Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian, was born in 1735 in Leipzig, where his father had served as Thomaskantor since 1723. By the time of his birth his two eldest brothers, born to Johann Sebastian's first wife, had left home. Wilhelm Friedemann was employed as organist at the Sophienkirche in Dresden and Carl Philipp Emanuel was at the University of Frankfurt-am-Oder. The fourth surviving son of Johann Sebastian's first marriage, Johann Gottfried Bernhard had secured a position as organist at Muhlhausen, where his father had once served. Three surviving older children of the second marriage were at home, including the feeble-minded Gottfried Heimrich and the three-year-old Johann Christoph Friedrich. Johann Christian was taught by his father and perhaps by his cousin Johann Elias, who had come to live with the family. By the time of his 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 his half-brother Carl Philipp Emanuel was now harpsichordist to King Frederick the Great. Here he was able to undertake further study with his brother and it was during the following three years in Berlin that he wrote his first keyboard concertos and a choral ode for the King's birthday, among other compositions. In 1754 he seized the opportunity to travel to Italy, where introductions enabled him to enter the service of Count Agostino Litta, a member of one of the leading families in Milan. His patron encouraged him to turn his attention to church music and there followed a period of study with Padre Martini in Bologna. By 1757 he had become a Catholic and in 1760 was appointed organist at Milan Cathedral, although now he had turned his attention as a composer more particularly to secular forms. His first opera, Artaserse was written in 1760 for the Teatro Regio in Turin and the following year his setting of another Metastasio libretto, Catone in Utica, was given at the San Carlo theatre in Naples, where his Alessandro nell'lndie was staged early in 1762.
Offers had now come from Venice and from London for Bach's services, while Naples still hoped for further operas from him. Taking leave from his duties at the Cathedral, to which he had recently given relatively little attention, Bach travelled to London for the 1762-3 opera season, arranging a series of pasticcios before the mounting of his own Orione at 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 settled in London, where he enjoyed the favour of Queen Charlotte, whose music-master he 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 .With Abel Bach established a series of subscription concerts that continued until his death. At the same time he enjoyed a reputation as a composer of Italian opera, notably for the King's Theatre. It was in London that the young Mozart met Bach, shared improvisation with him on one recorded occasion and fell under his lasting influence as a composer.
A commission for an opera at Mannheim took Bach there in 1772 and this was followed by further commissions. In 1778 he responded to a commission for an opera from the Academie Royale de Musique in Paris, where he again met Mozart. Meanwhile his popularity and fortunes in London had declined. The subscription concerts, which had involved a considerable investment, were proving unprofitable and there was less demand for his work in the opera-house. He still enjoyed considerable respect, but, in addition to the demands of importunate tradesmen which he could not meet, he suffered from the depredations of a dishonest housekeeper. His health suffered and he died on 1st January 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, who was able to assist with funeral expenses, although Bach's debts could never be fully met.
The six symphonies that form Opus 18, described as Six Grand Overtures, include three, Nos. 1, 3 and 5, for double orchestra, the first consisting of pairs of oboes and horns, bassoon and strings and the second of two flutes and strings, while the others use the full orchestra, with clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and timpani. Symphony Opus 18, No.2 is the overture to the opera Lucio Silla, written for Mannheim in 1774. The third is the overture to Endimione, a serenata given at the King's Theatre in 1772 and the sixth is based in part on the overture to the Paris opera Amadis de Gaule, first given in Paris in 1779 with indifferent success in the presence of Queen Marie Antoinette. The three double orchestra symphonies reflect the style and abilities of Mannheim players and explore the possibilities of contrast between the two instrumental groups, while the second symphony, the overture to Lucio Sillar represents Bach's ability as an instrumental composer at its height, all in all a judgement that might be extended to the Opus 18 set of works as a whole.
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