Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach seems to sum up human experience in a way that only the greatest creative geniuses are capable of. His sense of musical architecture and brilliance in working out contrapuntal lines stimulate the mind. But the music appeals equally powerfully to our emotions, and the dance element is never far away. Even if Bach lived before the era of the modern piano, his keyboard music belongs to the most essential repertoire for pianists.
Prelude & Fugue 1 in C Major, BWV 846
If Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is the “Old Testament of piano music”, then this Prelude must be Genesis, chapter 1: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth… Like the first verses of the Bible, it speaks a universal language, characterized by solemn simplicity and soothing repetitiveness.
Goldberg Variations in G Major, BWV 988
The relentlessly intricate architecture of the Goldberg Variations still engages scholars after hundreds of years, while the soothing, noble poetry and formidable technical demands of the piece continue to captivate players and listeners.
Invention 1 in C Major, BWV 772
Composed to develop a singing style of playing, Bach's Inventions are masterful miniatures full of charm and feeling, and a great introduction to contrapuntal music, where different voices imitate and converse with each other.
Invention 4 in D Minor, BWV 775
This invention is a great example of Bach's ability to mix simplicity with sophistication, extracting a beautiful musical creation out of an extremely basic idea.
Minuet in G Major, BWV Anh. 114
In the lives of countless piano students, this little Minuet has represented their first meeting with Bach. But we don't even know if Bach composed it!
Small Prelude in C Major, BWV 939
The most well-known of the "Small Preludes" is an excellent introduction to several aspects of Bach's music: the conversational style, chordal structures and his use of dynamic effects.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750) lost both his parents at a young age and was sent to live with his brother Johann Christoph, where he received his first musical instruction. 18 years old, he was appointed organist in Arnstadt, where the church authorities were confused by his "curious embellishments" of the chorales; their irritation increased when he prolonged by several months the leave granted him to visit Lübeck and attend Buxtehude´s concerts. He then worked for the Duke Wilhelm of Weimar for almost ten years, but as he didn’t get the promotion that he wanted he eventually applied for the post of Kapellmeister to the musically talented Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Duke Wilhelm was not pleased and threw Bach in jail for a month before discharging him.
In Cöthen, Bach completed many instrumental works, including the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Brandenburg Concertos. In 1720, his first wife Maria Barbara died suddenly, leaving Bach with four young children, including Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. The following year he married Anna Magdalena, who was to bear him a further 13, of whom ten died in infancy. When Prince Leopold married, the good times in Cöthen ended, as his wife resented his preoccupation with music. This led Bach to apply for the post of Thomaskantor at Leipzig, where during his first five years Bach completed three annual cycles of cantatas, the St John (1724) and St Matthew (1727) Passions, and many other sacred works. How he was able to stay on this exalted level of creativity for so long remains a mystery, as his resources actually were quite limited: when he set out his minimum requirements for a well-regulated church music, he received in response from the church authorities only a threat to reduce his salary.
During his last years Bach created works of a somewhat abstract and general nature. The B minor Mass is an exemplar of the mastery he had attained in all the main sacred genres, while pieces like the Goldberg Variations and the Variations for organ on Vom Himmel hoch explore canonic writing. The Art of Fugue, a vast compendium of contrapuntal techniques, remained unfinished. Towards the end of his life Bach went blind. A contemporary newspaper reported that the cause of his death at age 65 was "from the unhappy consequences of a very unsuccessful eye operation", performed by the British surgeon John Taylor.
Quotes by Bach"Like all music, the figured bass should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting."
Quotes about Bach
"I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can't think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that – its humanity." (Glenn Gould)
"Not brook, but ocean should be his name (Beethoven; Bach is the German word for brook)
"Since the best man [Telemann] could not be obtained, we were forced to fall back on mediocrities." (Statement of the Leipzig City Council when Bach was appointed Thomaskantor)