Anyone that knows me knows that my favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach. His 334th birthday was on Thursday and it prompted me to write a quick post about him. He is perhaps one of the greatest sources of inspiration in my life, and yet, I’ve never personally met him, what with his being dead and all. Despite his absence from this world, his spirit is preserved on the page in the form of black lines and dots written on pieces of paper which can be shared via countless musical mediums.
So why care about a dead European white guy who wrote some nice tunes? Here are the Top Five Reasons why J.S. Bach is still relevant today:
- He was a hustler. This guy knew the definition of hard work. When he wasn’t teaching school children or leading rehearsals, he was writing music at a feverish pace, often composing a cantata (20 minute choral/instrumental work) every week without the aid of a Mac and laser printer. When he wasn’t playing and leading music in church for hours on a Sunday, he acted as a consultant to other churches who were investing in new pipe organs. After the day was done, he went home and clearly enjoyed some time with Mrs. Bach because he had 20 children over the course of his life. Needless to say, he didn’t waste time.
- His music is incredibly diverse. Bach wrote for choir, organ, keyboard, various solo instruments, small and large instrumental ensembles and even helped expand the instrumental capabilities of the time. His music shifted over the course of his lifetime to encompass every form with the exception of opera. His early work sounds medieval and his late work sounds like something from the 20th century. He did it all.
- He was a hothead. Bach got in numerous disputes over the course of his life. He’s perhaps most famous for calling a bassoonist a “nanny goat” and when confronted later by said bassoonist in the streets, drew his dagger as an altercation ensued. He frequently fought with his employers and didn’t like to be told what to do. Quite a spicy fellow.
- He was a genius. Old Johann had quite the mind. The mathematical balance in his music has been appreciated and studied for centuries as the benchmark for composition. His ability to think quickly also helped him improvise complex music on the spot with no preparation at all. He once scared away a competing organist before an improvisation contest began with his harmonic prowess.
- His is the Alpha and Omega of harmony. Beethoven famously called Bach “the eternal god of harmony”. Listening to any of his works will make this immediately apparent. His music doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather unfolds like a conversation; each voice lending itself to another. Whether a solo instrument, or a large group, the harmony and richness of Bach’s music always shines through.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about the Man and the Myth. I’ll leave you with one of his most famous works for keyboard. Enjoy!