Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Happy Birthday Papa Johann!

Today is the most important day of the year for me, at least as far as my musical life goes. It's Johann Sebastian Bach's birthday, and every year I do a special post featuring his music. I share the late Douglas Adams' attitude toward Bach: "When I hear Mozart, I understand what it is to be a human being; when I hear Beethoven, I understand what it is to be Beethoven; but when I listen to Bach, I understand what it is to be the universe." He's considered to be one of, if not THE, most important composers of western music.

Bach was best known in his own time as a virtuoso keyboard player, on organ as well as the harpsichord. His compositions for keyboard set the rules for writing keyboard music for centuries. Perhaps his best known collection is his Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of paired preludes and fugues demonstrating the "flavors" of the different key signatures. Here's the Prelude and Fugue #1 in C Major:

Bach also composed suites for solo instruments, my favorites being the cello suites. Here's the great Yo-Yo Ma playing the Cello Suite #1 in G Major:

Some of my favorite Bach compositions are his chamber works, especially the Brandenburg Concertos. And my favorite of the Brandenburgs is #3 in G Major:

And finally, my favorite Bach works are his cantatas, both secular and liturgical. The combination of the human voice and orchestra create the finest of Bach's compositions; it's in these works that he truly earns the title of maestro. One of the best of these is his cantata for the Feast of the Reformation, the celebration of the beginning of the Lutheran Church, which includes the hymn by Martin Luther which gives the cantata it's name: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God), BWV 80. Here's a magnificent version with Philippe Herreweghe directing the Collegium Vocale Gent and La Chapelle Royale:

And that's my Bach birthday tribute for this year. I hope you've enjoyed it!

© 2017 by A. Roy Hilbinger 

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Unfortunately, I read it the public library, where I couldn't play the videos. I've made a mental note to read this post again at a friend's home! :)