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Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Sketch of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (22 November 1710 – 1 July 1784), the second child and eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach, was a German composer and performer. Despite his acknowledged genius as an organist, improviser and composer, his income and employment were unstable and he died in poverty.


  • Biography 1
  • Film 2
  • Works list 3
  • Use by later composers 4
  • Media 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Wilhelm Friedemann (hereafter Friedemann) was born in Merseburg to learn the violin with his teacher Johann Gottlieb Graun.

In addition to his musical training, Friedemann received formal schooling beginning in Weimar. When J.S. Bach took the post of Cantor of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (in 1723), he enrolled Friedemann in the associated Thomasschule. (J.S. Bach—who had himself been orphaned at the age of 10—said that he took the position in Leipzig partly because of the educational opportunities it afforded his children). On graduating in 1729, Friedemann enrolled as a law student in Leipzig University, a renowned institution at the time, but later moved on to study law and mathematics at the University of Halle. He maintained a lifelong interest in mathematics, and continued to study it privately during his first job in Dresden.[1]

Friedemann was appointed in 1733 to the position of organist of the Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, the keyboardist whose name is erroneously enshrined in the popular nickname given to J. S. Bach's 1742 publication, “Aria with Diverse Variations”—that is, “The Goldberg Variations.” The scholar Peter Williams has discredited the story which links the work to Goldberg stating that J. S. Bach wrote the work for the Russian Ambassador Count Hermann Carl von Keyserlingk, who would ask his employee, Goldberg, to play variations for him to ward off insomnia. Williams instead has argued that J.S. Bach wrote the variations to provide a display piece for Friedemann.[2]

In 1746 Friedemann became organist of the Seven Years' War. To raise cash for these payments, she sold part of her property in 1770. The couple produced two sons and a daughter, Friederica Sophia (born in 1757), who was the only one of their offspring to live past infancy. The descendents of Friederica Sophia eventually migrated to Oklahoma.[3]

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, oil on canvas by Friedrich Georg Weitsch c.1760

Friedemann was deeply unhappy in Halle almost from the beginning of his tenure. In 1749 he was involved in a conflict with the Cantor of the Liebfrauenkirche, Gottfried Mittag, who had misappropriated funds that were due to Friedemann. In 1750 the church authorities reprimanded Friedemann for overstaying a leave of absence (he was in Leipzig settling his father's estate). In 1753 he made his first documented attempt to find another post, and thereafter made several others. All these attempts failed. Bach had at least two pupils, Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Johann Samuel Petri.

In 1762, he negotiated for the post of Kapellmeister to the court of Darmstadt; although he protracted the negotiations for reasons that are opaque to historians and did not actively take the post, he nevertheless was appointed Hofkapellmeister of Hessen-Darmstadt, a title he used in the dedication of his Harpsichord Concerto in E minor.

In June 1764, Friedemann left the job in Halle without any employment secured elsewhere.[1] His financial situation deteriorated so much that in 1768 he re-applied for his old job in Halle, without success. He thereafter supported himself by teaching; not surprisingly, he died in penury. After leaving Halle in 1770, he lived for several years (1771–1774) in Berlin, where he initially was welcomed by the princess Anna Amalia (the sister of Frederick the Great), but later fell into disgrace under still opaque circumstances. He died in Berlin.

Earlier biographers have concluded that his “wayward” and difficult personality reduced his ability to gain and hold secure employment, but the scholar David Schulenberg writes (in the Oxford Composer Companion: J.S. Bach, ed. Malcolm Boyd, 1999) that “he may also have been affected by changing social conditions that made it difficult for a self-possessed virtuoso to succeed in a church- or court-related position” (p. 39). Schulenberg adds, “he was evidently less willing than most younger contemporaries to compose fashionable, readily accessible music”.

Friedemann Bach was renowned for his improvisatory skills. It is speculated that when in Leipzig his father's accomplishments set so high a bar that he focused on improvisation rather than composition. Evidence adduced for this speculation includes the fact that his compositional output increased in Dresden and Halle.

