Composer of the Week: Johann Sebastian Bach
You probably have heard of today’s birthday boy: Johann Sebastian Bach was born on the first day of spring, 328 years ago, in 1685. One of the most widely performed and beloved musicians of all time, Bach was a ferociously virtuosic organist and keyboardist who, crazy as this might sound, actually did improvise some of his incredibly detailed fugues and preludes, writing them down later. He was a workaholic, which, given his schedule of teaching, composing, and ensemble-directing, was probably the only way to survive his main gig as the Cantor of Leipzig.
His most famous music is instrumental: the Brandenburg Concertos and several other concertos, the Orchestral Suites (from the second of which comes the “Air on a G-String”), unaccompanied suites for violin, cello, and for keyboard, the Goldberg Variations for keyboard, the 48 short preludes and fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier (meaning “The Well-Tuned Keyboard”, the most famous music pedagogy books of all time), not to mention the preludes and fugues for organ (including my favorite, the “St. Anne” fugue.)
But don’t forget to check out the best of his many vocal works: Besides the Mass in B Minor and the two settings of the Passion, there are a number of wonderful cantatas (and since it’s just about Easter, you could start with the Easter Oratorio). Among musicians, Bach is the man with two brains, the unapproachable apotheosis of great music-making in the Western European tradition.
Don’t forget to look up Bach in SFCV composer directory, for more fun facts, music, and useful info.
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Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.
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