfonia concertante. This genre emerged s a musical form from the Baroque concerto grosso. Sinfonia concertante influenced many of Bach’s contemporaries, like Mozart and Haydn, and provided a framework for further compositions.[14]

The Bach-Abel concerts were a series of public concerts that eventually gave way to the development of modern day concert series. In collaboration with his friend and German virtuoso viola da gamba player, Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel created these subscription concerts, which were the first of its kind in Europe. These concerts first started at Abel's residence but an increase in popularity led to these concerts being held at larger venues.[15]

These concerts were not only the first of its kind to be a subscription concert but also would feature a program as well. In terms of programming, these concerts would feature new works by Bach and Abel and new contemporary music at the time - these concerts also gave a platform for newer musical artists, such as Haydn, to feature their works on a public stage. Because these concerts required a subscription, they cultivated a regular audience as the audience members prepaid for that season's concert series. Furthermore, the Bach-Abel concerts allowed the middle class greater access to live classical music. Previously, live music performances were limited to private, aristocratic settings; however, these subscription concerts were made available to the wider public, allowing middle class people to engage in the arts and society. The status of the Bach-Abel concerts decreased in popularity and ended due to changing musical tastes and Bach's death.[16]


Main article: List of compositions by Johann Christian Bach

The works of J. C. Bach are given 'W' numbers, from Ernest Warburton's Thematic catalog of his works (New York City: Garland Publishing, 1999). Bach's compositions include eleven operas,[1] as well as chamber music, orchestral music and compositions for keyboard.[3]



  1. ^ a b c Bagnoli, Giorgio (1993). The La Scala Encyclopedia of the Opera. Simon and Schuster. p. 38. ISBN 9780671870423.
  2. ^ Siblin, Eric (2011). The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. Open Road + Grove/Atlantic. p. 234. ISBN 9780802197979.
  3. ^ a b c Johann Christian Bach at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ a b "The Catholic Bach", Cantica Nova Publications
  5. ^ "Bach Cantatas Website".
  6. ^ Baldwin, Olive; Wilson, Thelma (2004). "Tenducci, Giusto Ferdinando". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/67196.(subscription required)
  7. ^ Small, John (1985). "J. C. Bach Goes to Law". The Musical Times. 126 (1711): 526–529. doi:10.2307/964456. ISSN 0027-4666.
  8. ^ Stephenson, Joseph. Johann Christian Bach at AllMusic
  9. ^ Burney, Charles (1789). A General History of Music, Vol. 4. London: Printed for the author. pp. 480–83.
  10. ^ a b c Shore, Rebecca Ann (2002). Baby Teacher: Nurturing Neural Networks From Birth to Age Five. R&L Education. p. 86. ISBN 9781461648079.
  11. ^ Denis Arnold and Basil Smallman, "Bach family", in Oxford Companion to Music, ed. Alison Latham, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 80. ISBN 978-0-19-866212-9
  12. ^ Mersmann, Hans (1972). Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. New York: Dover Publications. p. 194. ISBN 0-486-22859-2.
  13. ^ Warburton, Ernest (1985). "Lucio Silla: By Mozart and J. C. Bach". The Musical Times. 126 (1714): 726–730. doi:10.2307/965196. ISSN 0027-4666.
  14. ^ "Johann Christian Bach: Classical pioneer and mentor to Mozart". Retrieved 3 May 2024.
  15. ^ "La Follia – The Bach-Abel London Concerts with Anton | KMFA 89.5 | Austin's Classical Music Radio Station". Retrieved 25 April 2024.
  16. ^ Hugill, Planet. "Style and elegance: with Bach-Abel Society, Les Ombres take us back to the elegant evenings of the Bach-Abel concerts in London". Retrieved 25 April 2024.

Further reading