Bach’s anatomy helped him achieve greatness, says new study

26 July 2019, 16:53

J.S. Bach
J.S. Bach. Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A German anatomist analysed a photograph of Bach’s skeleton – and it turns out it wasn’t just the composer’s musical output that was huge.

J.S. Bach had exceptionally large hands, according to a study published in a German scientific journal.

In the study, anatomist and musician Andreas Otte analysed a photograph of what is believed to be Bach’s skeleton, and deduced that Bach had an exceptional reach at the keyboard.

By examining the skeleton of Bach’s left hand, Otte – a professor of medical technology at the University of Applied Sciences Offenburg – found Bach’s hand measured nearly 8 1/2 inches from wrist to fingertips.

Meanwhile, his span was 10 1/4 inches from thumb to last finger, with the hand open wide. Click on the tweet below to see the full image:

And for context, here’s an average-sized human hand, measuring just 7 inches from wrist to fingertips:

Normal human hand
Normal human hand. Picture: Classic FM

Pretty crazy.

Using these measurements, Otte calculated that Bach could play a 12th (that’s 12 white keys on a piano).

Read more: Experts created this ‘true’ image of Bach – and he looks damn fine

“We cannot judge exactly how relevant the span of the hand is for the art of a musician,” Otte says. And he insists that his research does not, and should not, imply that any of Bach’s musical genius is down to his reach: “That would be a sacrilege.”

Let’s also bear in mind that Bach lived from 1685-1750 – and people were a lot smaller back then. Bach, who was 5’11” (1.8m), towered over men of his day, whose average height would have been around 5’5” (165cm).

Read more: How tall were the great composers?