Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

German organist and composer (Weimar, 1710 – Berlin, 1784)

The eldest son of Johann-Sebastian Bach, he was nicknamed the "Halle Bach" to distinguish him from his father. He was considered as the pioneer of the clavier sonata.

Wilhelm Friedemann’s musical training was essentially taught by his father, who wrote many works for him, including the first volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier.

After some years spent in Dresden ,where he composed works mainly for instrumental music (symphonies, concertos, pieces for keyboard), his time in Halle allowed him to dive into the religious corpus (cantatas). He refused a position in Darmstadt and chose to live as an independent musician selling his works, which wasn't very common at that time. He made a living thanks to teaching classes and by performing organ recitals. Hist first recitals quickly became quite popular; however, he vanished pretty soon from the music scene and died in poverty.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was a talented composer and his music was marked by influences from the baroque and rococo styles. The brand-new nature of a music made of contrapuntal science and harmonic intuitions was what made him original, prefacing Beethoven and even Debussy. Some of his vocal polyphonies clearly anticipated Schoenberg. The first development of the sonata and concerto for modern piano was only possible thanks to Wilhelm, however, the majority of his works were never published and his manuscripts are unknown.

Five landmark dates in the life of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

1733: Organist in Dresden

1746: Cantor in Notre Dame de Halle and “Director musices” of the city

1762: Refused the post of choirmaster in Darmstadt

1770: Left Halle and stays in Brunswick

1774: Settled permanently in Berlin

Four key works by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Missa in D minor

• 1735: fugues, polonaises and fantasias for clavier

• 1740: Trio sonata No. 3 

• 1778: 8 fugues for clavier, dedicated to princess Anna Amalia of Prussia