The Young BACH



An Exploration of J. S. Bach’s Creative Beginnings

and Our Experience of His Music

Program Description
Retreat Leaders
Bach Links

“I have had to work hard: Anyone who works just as hard will get just as far.”   J.S. Bach

So why have there not been more “Bachs” around?  What were the special ingredients that enabled Sebastian to turn himself into “Bach”?

Program Description

Based on the most recent scholarship we will look at the milieu that fostered young Sebastian’s development and the struggle of his early years to promote his artistic expression.  We will see how his beginnings as a composer unfold within a few years into amazing accomplishments that clearly bear the “Bach” signature.

Along the way we will ask how Sebastian acquired the basics of polyphonic composing by absorbing the musical traditions he inherited. We will listen to pieces by composers that Sebastian was exposed to early on as well as those that he used for study.  Peeking over his shoulders we will try to learn how Sebastian mastered fugue writing in his teenage years.  Participating in Sebastian’s autodidactic “apprenticeship” will help us deepen our listening experience of compositions that are otherwise not easily accessible.

Tracing Sebastian’s musical development we will hear a performance of some of his first keyboard compositions - pieces that traditional Bach scholars tended to keep under wraps or branded as inauthentic - as well as compositions that are regarded as early masterworks.  We will pinpoint the breakthrough-features in those compositions which signify that Bach is coming into his own.

Noting that Bach’s life was overshadowed from early on by traumatic events and that he mustered astonishing resilience and unbroken creativity throughout his life, we will explore the possible psychological sources of resilience and creativity in his childhood.

Other topics covered in the retreat:

  • Bach as a young professional – How do certain personality features come to the fore?
  • Questions of authenticity and dating

  • Characteristics of Bach’s early cantatas

  • Criteria for musically differentiating between the “early” and the “mature” Bach 


About the Retreat Leaders


Sara Botwinick MS, MFT, is a psychotherapist and an independent scholar who

has published in the field of trauma studies and conducted workshops for mental health professionals on the impact of trauma and trauma recovery.  A Bach fan since her early teens, she became intrigued with the question of how Bach coped with the traumatic events of  his life and was able to nurture his own creativity.  Most recently, she presented a paper at the 2004 Biennial Meeting of the American Bach Society at Rutgers University New Brunswick.  An extended version of this paper has recently appeared under the title, "From Ohrdruf to Mulhausen:  A Subversive Reading of J. S. Bach's Relationship to Authority" in BACH: Journal of the Riemenschneider Bach Insitutute, Vol XXXV, No.2 (2004).

For more information please email Sara Botwinick at or call her at 215-473-4502.


Dmitry Borisovsky  is a pianist and harpsichordist.  He graduated from the Novosibirsk Academy of Music in 1985.  Dmitry taught piano at the Leningrad Conservatory of Music and is presently on the staff of Nelly Berman School of Music in Haverford, PA.  Since 1988 he has been performing piano duo with his wife, Olga.  Together they appeared in concerts in Russia, Israel, Switzerland, Germany and the United States.  Dmitry "discovered" Bach at age 11 when he found a frayed copy of the French Suites in a second hand book store.  Even though his teacher discouraged him from playing them he doted over them and secretly practiced them.  This experience grew into a lifelong passion for Bach's music.


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