Is Bach the best
composer who ever lived and could he be the composer of the second millennium?
It is interesting to note that in 1745, three years after the first performance
of Händel’s Messiah, a German journal published a list of what it considered the
10 most important composers of the day. Händel was listed as fifth, Bach
seventh. None of the others have been heard of since.
A monumental figure of the Baroque period, the German organist, harpsichordist
and composer was born in 1685 in Eisenach, Thuringia. Bach summed up the musical
knowledge and techniques that preceded him and developed them further. A
prolific composer whose work extend into all areas except opera and ballet. Bach
was influenced by a broad range of styles from the German, French and Italian
schools, especially interested in works of Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, Händel and
Largely self-taught, through transcribing earlier composers’ work, he was
successively organist at Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, court organist at Weimar and
Cöthen, Cantor at the Thomaskirche and civic director of music in Leipzig from
1723 until his death on 28 July 1750. Bach’s music was already considered
old-fashioned before he died and nothing was published for fifty years after his
death. In spite of that, composers and writers that followed him did not forget
him; they acknowledged his genius and his music have been in the repertoire ever
since the early nineteenth century when the 20 year old Felix Mendelssohn
stunned a Berlin audience with a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
Today, according to the editors of The New Bach Reader, Bach is omnipresent:
“The further we climb in our own musical education, the higher the mountain of
Bach’s music thrusts its peak into the sky.” Bach has been transcribed to jazz
by Jacques Loussier and MJQ, synthesized by Moog. He has been turned to rock by
Sting and Elvis Costello and his influence can be heard in the solo
improvisations of Irish fiddle players. Even those who are not familiar with
Bach’s music easily recognize some of his music like the “Air on the G string”,
made famous first by a cigar advertisement and later used as the basis for
Procul Harum’s 1960s hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Perhaps Bach was the
summation of all who preceded him and the greatest influence on all who followed
him. The spell of inspiration and influence cast by Bach continues into the
second millennium - Bach the composer many regard as the greatest of all time.