Friedemann’s compositions include many church cantatas and instrumental works, of which the most notable are the fugues, polonaises and fantasias for clavier, and the duets for two flutes. He incorporated more elements of the contrapuntal style learned from his father than any of his three composer brothers, but his use of the style has an individualistic and improvisatory edge which endeared his work to musicians of the late 19th century, when there was something of a revival of his reputation.

Friedemann's students included Itzig Levy, the daughter of a prominent Jewish family in Berlin and great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn; it was she who gave Mendelssohn the manuscript of the St. Matthew Passion, which she had received from Friedemann. Some of his scores were collected by Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch and his pupil Carl Friedrich Zelter, the teacher of Felix Mendelssohn and through them these materials were placed in the library of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, which Fasch founded in 1791 and of which Zelter took charge in 1800.

Friedemann is known occasionally to have claimed credit for music written by his father, but this was in keeping with common musical practices in the era.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is not to be confused with Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Bach, his nephew, also a composer. Friedemann himself may have been one of the models for Diderot's philosophical dialogue Rameau's Nephew (Le Neveu de Rameau).


Friedemann Bach is a 1941 German historical drama film directed by Traugott Müller and starring Gustav Gründgens, Leny Marenbach and Johannes Riemann. The film depicts the life of Johann Sebastian Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. It is based on Albert Emil Brachvogel's novel Friedemann Bach. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is shown as a gifted son trying to escape his father's shadow.

Works list

"BR" denotes "Bach-Repertorium"; "F." denotes "Falck catalogue number".

Keyboard works

BR A1 \ Keyboard Sonata in C major (F 200)
BR A2 \ Keyboard Sonata in C major (F 1)
BR A3 \ Keyboard Sonata in C major (F 2)
BR A4 \ Keyboard Sonata in D major (F 3)
BR A5 \ Keyboard Sonata in D major (F 4)
BR A6 \ Sonata for 2 harpsichord in D major (F 11) (lost)
BR A7 \ Keyboard Sonata in E flat major (F 5)
BR A8 \ Keyboard Sonata in E flat major (F 201)
BR A9 \ Keyboard Sonata in E minor (F 204) (lost)
BR A10 \ Keyboard Sonata in F major (F 202)
BR A11 \ Keyboard Sonata in F major (F 6)
BR A12 \ Sonata for 2 harpsichords in F major (F 10)
BR A13 \ Concerto for harpsichord solo in G major (F 40)
BR A14 \ Keyboard Sonata in G major (F 7)
BR A15 \ Keyboard Sonata in A major (F 8)
BR A16 \ Keyboard Sonata in B flat major (F 9)
BR A17 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in C major (F 14)
BR A18 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in C minor (F 15)
BR A19 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in C minor (F 16)
BR A20 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in D major (F 17)
BR A21 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in D minor (F 18)
BR A22 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in D minor (F 19)
BR A23 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in E minor (F 20)
BR A24 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in E minor (F 21)
BR A25 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in G major (F 22)
BR A26 \ Fantasia for harpsichord in A minor (F 23)
BR A 27-38 \ Twelve Polonaises (F 12)
BR A39 \ Harpsichord Suite in G minor (F 24)
BR A 40-41 \ 2 German Dances for harpsichord in G minor (F 205)
BR A 42-43 \ 2 Menuets for harpsichord
BR A 44-47 \ 4 Preludes for harpsichord (F 206)
BR A 48-49 \ 2 pieces for harpsichord (F 25)
BR A50 \ Menuetto for harpsichord in F major (F 208)
BR A51 \ L'imitation de la chasse for harpsichord in C major (F 26)
BR A52 \ La Reveille for harpsichord in C major (F 27)
BR A53 \ Gigue for harpsichord in G major (F 28)
BR A54 \ Prelude for harpsichord in C minor (F 29)
BR A55 \ Scherzo for harpsichord in D minor
BR A56 \ March for harpsichord in E flat major (F 30)
BR A57 \ March for harpsichord in F major
BR A58 \ Polonaise for keyboard in C major (F 13)
BR A59 \ Ouverture for harpsichord in E major
BR A60 \ Andante for harpsichord in E minor (F 209)
BR A61 \ Allegro non troppo for harpsichord in G major (F 203) (lost)
BR A62 \ Un poco allegro for harpsichord in C major
BR A 63-80 \ 18 pieces for clock-organ (F 207)
BR A 81-88 \ Eight fugues for harpsichord (F 31)
BR A89 \ Fugue for organ in C minor (F 32)
BR A90 \ Fugue for organ in F major (F 33)
BR A91 \ Fugue (triple) for organ in F major (F 36)
BR A92 \ Fugue for organ in G minor (F 37)
BR A 93-99 \ 7 Chorale preludes for organ (F 38)
BR A100 \ Trio on "Allein Gott in der Höh dei Ehr" for organ (F 38) (lost)
BR A101-104 \ 4 Chorale preludes for organ (lost)
BWV 534 \ Prelude and Fugue in F minor (once attr. to J.S.Bach)

