Happy 331st Birthday, J. S. Bach!

The Master, without whom contemporary Western tonal music would not exist. One of the cornerstones of our civilization, Bach’s music has provided the basis for every manner of sacred and secular music that followed, and we can trace a direct line from him (and his exact contemporary, George Frideric Handel), through several of his composer sons, through Haydn and Mozart, through Beethoven and Schubert, through the romantic 19th century and into the tumultuous 20th, which ended in the (temporary) shattering of tonality by Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School.


Here is one of his greatest works, the “Goldberg” Variations, written (so the legend goes) for a restless nobleman who was having trouble sleeping. There’s nothing snoozy about this music, though: watch and listen as Bach takes a simple ornamented melody and turns it into one of the keyboard literature’s masterpieces; the final variation, combining sacred and secular elements into one amazing edifice, is probably the greatest humblebrags in musical history. “Look at what I can do, and with such simple material.”

You can follow along with the score here:

If you ever find yourself in the old East Germany, be sure to visit the Bach sites of Eisenach and Leipzig; you’ll be in for a spiritually transformative experience.



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