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Episode 1

Bach spent just six years in service at the court of Cothen. It wasn't even a prestigious posting, in fact the ruling prince's ineptitude with matters political meant it barely figured on the map. But for the greatest composer alive it was just the ticket, a chance to explore fresh musical ground, and open himself up to new styles of music-making.

Not that it was all plain sailing. He might have loved the break from church music (gone was the grind of the Lutheran liturgy) but while away from court he suffered the greatest tragedy of his life, the death of his first wife. It was a hammer blow of course, but also turned out to be inspirational. Bach naturally turned to the needs of his many children, and it was while putting together teaching materials for them that he stumbled on some of his greatest musical ideas. New love came his way too, the talented singer Anna Magdalena, who became indispensable as copyist, musical collaborator, and cornerstone of his rapidly expanding family.

But for all the support of his employer, Bach did suffer a persistent case of itchy feet in Cothen. First in Hamburg, then in Leipzig, he found himself navigating appointment processes which would trump the bureaucracy of even the most convoluted public processes today. Eventually he got an offer he couldn't refuse, but only after composing some of the most accomplished music of his entire career.

In the first programme, after years of putting up with the petty feuding of his previous employers Bach arrives in the tranquil environment of his new posting. Donald Macleod explores his first months in the job, under the admiring gaze of a cultured and sympathetic royal boss who proves to be everything Bach could ask for.

1 hour

Last on

Mon 20 Dec 2010 22:00

Composers A to Z

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