Chamber music

BR B 1 \ Flute Duetto in E minor (F 54)
BR B 2 \ Flute Duetto in E flat major (F 55)
BR B 3 \ Flute Duetto in E flat major (F 56)
BR B 4 \ Flute Duetto in F major (F 57)
BR B 5 \ Flute Duetto in F minor (F 58)
BR B 6 \ Flute Duetto in G major (F 59)
BR B 7 \ Viola Duetto in C major (F 60)
BR B 8 \ Viola Duetto in G major (F 61)
BR B 9 \ Viola Duetto in G minor (F 62)
BR B10 \ Flute Sonata in F major (F 51) (lost)
BR B11 \ Flute Sonata in A minor (F 52) (lost)
BR B12 \ Flute Sonata in D major (F 53) (lost)
BR B13 \ Trio Sonata in D major (F 47)
BR B14 \ Trio Sonata in D major (F 48)
BR B15 \ Trio Sonata in A minor (F 49)
BR B16 \ Trio Sonata in B flat major (F 50)
BR B17 \ Sonata for flute, violin and continuo in F major

Orchestral works

BR C1 \ Symphony in C major (F 63)
BR C2 \ Symphony in F major (F 67)
BR C3 \ Symphony in G major (F 68) (lost)
BR C4 \ Symphony in G major (F 69) (lost)
BR C5 \ Symphony in B flat major (F 71) (lost)
BR C6 \ Symphony in A major (F 70) (fragment)
BR C7 \ Symphony in D minor (F 65)
BR C8 \ Symphony in D major (F 64)
BR C9 \ Harpsichord Concerto in D major (F 41)
BR C10 \ Harpsichord Concerto in E flat major (F 42)
BR C11 \ Concerto for 2 harpsichords in E flat major (F 46)
BR C12 \ Harpsichord Concerto in E minor (F 43)
BR C13 \ Harpsichord Concerto in F major (F 44)
BR C14 \ Harpsichord Concerto in A minor (F 45)
BR C15 \ Concerto for flute in D major
Concerto for harpsichord and winds in F minor

Liturgical works

BR E1 \ Mass in G minor (F 100)
BR E2 \ Missa in D minor (F 98)
BR E3 \ Heilig ist Gott in D major (F 78a)
BR E4 \ Agnus Dei in D minor
BR E5 \ Amen (F 99)
BR E6 \ Halleluja (F 99)
BR E7 \ Lobet Gott, unsern Herrn in D major (F 78b)

