Whether you like him in a powdered wig and livery or looking as if he should be on his way to a Celtic match it impossible to imagine what Western classical music would be without its elder statesman Johann Sebastian Bach. Sure, there are older composers (Lully, Palestrina, Monteverdi et al) but no one has loomed so large over Western art music for the past quarter of a millennium. Well, maybe Beethoven but let’s not get bogged down in details that don’t support the argument.
Although he was no slouch in the organ department (at least according to Anna Magdalena’s little black notebook) Bach’s contemporaries described him as turgid, artificial and not particularly lively. Sir Donald writes (without clumsy innuendo, you’ll be glad to know), “Bach, to the few critics who knew of him otherwise than as a brilliant organist, was always hopelessly out of date. When he was nineteen he played figured chorales to Reinken, a man ninety years of age, who exclaimed: ‘My son!, I thought this art would die with me, but it lives again in you.'”
I’m sure those readers whose nerdiness knows no bounds will join me in saying: Here’s to the guy who wore bellbottoms when everyone else was tapering their 501s with safety pins. To the man who got a crew cut when the rest of the kids were sporting asymmetrical undercuts. Happy 332nd, you old fuddy-duddy, you.
In honour of this day, let’s have your thoughts on which of Bach’s 1127+ compositions you feel so strongly about that you would consider someone’s life a waste if they didn’t hear it at least once before moving on to pastures green?
Miss Mussel is going to cast her vote in the direction of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations. This was a close contender but in the end, simplicity won the day.