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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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"That I really like. I don't know what the words actually mean" 

The meaning or lack of meaning is unimportant. The important thing is that the words sound good when strung together, thus perhaps giving the impression that the speaker or writer has some special knowledge or insight. 

The composers most popularly associated with the renaissance Vivaldi and Pretorius don't sound that much like Bach.  Lully is definitely an influence of Handel.  IMO Couperin would be more like Bach, though Bach probably studied these composers and decided I'm going to do something completely different.  I just feel like Bach went far beyond the composers of his day.
 
Bruce Pearson said:

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!

Lully was influenced by Handel? I'd like to know more about that. Lully died in 1687 and Handel was born in 1685. What advice did the two year old Hanoverian have for the then Parisian Lully?.

I believe a couple of composers that people are looking for that truly inspired Bach were Pachelbel and Dieterich Buxtehude.

When I was studying Bach's two part inventions the book came with his ornamentations.  Apparently ornamentations were ill defined at that time and Bach thought it necessary to define his dozen  or so ornamentations.  I've forgotten most all of them but I seem to recall that he had two or three different trillos.  The take home for me is that I would not rely on Bach's  , or Couperin's, or some other composer's ornamentation sighs but rather write out the notes I want played. 

I was able to find that piece on my own computer from some ten years ago.  Bach is running his theme through a circle of fifths.  He starts in C then G then D then A.  The next key would be E but instead he goes to an ending, which begs the question.  How do you exit a circle of fifths.  Bach often goes to the third.  He is in A so could go to F or C.  He does both.  He ends in F,C F,C..  If you add in the minor chords he has 10 or 12 keys in a 22 measure piece.  Of the original key signature of C maj. there are only 5 measures of 22 in the key of C.  If this isn't atonality, what is?  To the people who equate atonal with modern, atonality is as modern as Bach.


 
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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUHQ2ybTejU

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?

A= against, not, anti,

Tonal=referring to a musical system in common practice in which a single note or a chord is primary.

Atonal=not tonal

The example you describe is strictly tonal, with c being the primary tone or chord.

 

Music in which harmony is generated by adding 3rds (C-E-G) ran out of gas at the end of the 19th century. For example, one quickly is limited to two chords 1: C-E-G-B-D-F-A and back to C, or 2: C#-E#-G#-B#-D#-F#-A# and back to C#. Each of these two chords acts as both tonic and dominant to the other and the composer is stuck with a kind of stasis, and a two chord vocabulary.

Schoenberg’s solution (there were a number of predecessors) was to not build chords in 3rds but rather to build them in 4ths. So one has C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Cb-Fb-A-D-G-and finally back to C. Note that all 12 tones are presented before the return to C. There is no tonal center and no emphasis on one tone or one chord above any other. Moreover, the feeling of cadence inherent in traditional music is largely absent in atonal (not tonal) music.

Bach’s music relies on chords built in 3rds and to the best of my knowledge he never experimented with non-tonal music.

As to ornamentation, such as trills mordents etc. there are many manuscripts in which there is no indication of ornamentation. Trills etc. were part of performance practice in which 16th 17th 18th and 19th century performers were free to ornament as they saw fit. The practice of writing out the ornament never really caught on because it was too labor intensive. Ornamentation in Bach is occasionally but not always indicated by the composer.  Many of the ornament indications in modern editions of Bach, Rameau, etc. are added by an editor and many of them seem to me, to be “right”, though that may simply be a matter of conditioning.

Of the original key signature of C maj. there are only 5 measures of 22 in the key of C.  If this isn't atonality, what is?  To the people who equate atonal with modern, atonality is as modern as Bach.

Lawrence,

 Bachs' practice is entirely dependant on the gravitational relationships inherent in tonality and is bounded by them, even if the centre of gravity shifts frequently. In Bachs' works  the hierarchy of tonic and dominant and related keys is preserved.

Schoenbergs atonality is a different paradigm altogether. Apart from what Fred talks about above, Schoenberg freed each of the 12 tones from their gravitational duties within a tonal framework. He did this by giving each of the 12 notes independence from one another - there is no obligation for a note to resolve in a certain way (in a tonal manner that is). This and earlier harmonic practice led to what he called the emancipation of the dissonance, the historical reasoning is touched upon by Fred when he talks about the harmonic stasis reached in the early 20thC. - where increasing harmonic complexity loosened the shackles of tonality and the persistent use of these harmonic practices led to the new complex chords gaining independence from their surroundings as they became aurally accepted.

I could go on, but it would be much easier if you just listen to any Bach and then immediately listen to this link and perhaps re-consider my quote from you  at the start of this post....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQHR_Z8XVvI

Now you are breathing the "air of another planet".

I could go on and explain why atonality has no basis in physics and is not aurally accepted by most people but life is too short.
 
Mike Hewer said:

Of the original key signature of C maj. there are only 5 measures of 22 in the key of C.  If this isn't atonality, what is?  To the people who equate atonal with modern, atonality is as modern as Bach.

Lawrence,

 Bachs' practice is entirely dependant on the gravitational relationships inherent in tonality and is bounded by them, even if the centre of gravity shifts frequently. In Bachs' works  the hierarchy of tonic and dominant and related keys is preserved.

Schoenbergs atonality is a different paradigm altogether. Apart from what Fred talks about above, Schoenberg freed each of the 12 tones from their gravitational duties within a tonal framework. He did this by giving each of the 12 notes independence from one another - there is no obligation for a note to resolve in a certain way (in a tonal manner that is). This and earlier harmonic practice led to what he called the emancipation of the dissonance, the historical reasoning is touched upon by Fred when he talks about the harmonic stasis reached in the early 20thC. - where increasing harmonic complexity loosened the shackles of tonality and the persistent use of these harmonic practices led to the new complex chords gaining independence from their surroundings as they became aurally accepted.

I could go on, but it would be much easier if you just listen to any Bach and then immediately listen to this link and perhaps re-consider my quote from you  at the start of this post....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQHR_Z8XVvI

Now you are breathing the "air of another planet".

Definitely Bustehude.

Rodney Carlyle Money said:

I believe a couple of composers that people are looking for that truly inspired Bach were Pachelbel and Dieterich Buxtehude.

No, Lully was an influence of Handel, read.

Fredrick zinos said:

Lully was influenced by Handel? I'd like to know more about that. Lully died in 1687 and Handel was born in 1685. What advice did the two year old Hanoverian have for the then Parisian Lully?.

"I could go on and explain why atonality has no basis in physics and is not aurally accepted by most people but life is too short"

No you can't

Whether you are claiming that Handel influenced Lully or Lully influenced Handel, the problem is the same. They fact that Lully died when Handel was two years old makes it unlikely either of them influenced the other. Read.

 I could go on and explain why atonality has no basis in physics and is not aurally accepted by most people but life is too short.

Lawrence, I probably couldn't explain it  other than to say 'Plastic'.

Plastic is something made out of the physics of Nature, but it is not 'bio-degradable'.

So is cancer, but who wants that... in the long run, it leads to death.

I see a parallel with music here. There is a core reality to, and an inherent basis to,

the reality of frequencies and the structure of Nature.      RS
 

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