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Johann Sebastian Bach is a 19th-century biography of Johann Sebastian Bach by Philipp Spitta. The work was published in German in two volumes, in 1873 and 1880 respectively.

The English translation by Clara Bell and J. A. Fuller Maitland, Johann Sebastian Bach: His Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685–1750, was published by Novello & Co in three volumes.


Content and styleEdit

Spitta's Bach biography gives a chronological account. This includes the discussion of Bach's compositions: these are discussed within the chronological account at the time they were composed. Only for the sixth and last part, covering the last decennia of the Leipzig period, some compositions are grouped by type in subsections.

Spitta writes in long paragraphs and very few divisions in subsections. Coming from a Protestant background himself, he is able, like Albert Schweitzer after him, to give insight in the religious context of Bach's time.

Content of Spitta's Johann Sebastian Bach
German edition
(3rd print: Breitkopf & Härtel 1921)
English edition
(Novello & Co 1899)
Vol. pp. Title Vol. pp. Title
1 v–xx Vorwort 1 i-xiv Preface
1 1–175 I. Die Forfahren 1 1–178 I. Bach's Ancestors
177–328 II. Kindheit und Ausbildungsjahre (1685–1707) 179–331 II. The Childhood and Early Years of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685–1707
329–610 III. Erstes Jahrzehnt der Meisterschaft (1707–1717) 333–620 III. The First Ten Years of Bach's "Mastership"
611–784 IV. Cöthen (1717–1723) 2 1–178 IV. Cöthen, 1717–1723
2 1–479 V. Leipziger Jahre von 1723–1734 179–648 V. Leipzig, 1723–1734
481–763 VI. Die letzte Lebensperiode (1734–1750) 3 1–278 VI. The Final Period of Bach's Life and Work
1 787–846 Anhang A. Kritische Ausführungen 1 621–656 Appendix (A, to Vol. I)
2 649–721 Appendix (A, to Vol. II)
2 767–846 Anhang A. Kritische Ausführungen
3 279–295 Appendix (A, to Vol. III)
Additional material
1 847–855 Anhang B. Mittheilungen aus den Quellen und Ergänzungen 3 296–360 Appendix B
2 847–978 Anhang B. Mittheilungen aus den Quellen
Errata Translator's Postscript
1 856 Berichtigungen 1 xv–xvi Translator's Postscript
2 979-995 Nachträge und Berichtigungen
2 996–1014 Namen- und Sachregister 3 407–419 Index
Musical supplement
1 5 pp. Musikbeilagen 3 363–405 Musical Supplement
2 20 pp. Musikbeilagen

Significance for Bach studiesEdit

Spitta's biography went down in history as "... the most ... comprehensive and important single work on Johann Sebastian Bach".[1] For over a hundred years after its publication biographers rarely revisited primary sources, they just took the facts from Spitta's work. Only by the late 20th century criticisms about Spitta's accuracy and interpretation were raised.[2]


  1. ^ Spitta 1992 Vol. I, p. xix
  2. ^ Eidam 1999/2001, Introduction


  • Klaus Eidam [de]. Das wahre Leben des Johann Sebastian Bach. Piper, 1999. ISBN 3492040799
  • Philipp Spitta. Johann Sebastian Bach.

Further readingEdit