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First page of Bach's Nekrolog, p. 158 in Mizler's Musikalische Bibliothek, Volume IV Part 1 (1754). In English the full title reads: "(Chapter) VI: Memorial of three deceased members of the Society of Musical Sciences; (section) C: The third and last one is the in organ-playing Worldfamous High Esteemed Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Royal-Polish and Prince-electoral Saxonian court composer, and music director in Leipzig."

Nekrolog is the name with which Johann Sebastian Bach's obituary, which appeared four years after the composer's death, is usually indicated.



The "Nekrolog" appeared in Lorenz Christoph Mizler's Musikalische Bibliothek, a series of publications appearing from 1736 to 1754, reporting on and criticising music. As such it was the organ of Mizler's Musical Society, of which Bach had been a member from 1747. Bach's "Nekrolog" appeared in its last installment, Volume 4, Part 1 in 1754, as the third of three obituaries of former members of the Musical Society. Although no author is indicated in the article, its authors are known to be Carl Philipp Emanuel, Bach's son, and Johann Friedrich Agricola, one of Bach's students.[1][2][3]


The "Nekrolog" contains basic data about Bach's family and where he lived, lists compositions, and elaborates a few scenes, notably the young Bach secretly copying a score owned by his eldest brother, the story about a musical competition which Bach "won" by his competitor fleeing the town, and the visit to Frederick the Great in Sanssouci in the later years of his life. The last pages of the "Nekrolog" contain verse in memory of the composer.

Ancestors and musicians in the Bach familyEdit

The "Nekrolog" sets out with tracing some of Bach's forefathers, listing previous composers of the Bach family, and elaborating on their work (pp. 158–160).

Eisenach – Ohrdruf – LüneburgEdit

Follows a description of Bach's early youth in Eisenach, the stay with his eldest brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf after their parent's death, and the period he was a student and chorister in Lüneburg (pp. 160–162).

More than a page is devoted to the episode of the secret copying of his brother's manuscript (pp. 160–161). According to the "Nekrolog" Bach went to Lüneburg after his brother's death, however later research pointed out Johann Christoph lived at least another 20 years.


Next Bach is followed through his first positions as a musician (pp. 162–166). Again there is an anecdote that is elaborated over more than one page: the failed competition with Louis Marchand in Dresden, while the latter had left the town in the early morning of the day when the competition was scheduled (pp. 163–165).


The description of Bach's last position as Thomascantor is relatively short, with most attention going to his visit to Potsdam in 1747, and the composer's death in 1750 (pp. 166–167).

Lists of worksEdit

Follows a list of the compositions printed during the composer's life, which however omits the cantata(s) printed in Mühlhausen and Songs and arias printed in Schemelli's Gesangbuch (pp. 167–168). The list of unpublished works that follows is all but detailed (pp. 168–169), and seems to exaggerate in numbers and/or indicates that a great number of Bach compositions went lost.

Marriages and childrenEdit

The next paragraphs are devoted to Bach's two marriages, and his children (pp. 169–170).

Significance as composerEdit

The narrative of the "Nekrolog" ends with a sketch of Bach as a musician, and his significance as a composer, with, in its last paragraph, a few sentences on the composer's character (pp. 170–173).


As an epilogue to the "Nekrolog" pp. 173–176 contain poetry in remembrance of Bach.


The "Nekrolog" played a determining role for the biographies of the composer that were written after it. In the introduction to his normative 18th-century biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, Philipp Spitta names the "Nekrolog" as one of a very few earlier biographies he trusts.[4] Even in the 20th century Bach biographers name the "Nekrolog" as a direct source for their work.[5]

An English translation of the "Nekrolog" is included in The New Bach Reader.[6]


  1. ^ Lorenz Christoph Mizler, editor. Musikalische Bibliothek [de], Volume IV Part 1. Leipzig, Mizlerischer Bücherverlag, 1754.
  2. ^ Forkel/Terry 1920, p. xiv
  3. ^ Philipp Spitta. Johann Sebastian Bach. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel. 1921. I, p. VI
  4. ^ Spitta 1899, I, p. v
  5. ^ Cherbuliez 1946, p. 13
  6. ^ Hans T. David [de], Arthur Mendel and Christoph Wolff. The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 9780393319569


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