Sacred cantatas

BR F 1 \ Lasset uns ablegen die Werke der Finsternis (F 80)
BR F 2 \ O Wunder ! wer kann dieses fassen? (F 92)
BR F 3 \ Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissest (F 93)
BR F 4 \ Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe (F 250)
BR F 5 \ Der Herr zu deiner Rechten (F 73)
BR F 6 \ Wir sind Gottes Werk (F 74)
BR F 7 \ Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (F 82)
BR F 8 \ Cantata for Palm Sunday (lost)
BR F 9 \ Erzittert und fallet (F 83)
BR F 10 \ Auf, Christen, posaunt
BR F 11 \ Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen (F 75)
BR F 12 \ Wo geht die Lebensreise hin? (F 91)
BR F 13 \ Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten (F 72)
BR F 14 \ Dies ist der Tag (F 85)
BR F 15 \ Ertönt, ihr seligen Völker (F 88)
BR F 16 \ Ach, daß du den Himmel zerrissest
BR F 17 \ Es ist eine Stimme eines Predigers in der Wüste (F 89)
BR F 18 \ Der Herr wird mit Gerechtigkeit (F 81)
BR F 19 \ Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein (F 96)
BR F 20 \ Introduzzione delle predicazione del Catechismo (F 76)
BR F 21 \ Wie ruhig ist doch meine Seele (F 77) (lost)
BR F 22 \ Der Höchste erhöret das Flehen der Armen (F 86)
BR F 23 \ Verhängnis, dein Wüten entkräftet die Armen (F 87)
BR F 24 \ Auf, Christen, posaunt (F 95)
BR F 25 \ Dienet dem Herrn mit Freuden (F 84)

Manuscript copy of Der Trost gehöret

BR F 26 \ Der Trost gehöret nur für Kinder

BR F 27 \ Zerbrecht, zerreist, ihr schnöden Banden (F 94)
BR F 28 \ Laß dein Wehen in mir spielen
BR F 29 \ Gnade finden (F 79) (fragment)

Secular cantata and opera

BR G1 \ O Himmel, schöne (F 90)
BR G2 \ Lausus und Lydie (F 106) (lost)


BR H1 \ Cantilena nuptiarum consolatoria (F 97)

Miscellaneous works

BR I1 \ Canons and Studies for organ (F 39)
BR I2–5 \ 4 Triple Canons for organ (F 212)
BR I6 \ Fugal exposition for organ in C major (F 35)
BR I7 \ Fugue exposition on B-A-C-H for organ (F 210)
BR I8 \ Abhandlung vom harmonischen Dreiklang (lost)

Other works in Falck catalogue

F 34 \ Fugue for organ in B flat major
F 211 \ 3 Fugues for organ
Fnv8 \ Keyboard Sonata in A minor

Use by later composers


Performed by Sylvia Kind on a harpsichord of the type made in the early 20th century

Performed by
Salzburg Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra
Yoon K. Lee (Conductor)
Courtesy of NAXOS

Problems playing these files? See .


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ Williams, Peter (2001). Bach: The Goldberg Variations. Cambridge University Press.  
  3. ^ Wolff, Christoph "Descendants of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in the United States", Bach Perspectives: Volume 5: Bach in America Stephen A. Crist, ed. (University of Illinois Press, 2003)


  • The New Grove Dictionary served as a source for revision.
  • Schulenberg, David: entry on Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in The Oxford Composer Companion: J.S.Bach (ed. Malcolm Boyd, 1999: ISBN 978-0-19-866208-2)
  • The harpsichord concertos of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach
  • Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann, Complete Encyclopaedia of Music

Further reading

  • Borysenko, Elena. The Cantatas of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Thesis (Ph.D.) Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, 1981. In 2 volumes. ("Vol. II ... consists primarily of selected movements from the cantatas of W.F. Bach, followed by translations of the texts of these movements and a critical commentary.")
  • Falck, Martin. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach; Sein Leben und seine Werke, mit thematischem Verzeichnis seiner Kompositionen und zwei Bildern. Leipzig: C. F. Kahnt, 1919.
  • Helm, Eugene. "Wilhelm Friedemann Bach", in Christoph Wolff et al., The New Grove Bach Family. NY: Norton, 1983 (ISBN 0-393-30088-9), pp. 238–50.
  • Kahmann, Ulrich. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Der unterschätzte Sohn. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2010.
  • WF Bach - the neglected son Biography, major works and recommended recordings. Gramophone, April 2010
  • Schulenberg, David. The Music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2010.
  • Daniel Hensel: Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Epigone oder Originalgenie, verquere Erscheinung oder großer Komponist?; Stuttgart: ibidem, April 2011, ISBN 978-3-8382-0178-8

External links

  • Free scores by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach at the International Music Score Library Project
  • major, arranged for two pianosConcertos, harpsichords (2), orchestra, F. 46, E (from the Sibley Music Library Digital Score Collection)
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