Johann Nicolaus Forkel
Ueber Johann Sebastian Bachs
Leben, Kunst und Kunstwerke
(Leipzig: Hoffmeister und Khnel, 1802)
When Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, he was respected as a brilliant organist and a highly competent but rather old-fashioned composer. Few people could have imagined, however, that a quarter of a millennium later he would be renowned as one of the greatest geniuses in the entire history of music. In the decades following his death, Bach’s music was performed infrequently, although a few admirers (such as his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the Austrian nobleman Gottfried van Swieten) kept the flame alive. The 19th century saw an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Bach’s life and music, a revival heralded by the publication of Johann Nicolaus Forkel’s path-breaking biography in 1802.Because he was able to draw on the recollections of people who knew Bach—most notably his sons Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel—Forkel’s biography is a primary source in its own right as well as a compilation of documentary evidence. Like many subsequent music historians, he was motivated by both an aesthetic admiration for the music and a patriotic pride in what he considered a priceless national heritage that no other country could match.