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I will be the first one to say that J.S. Bach is my favorite overall composer, Partita No.2, Chaccone is my favorite piece, but what specifically makes his music great, influential, and worth all the recognition? How would you explain this to a musician and a nonmusician?

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There are many volumes written on this subject so I will choose just one aspect.  I think much of his success originates from the fact that he was organist and harpsichordist.  Much of orchestra composing is glorified song writing in that there is a melody and an accompaniment of chords.  The main theme moves around to the various sections of the orchestra and is repeated umpteen times.  This is possible because of the panoply of sounds and timbres of the various combinations of instruments.  These possibilities are limited on organ and especially on harpsichord.  So Bach creates melodies that are ever changing and developing, modulating, running through a circle of fifths.  He uses or invents every composer trick to add variation. 

     Harpsichord lends itself to linear composing as opposed to chords.  It is not a powerful instrument, so volume is achieved by a continuous flow of notes.  In addition the notes are delicate and not sustained which allows for very quick and complicated passages, so we have turns, mordents, trills, etc.  (probably all invented by Bach)

     Most composers are content to have one melody, possibly with point and counterpoint, or contrapuntal.  Bach rarely has less than two melodies running simultaneously.  When he is at the organ he uses the pedals,a possibility for three melodies at once.

     So you put it all together, a continuous flow of notes incorporating complicated ornamentation, in rapidly changing keys, and circles of fifths, with two or three melodies playing simultaneously and the listener is overwhelmed by one glorious sound.  Few composers have or will ever have the intellectual capacity to handle such complexity.

I would like to listen to some of the many new pieces posted recently but the amp to my speakers gave out and the tinny speakers that came with the computer are long ago discarded so I am without sound.  (Probably some twisted karma for previous mischief.)

The perfect combination of technique, invention and inspiration, producing a powerful inevitability.
Lawrence, really?
Love that link Fred.
I've always had a problem with composer hero worship also.
I've always liked individual compositions instead of saying I like "so and so" composer or "such and such" is my favorite.

Ray said:

I have a problem with the worship of individual composers because for me everyone has rotten apples in their cart (or at least middling music) at some stage in their life however, the greats like Bach produce masterpieces that work on many levels from science to art. Things that can be appreciated not only by the bourgeois and upper classes but also by the peasants.

When it comes to music, is 'technical perfection' what you want to hear, and what you enjoy

listening to? Doe's music appeal more to your mind, or to your heart? Bach elevated both.

Not with every piece he wrote, but when both facets are present, the magic happens.

There definitely is a 'science' to frequencies and tones, but the art of expression through

this medium of music, and the 'art' of it, is vastly subjective.

Science has basically 1 objective, while art has many facets and purposes.

I will be the first to say that Bach is NOT my favorite overall composer.

I have never yet seen Bach wearing overalls in all the years I have been

following and listening to music. That said, I do think he was great... and the

longevity of his music testifies to that as redeemable fact.

There is nothing wrong with having hero's to emulate, as long as you are

seeking to express yourself and not just 'copy' perceived greatness.

Rodney asks, 'how would you explain Bach, (or the essence of great music)

to someone else'... well, you can't... because it is an experience, not an education.   RS

     Okay, let's analyze the first Bach pieces I ever played at about age 15, his two part inventions, all 13 or 14.  Invention one begins and ends in the same key but in between, in a short space of about 90 seconds he changes keys six or eight times.  This is about as close to atonal as composers get and puts him some 300 years ahead of his time.  I have no idea whether he invented various ornaments on the harpsichord, but that was how I was introduced to them. 

     Last year we researched early American composers of which there were very few.  It would be interesting to research the music world of Bach's era.  My impression is that he worked pretty much in isolation so that most everything he wrote was original.  I never leave a Bach performance thinking how far we have advanced since then, but I do often think about how far we have degenerated since then.
Fredrick zinos said:

Lawrence, what are you talking about? Have you ever heard any of Bach's music? Or attempted to analyze it? Here's a simple example all neatly spelled out for you.

As to Bach inventing western music, you might get some argument on that one from Monteverdi, Vivaldi and their predecessors going back 1000 years. Trills and mordents were invented by Bach?

This is the one exception where hyperbole is appropriate.

Mike Hewer said:

The perfect combination of technique, invention and inspiration, producing a powerful inevitability.
Lawrence, really?
Love that link Fred.  This is my favorite Bach piece because it is a hoot to play.  Most of the harpsichord part is covered by the instruments, but comes off better with piano.  Listen to the solo harpsichord about 2/3s through, at about the 6 minute mark.

This is the one exception where hyperbole is appropriate.

Lawrence, I'd love to know why you think my last post is hyperbole, why you think any of the nouns I used where OTT ?

Here's a great example of hyperbole.....

 in a short space of about 90 seconds he changes keys six or eight times.  This is about as close to atonal as composers get and puts him some 300 years ahead of his time.

Bach...well, there's a subject.

It's important to realize that Bach worked at the end of an extraordinarily fertile period of musical development. Bach, born, in 1685, was just 13 years old when Peri composed what was ostensibly the "first" opera. (BTW, Handel was born the same year.)  This was pretty much the the end of what is now commonly referred to as the renaissance.

Bach was certainly well versed in the works and writings of Michael Pretorius, the most acclaimed German composer active during Bach's formative period. Oh,  Jan Sweelinck, too. The same goes for his acquaintance with Lully...and Couperin who's influences can be clearly drawn. Then there's Corelli and, of course Vivaldi. All of which were music to Bach's ear. (Sorry)

I think his genius lies in integrating it all. His work stands as the culmination of the Baroque. No one lies between him and Haydn on the main line of western music development.

That's all the music history you have to put up with from me!

Hi Bruce, whether it was the general culture of the times or specific individuals,

I think most all composers had their 'models of inspiration'.

I've always wondered more about 'true genius and natural talent (a gift of nature)

vs. those who may have 'enhanced' their perceptions (and talents) with... let's say

external stimulants. Why is it that 'true genius' is such a rare commodity?
Maybe it isn't... but the tallest tree always casts shadows on the other trees in the forest,

regardless of how it got to be so tall.

@roger stancill 

"True Genius"? Define it.. How would you recognize it? Prodigy? If asked who was the "greatest" prodigy most would answer Mozart, I would guess. Who would automatically offer Saint-Saëns? I would, but, who knew?

Fredrick zinos said:

Is there such a thing as false genius?

Unfortunately, history seems replete with them...

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