Five things you probably didn’t know about J. S. Bach

When Bach was a  hungry young man with no money to buy food at an inn, someone tossed two herrings’ heads to him. That seemed like a good deal, but not as good as the Danish ducats in each one, which enabled him to purchase a really good meal with some money left over.

One of his students in Arnstadt called him a “dirty dog” and  hit him with a stick. The authorities determined Bach himself was as fault for having earlier called the student a “nanny goat bassoonist.” In response to this rebuke, he took a long and unauthorized leave to go hear Buxtehude.

When J. G. Görner, the organist at Thomaskirche, played a rare wrong chord, Bach flipped his wig–literally. He threw the wig at the unfortunate organist, and yelled that the man should have become a “cobbler rather than an organist.” Görner later became the guardian of Bach’s younger children.

People frequently asked Bach to write some pieces that were easy to play. He was seldom able to comply, but when they complained of its difficulty, he merely told them to practice diligently. After all, both he and they had five healthy fingers on each hand.

Bach’s duties as Leipzig’s cantor included teaching the boys in the choir. He was terrible at keeping discipline. It didn’t help much to keep order when he occasionally expelled a boy from the choir in the middle of a church service.


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