Eisenach Bach Family

Bach Family Favoritism

The two most important musicians of the Eisenach “Bach clan” knew each other as children. The family of the later Eisenach organist Johann Christoph Bach took in and musically educated the cousins Johann Ambrosius (Bach’s father) and Johann Christoph after their father died. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach later wrote about the twin brothers: “They loved each other intensely. They looked so much alike that not even their wives could tell them apart.”

It was even hard to tell them apart as musicians, and they substituted for each other. Both were virtuoso violinists and were members of the Erfurt city council’s music ensemble. While his brother moved to Arnstadt to become a court musician, Johann Ambrosius became the director of the city musicians in Eisenach. This job comprised diverse tasks, from tower music to accompanying worship services and all city and court celebrations. The city chronicle praises the Easter music program that Johann Ambrosius directed “like no other cantor and tower musician before him.”


Although the musical Bach dynasty boasts a confusingly large number of Johann Christophs, the son of Heinrich Bach from Arnstadt is extraordinary in many ways. Many of his presumably numerous works have not been preserved, but his profound motets and cantatas as well as his monumental sacred concertos reveal his deep talent. Johann Christoph Bach was considered to be the “great and expressive composer” within the Bach family. Johann Sebastian Bach, who experienced him as a child when he played the organ at the Georgenkirche and was certainly introduced to the secrets of organ building by him, particularly loved his compositions. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach later reported to the Bach-biographer Forkel that his father performed Johann Christoph’s 22-part masterwork “Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel” during his time in Leipzig. In the process, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the text under every part by hand.

Although Johann Christoph Bach was highly esteemed in Eisenach as an organist, harpsichordist and composer, he was still not financially secure. Not the least because of his debts, he was involved in arguments with the city time and again. However, his appeals were heard, and he received support and the use of several rooms in the so-called “Eisenacher Münze”. The house still exists today. In accordance with the frequently intimate character of the works in the “Altbachisches Archiv”, the amusing cantata “Meine Freundin, du bist schön” was composed by Johann Christoph Bach for the wedding of Johann Ambrosius’ twin brother. It is very likely that Johann Christoph himself played the performance on the harpsichord for the ceremony.