Music Johann Christian Bach
Paul Corneilson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0286


Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685–d. 1750), was one of the originators of the Classical style, an important composer and concert organizer in London. Born in Leipzig on 5 September 1735, J. C. Bach began his musical training under his father and mother, Anna Magdalena (b. 1701– d. 1760), and continued his studies in Berlin with his half-brother, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (b. 1714–d. 1788), after his father died in July 1750. In 1755, J. C. Bach went to Italy, studied with Padre Martini in Bologna, converted to the Roman Catholic faith, and eventually was appointed organist at the Milan Cathedral, where he composed much Latin church music. After receiving commissions for an opera in Turin (Artaserse in 1760) and two operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples (Catone in Utica and Alessandro nell’Indie in 1761–1762), J. C. Bach was called to London, where he served as music director at the King’s Theater in 1762–1763 (writing two operas that season, Orione and Zanaida), and he became Music Master to Queen Charlotte. With Carl Friedrich Abel, Bach organized a series of concerts at various locations in London. He continued to write operas and one oratorio for London, plus two operas for Mannheim (Temistocle in 1772 and Lucio Silla in 1775) and one for Paris (Amadis de Gaule in 1779). His keyboard and instrumental music was widely published, and he was admired by the young Mozart, who met him during his visit to London in 1764. J. C. Bach was the most cosmopolitan composer of his family; he maintained a long correspondence with Martini, and his portrait was painted by Thomas Gainsborough for Martini’s extensive collection.

General Overviews

Although much information about J. C. Bach’s life and works is available, and relatively little of his music is lost, only a handful of biographies of the composer have appeared. The first was written by Max Schwarz and published as his PhD dissertation at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in 1901 (a condensed version was published the same year in Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft 2:401–454). The first and still most important biography in English is Terry 1967 (originally published in 1929). Another biography, originally written in German, is Gärtner 1994, but Roe and Wolff 2001 is more accessible and up to date. Finally, Heartz 2003 is also well worth reading for an in-depth account of his life and work in London.

  • Gärtner, Heinz. Johann Christian Bach: Mozart’s Friend and Mentor. Translated by Reinhard G. Pauly. Portland, OR: Amadeus, 1994.

    This book is a very readable biography of the composer, emphasizing Bach’s influence on Mozart. However, it is not always accurate and the author does not always distinguish speculation from fact. Originally published as Johann Christian Bach: Mozarts Freund und Lehrmeister (Munich: Nymphenburger, 1989).

  • Heartz, Daniel. “Christian Bach in London.” In Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720–1780. By Daniel Heartz, 883–929. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.

    Heartz designated Christian Bach one of the three “apostles”—along with Paisiello and Boccherini—of the galant style. His survey is not a complete biography (e.g., his operas for Mannheim are treated elsewhere in the book), but it gives a substantial overview of the composer’s career in Italy and London. Reprinted in J. C. Bach, edited by Paul Corneilson (London: Routledge, 2016), pp. 3–49.

  • Roe, Stephen, and Christoph Wolff. “Bach, Johann (John) Christian.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Roe, who has called for a new biography of J. C. Bach (see Stephen Roe, “J. C. Bach, 1735–1782: Towards a New Biography,” Musical Times 123.1667 (1982): 23–26), has provided a short biography along with a worklist, taking into account some newly discovered sources. Roe is currently preparing a catalogue raisonné of Bach’s surviving autograph scores, letters, documents, and ephemera.

  • Terry, Charles Sanford. John Christian Bach. 2d ed. Foreword and corrigenda by H. C. Robbins Landon. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

    Originally published in 1929. Almost a hundred years old, this biography is still the most complete account of J. C. Bach’s life and music, featuring translations of many letters to Martini and a fairly complete worklist (though now superseded by Warburton 1999a and Warburton 1999b [both cited under Reference Works).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.