WRTI's Essential Classical Composer No. 3: Johann Sebastian Bach

Feb 9, 2017

"Study Bach. There you will find everything." That's what Johannes Brahms said about the King of Baroque. Johann Sebastian Bach is the composer, above all others, whom other composers point to as The One.

He influenced Mozart, Wagner, Boulez, and Charlie Parker. His fugues are impossibly dense and delicious, but then he can write a melody like the one opening “Sheep May Safely Graze,” that is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard. And then when you realize it’s the secondary tune of that piece—not even the main event—you can only shake your head in wonder.

You voted JSB your No. 3 Most Essential Classical Composer.

Harpsichordist Trevor Pinnock:

Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra:

Some lesser-known things about Bach:

  • During his life he was more famous as an organist than a composer
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  • He had a temper: often arguing with his supervisors in Leipzig; thrown in jail for skipping town in a previous job; getting into a fist-fight with a bassoonist. The bassoonist started it, but Bach had said in front of others that he played like a “nanny-goat."
  • Those six Brandenburg concertos? Bach wrote them up and gave them to a prince, who subsequently did nothing with them.

  • He had a clear-eyed view of his own talent, and said, “I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.”

  • There are more than 1,100 works of his cataloged, but no one really knows how many more he composed
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Organist Ton Koopman:

I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well. -J.S. Bach

The great Bach conductor Helmuth Rilling visited WRTI and talked to Meridee Duddleston about Bach’s choral music. He says “it was a miracle to me.”

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