Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most beloved composers of all time.
He’s also one of my favorites. And why not? He had great hair.
Born on March 31, 1685 to a family with a long musical heritage, he was prolific in more ways than one. Married twice, he sired twenty children, most of whom did not survive childhood; yet, four of them became respected composers and musicians in their own rights: Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, and Johann Christian Bach. (And then there’s his long lost son, P.D.Q. Bach–but he’s a topic for a future post.)
Nearly every classical piano student has worked through the Notebooks for Anna Magdalena Bach (actually, two notebooks–the first containing only works by J.S. Bach, the second also including pieces by other composers), which Bach wrote out as lessons for his second wife.
This prelude (which I can only play at about half this speed) would make a good soundtrack for a movie about a pianist losing his sanity (kind of like the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3 in the the movie Shine). Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 847 no 2 :
And who doesn’t get goosebumps at the sound of the organ on the first few notes of the Toccata and Fugue in d minor?
The Brandenburg Concertos demonstrate Bach’s flair for chamber music. (Yay for harpsichords!)
A deeply devout Christian, J.S. Bach spent much of his career as a church organist and choir master, writing chorales and cantatas for services. His St. Matthew Passion, a setting of the story of Christ’s late ministry and death for the Lenten season, exemplifies his gift for creating music that engages the emotions and draws the listener into worship.
In this excerpt, Erbarme Dich (Have Mercy), the contralto responds to Matthew 27:26, “Then he [Pilate] released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”
Bach died on July 28, 1750, a date which is synonymous with the end of the Baroque period and beginning of the Classical era in music.
For more information about J.S. Bach, watch this mini-bio.