SUBJECTS — Biography; Music/Classical; World/Germany;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Talent; Friendship; Father/Son;


AGE6 – 12; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1995; 53 minutes; Color. Available from

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Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the giants of classical music, worked at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Sachsen-Weimer. The relationship was troubled. The Duke and his musical advisors wanted only the traditional hymns, while Bach wanted to be free to compose new kinds of music.

“Bach’s Fight For Freedom” shows this conflict. It interests young viewers by adding a fictional child who has a similar problem. Frederick, a young servant of the Duke, is sent to spy on Bach. The men in young Frederick’s family have been personal servants to the Duke’s family for generations. Frederick’s father requires the young boy to train for the same job, but Frederick dreams of becoming a stone mason. Bach and Frederick live with a common question: can their dreams be fulfilled?


Selected Awards: This film is a part of the Composers’ Specials. The series received the 1996 CableACE Award for Best Children’s Series and was a Gemini Award Winner (Canada’s Emmy) for Best Youth Program or Series. The series also received the American Library Association’s Recommendation to all public schools and libraries in 1996. “Bach’s Fight for Freedom” itself won the Oppenheim Golden Seal Award for Best Children’s Videos and the KIDS FIRST Award for Best Children’s Video from The Coalition for Quality Children’s Video.

Featured Actors: Ted Dykstra, Kyle Labine, Ian D. Clark.

Director: Stuart Gillard


The film provides an introduction to the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is based on a real incident in which Duke Wilhelm imprisoned Bach for four weeks when the composer sought to resign and join the household of the Duke’s relative, Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Kothen.




Tell your kids that Bach worked for dukes who had castles and that they competed for his services. One of them locked him up for four weeks so that he wouldn’t go and work for another aristocrat. Bach’s music was considered newfangled and out of step with the traditional hymns favored by some of his employers. The character of the child is fictional.


The Bach family produced more than 50 prominent musicians over seven generations. In parts of Germany the word Bach was synonymous with the word musician. The most important member of this family was Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) who himself had 20 children, seven with his first wife and 13 with his second. Bach was recognized as the greatest organist of his time.

Bach was a prolific composer, bringing to full development musical forms such as the cantata, the passion, the concerto, the orchestral suite, the fugue, the chorale and the fantasia. He infused these forms with delightful counterpoint, rich texture, and beautiful melodies. At the beginning of his career, Bach’s compositions were criticized by church officials for departing from traditional music. Toward the end of his life, Bach’s compositions were considered old-fashioned by the public and for 80 years after his death Bach’s work was generally ignored. (Two notable exceptions were Mozart and Beethoven, both of whom recognized Bach’s genius.) Interest in Bach’s work revived in the middle of the 19th century with a performance arranged by another renowned composer, Felix Mendelssohn.

Bach is considered to be the master of counterpoint, a musical technique that weaves several different melody lines into one another, contrasting, complimenting and harmonizing them.

Bach was very studious and a hard worker. He became blind at the end of this life. According to the legend, this was because, as a young man, he spent many hours studying by dim candlelight.

In the 18th century, great musicians were kept on retainer by great nobles. There was often competition among the nobles over who would be able to keep the best musicians. See also: Amadeus.



The society portrayed in this film was different than ours in several respects. Can you describe some of the differences and at least one striking similarity?

Suggested Response:

There is no one right answer to this question. Some differences are that musicians made their living on the staff of local rulers, while in today’s society they make their living by selling songs. The local rulers were not restrained by laws. They could do what they wanted. Men generally maintained the same profession as their fathers, and their fathers before them. One striking similarity, was that the older generation disapproved of the younger generation’s taste in music.

1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

2. What did Bach and Frederick have in common?

3. Do you know any people who, like Bach, had a spirit that could not be imprisoned?

4. When Bach was attempting to leave the Duke’s castle with his manuscripts, he was accused of stealing. What was Bach’s response? Do you agree or disagree with him?

5. The character of the Kappelmeister is what is called a “sycophant.” What does that word mean and what is wrong with the advice given by such a person?



1. Should Bach have been treated differently than others because he had a great talent?

2. In Bach’s society, how did his special talent in music benefit him?


3. Toward the end of the movie, the hammering of the masons didn’t bother Bach. Why was this?

4. What was the basis of the friendship between Bach and Frederick?

5. Must friends always be of similar ages?


6. Frederick’s father changed over the course of the film. What was the change?

7. Was it risky for Frederick to defended Bach in front of the Duke? Was it risky for his father to support his son?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

1. What did Bach do for Frederick that showed that he cared about him?

2. What did Frederick do for Bach that showed that he cared about him?

(For additional questions, see the “Friendship” section above.)


Bach and his World, by Neumann is a brief and abundantly illustrated biography of Bach suitable for 11 – 12-year-old children.

Last updated December 9, 2009.

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