Sunday, March 8, 2009

This Month in History (March 1685): Bach is born

Perhaps the most underrated of composers ever (during his own lifetime), Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany on 21st March 1685.

Known more for his virtuosity as an organist during his lifetime and for around eight decades after he died, Bach was later hailed by Richard Wagner as “the most stupendous miracle in all music.”

Supreme as a composer of counterpoint, master of virtually every form in classical music except opera, Bach created his music at all times to fulfill that one objective so beautifully summed up by the Jesuit motto, “for the greater glory of God.”

Beethoven was so moved by his work as to say that ‘Bach’ (the name means ‘brook’) should have been named the ‘sea’ instead.

Johannes Brahms exhorted: "Study Bach, there you will find everything."

Robert Schumann once said “Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder."

Debussy referred to him as "a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity."

Three of the 27 recordings chosen for the Voyager Golden Record (sounds and images selected to represent mankind and intended for extra-terrestrial life; played on the Voyager spacecraft) are compositions by Bach; the most by any composer.

Some of his major works - the Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, The Art of Fugue, the Goldberg Variations, the Well-Tempered Clavier, The Musical Offering, the Brandenburg concertos, the Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo, the Cello Suites and a wide range of sublime cantatas.

“To strip human nature until its divine attributes are made clear, to inform ordinary activities with spiritual fervor, to give wings of eternity to that which is most ephemeral; to make divine things human and human things divine; such is Bach, the greatest and purest moment in music of all time.”
- Pablo Casals

1 comment:

  1. Klemperer even called Bach's Mass in B the greatest piece of music ever composed. Many share his reverence for Bach's flawless music, technical wizardry, emotional depth, and intellectual scope.

    My own experience of his Santus from the Mass in B, the great Chaconne, St Mathew’s Passion - are among the deepest, most exalted experiences of art that I have had. Bach reveals a spellbinding breadth of capabilities in diverse styles and genres. His counterpoint is truly mind boggling...the 'musical offering' being one of the great miracles of human thought.

    Many of us know the story - Bach was given by the emperor a terrible, clumsy, unsuitable-for-anything phrase of music and asked to work it out. Bach told him it was unsuitable for a fugue, but when he returned shortly with his work, he had a stupendous six-voice fugue built out of that crap of a phrase! A technical examination of some of his works leaves us lesser mortals dumbstruck to say the least.

    With such a width and depth of music, Bach represents one of the great artistic fountainheads in human history. Long live Bach!