Prince Johann Ernst

Concerto in C         Prince Johann Ernst of Weimar (1696-1715, arr. J.S.Bach)

"God of Grace and God of Glory"


In 1703 a 17-year-old Bach was ready to make his own way in the world. He already had quite a reputation as an organist, but he needed a ‘temp job’ to feed himself until an organ post became available. So he took a job as a violinist in the orchestra of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar. In those days court musicians were nothing more than servants; they lived and ate in servant’s quarters, were paid servant’s wages, came and went by the servant’s door, and often performed behind a screen. In not too many months an organ post presented itself, and Bach was outta there.

As life would have it, the same court in Weimar hired Bach again five years later in 1708, but this time as court organist and general purpose musician. The situation at that time was strange, however, in that there were actually TWO courts at Weimar – one for reigning Duke Wilhelm, and another for his younger brother Johann. Whereas in his former gig at Weimar Bach had worked for the younger Duke Johann, this time he was working for the older Duke Wilhelm. And while the Duke Wilhelm was very religious and a lover of good music, he also had no children and was paranoid about his heir and brother Johann: the reigning duke would not countenance social intercourse between any of his employees and the court of his brother. Duke Wilhelm hated his brother so much, in fact, that when the brother lay dying (the year before Bach returned to Weimar) Wilhelm refused to visit him. But Bach had been a friend of the brother’s and when he returned to Weimar he immediately agreed to teach the brother’s youngest son. The relationship between his court organist and the family of his dead brother vexed Duke Wilhelm and eventually caused trouble for Bach.

So Bach gave music lessons to Prince Johann — son of the hated Duke Johann. Prince Johann had no small aptitude for music — as you can hear from this morning’s prelude which was composed by him. But the prince died young, age 19 (apparently from an infection that turned septic), seven years into Bach’s nine year tenure at Weimar.

Two years later Duke Wilhelm promoted a clearly less competent person over Bach as Kappelmeister at Weimar (the top musician job) so Bach started seeking employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, in those days working for a Duke was considered a lifetime commitment. Bach persisted, to the point that Duke Wilhelm put Bach in jail for a month: "On November 6, [1717], the former concertmaster and organist Bach was confined to the County Judge’s place of detention for too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal and finally on December 2 was freed from arrest with notice of his unfavorable discharge." Jailed and fired!

Upon his release however, Bach was snatched up by Prince Leopold of Cöthen, and the rest is history.