Bach: An Appreciation

The nexus point of Western music, at the dividing line between "ancient" and 'modern".

Isn’t Bach just a tad dull at times? 

In truth, not everyone responds equally to everything he composed. The Brandenburg Concertos seem to hit the spot with most people, but The Art of Fugue is undeniably a bit of a challenge. The Mass in B minor and Magnificat scream out “masterpiece” from every note, yet a mere handful of organ choral preludes is more than enough for some people. But the fact remains that Bach sustained a level of musical perfection unequalled by any composer. You can play his music on anything and it still comes up sounding wonderful. 

How do you get to grips with all those fugues? 

Just let the music flow over you, as you would any other piece. Then concentrate on the first thing you hear – the “subject” – and try and follow it every time it reappears. It’s mind-blowing stuff, but rewards your efforts in spades. 

How did the ‘Air on the G String’ get its title? 

The third of Bach’s orchestral suites includes a beautiful Air for strings. August Wilhelmj later arranged it for violin and piano, with the instruction that the main melody be played entirely on the violin’s lowest (‘G’) string. 

Were all those other ‘Bachs’ related to Johann Sebastian? 

Well, apart from ‘PDQ’ (!), pretty well yes. Incredibly, the four biggest names after his – Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian – were all in fact his sons. 

Was there anything Bach couldn’t do? 

Although he composed amazing pieces in virtually every conceivable style and genre, Bach completely avoided one musical form in particular – opera. It would have been a bit like asking Shakespeare to write a “soap”. The two simply didn’t mix. 

Surely someone doesn’t like his music? 

Next to Beethoven and Mozart, no composer has earned such universal praise as Bach, although that favourite old wag Sir Thomas Beecham once famously dismissed his music as, "Too much counterpoint. What is worse, Protestant counterpoint!"