In his elder years as a Thomas cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote down many little stories and biographical data about the Bach family. In the 1730s, when his sons began their own careers as musicians, he began to examine his family history. He wrote down 53 short biographies about ancestors and relatives in his “Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie” (origins of the musical Bach family). Most likely at the same time, the “Old Bachian Archive” with the much-loved cantatas and motets that were composed by his ancestors was sent from Arnstadt to Leipzig.
The roots of the musical Bach family are in Wechmar. According to Johann Sebastian Bach’s research, his great-great-grandfather Veit Bach (died 1619 in Wechmar) must have been the progenitor of the family. He was a baker, who, as a Lutheran, had left his homeland of “Hungary” for religious reasons. Veit Bach took his cittern (an early mandolin) with him to the flour mill and would play it in time with the clattering millstones: “It must have sounded quite pretty”, Johann Sebastian surmises, “and this was also the beginning of music for his successors.”
Bach researchers still argue about the exact ancestry of the “Weißbäcker” (white baker) Veit Bach. Neither the origin, nor the exact birth-and-death dates, nor the number of sons fathered by the musically gifted master baker can be dependably proven. His birthplace is suspected to be in the northern region of what was then Hungary, now part of Slovakia, in which the capital city of Pressburg (Bratislava) lie. But it is even more interesting to question what made Veit Bach flee to Wechmar in Thuringia. Church registers offer some answers, because some time before Veit Bach arrived, the surname Bach can be found in the region.
Around 1554, a “Hans Bach” was mentioned in Wechmar. Was he perhaps a predecessor or even the father of Veit Bach? According to this theory, Veit Bach could have left Wechmar in younger years only to return later. The tangled and repeatedly newly spun threads of the family tree can only be sorted out as of the second or third generation after Veit Bach. Beginning with this era, it becomes exciting in a musical sense, because this is when the first compositions emerged. Johannes (died 1626), one of Veit Bach’s sons, was initially a baker and later became a city piper in Gotha. He had three sons, who were all born in Wechmar: Johann (the first Bach composer, council musician and founder of the Erfurt line), Heinrich (organist and founder of the Arnstadt line), and Christoph (Johann Sebastian Bach’s grandfather, who fathered the gifted twin brothers Johann Ambrosius and Johann Christoph).