No.2: Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 - 28 July 1750)
The funny thing about Bach is that, even though he is considered to be one of the greatest composers of all time, if not THE greatest composer of all time, he really wasn’t well known during his life outside of east Germany, and he wasn’t performed or played by anyone for a good century after his death, save a few small music groups dedicated to older music. And he wasn’t super “influential” in his life either, towards the end he was constantly heckled by his contemporaries for being too old fashioned, writing dense Baroque/Rococo polyphony during the shift into early homophonic and clearer/lighter Classical aesthetics. But even so, Bach has written some of the greatest music ever. His mind was able to put together several lines of varying melodies into one great polyphonic web, like the planets orbiting around the sun. A semi-religious and philosophical idea from the Renaissance and prior was “Musica universalis”, referring to the harmony of the universe, the laws of science, the religious idea of intentional design, the beauty of order and math. Even though that is an archaic idea, way before Bach’s time, I feel that his music follows this idea. And because all of the adoration we give Bach, at his deeply spiritual, at his most complicated and mathematic, it’s easy for his fans [and critics] to think of him as super highbrow, as some kind of polished pedestal demi-god who we can’t touch. As if he didn’t write a cantata about coffee addiction and a girl who has to play a battle of whits against her father so she can keep drinking coffee. As if he didn’t write several keyboard dance suites and concertos that are full of life and joy, influence from French decorations and Italian vivacity. All of these traits make Bach one of the most universal composers in history. My favorite works by him are his Goldberg Variations, his Keyboard and Violin Concertos, his Partitas and French Suites, various great organ works, the Well-Tempered-Klavier, and his Art of Fugue.
an ode to the queen: part I, the classicals. [listen]
i) requiem in d minor – mozart ii) the four seasons: winter – vivaldi iii) keyboard concerto in d minor: II adagio – bach iv) swan lake, act II no. 14 – tchaikovsky v) organ symphony, 2nd mwv – saëns vi) song swan (for nina) – clint mansell vii) the four seasons: autumn – vivaldi viii) prelude in e minor, op. 28, no. 4 – chopin
Like a short concerto-grosso from the Baroque era, these three dances are ordered Fast-Slow-Fast. All three sound like neo-folk music, with the fast dances being reminiscent of Bartók, and the central slow movement like quintessential Górecki melancholy. Not much has been written about this work. I’ll be honest, I only listened to it because it was a “filler” piece slapped on at the end of an album of a few of Górecki’s other symphonic works [such as the Requiem for a Polish girl, and the Keyboard Concerto]. The orchestral textures are dense, but the focus on the rhythm and the repetitious melodies make them irresistible. The third dance has been stuck in my head for the past two days but I don’t mind at all.
We aren’t exactly sure about this, but most musicologists believe that Bach’s harpsichord concertos were built out of sketches or arrangements of earlier concertos he wrote while working on Köthen. Perhaps he reused the “best of the best” of his early material to craft more mature music, pieces he could use to show off his keyboard abilities [after all, these were among the first solo keyboard concertos in history]. This particular concerto might be a reworking of a violin concerto, though musicologist John Butt said that if this were true, then it would have been Bach’s “most virtuosic violin concerto”. As with many Bach works, this concerto features music that he reused in other pieces. The first two movements also served as the opening to his Cantata BWV 146, and the last movement opened Cantata BWV 188. This concerto seemed relatively popular around Bach’s time and afterward, and then fell into a bit of obscurity until Mendelssohn and Schumann worked together to bring forth the “Bach Revival” period in the 19th century. Mendelssohn often performed this concerto, which helped make it the most popular of all Bach’s keyboard concertos. I love it because it feels so dramatic but not over the top, the kind of Baroque music I listen to while drinking red wine and plotting the demise of my enemies.