the annals of history certain men and women have shown themselves to
people of great intellect and ability.
For lack of a better term we dub these people “geniuses”. But, what is the very essence of being a genius?
Certainly, we have no problem including Isacc Newton and Albert
Einstein in that category but what about the philosophers and composers
than blend together thoughts and ideas, notes, and chords.
The true definition of a genius isn’t found in IQ or in proofs,
but in people who can blend together juxtaposed ideas into flawless
harmony. By that new
definition the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach is truly a genius.
Found within Bach’s music is a magnificent blend of technical
skill and technique that blends to form music that can reach to the
depths of the human soul.
music is marveled for it’s raw beauty and sweeping emotion but it is
also important to look beyond what the affect is. Beneath such
music as The Goldberg Variations and Mass in B Minor lies a formal,
complex technical structure. It is within this structure that Bach
uses to bring to the surface the vast array of human emotion and human
thoughts. Bach used many techniques of his time and incorporated
them into his music. For now, let us examine one or two things
that Bach is renowned for in the compositional techniques.
dominated and revitalized the musical technique of “counterpoint.”
Simply counterpoint is the practice of “note against note.” In
other words counterpoint is taking an individual harmonic line and
combining it with a rhythmic line. For example in most music the
Soprano sings the part of the harmony while the other parts form the
rhythm. The point of the blending adds to the beauty and depth of
the music. It isn’t just used for technical purposes. What
made Bach different is that he often used this tension and blending to
great affect in his music. Counterpoint lended itself to making
Bach’s music sound and seem more “complicated” to the listener’s
ear and to the musician. Bach used counterpoint to great affect in
his secular works. But perfected the use of counterpoint in
part of counterpoint that is interesting and important to know is the
“contrapuntal” melody. It is the use of a single line of music
(melody) with only one note seeming to jump back and forth between more
than one melody. It tricks the listener’s mind into believing
each note is sustaining the other when in fact there is only one melodic
let us examine the musical concept of “fugue.” Fugue is an
important aspect of Bach’s music. Bach was and is, the
undisputed master of fugue. Put simply fugue is the entry of
successive musical voices into a contrapuntal melody. One musical
part (on instrument or vocal) comes into the music. Each part
enters by stating the subject of the music. For simplification
Bach’s liturgical music and chorale music is much easier to view this.
Bach’s piece Dona Nobis Pacem from his Mass in B Minor is a prime
example of this. The bass part sings "Dona Nobis" Pacem
and then the soprano, being the next part in the fugue, joins in and the
rest join in. This continues on and on. Fugue is often
called “equal” music. Each voice part doesn’t overpower the
other. Bach was the last great composer to use it as the basis of
most of his work.
was a prolific composer, composing over 300 cantatas, several oratorios
(including St. Matthew and St. John’s Passion), many concertos,
sonatas, and other compositions. He wasn’t limited to a certain
instrument either he wrote music for flute, harpsichord, generic
keyboard, cello, and a host of other arrangements.
genius of Bach lies in his ability to touch the human soul with all of
his music. He was a devoutly religious man that left as church
composer because he believed the church was limiting his ability to
worship God through music. On all of his manuscripts one will find
the Latin abbreviations S.D.G., means literally, “To the Glory of
God.” There is no question that Bach thought of his music as a
divine gift and used his music to glorify what he saw as his God, and
savior of mankind.
would be remiss not to encourage those who read this to listen to some
of Bach’s sacred music. The most amazing thing about Bach’s
sacred music is that one doesn’t have to be a Christian or of any
religious proclivity to enjoy the sweeping grandeur and quiet awe
expressed within his cantatas and oratorios. Music is to be a
blend of poetry and music, Bach found this balance and it is best
experienced through his sacred music. Don’t let theological
differences or disagreements stand in the way of listening to arguably
Bach’s best music. In no other of his music will you find more
of the man than expressed through the voices giving praise to his God.
Bach’s music transcends time and doctrine, belief and faith. It
is simply Bach at his best.
reasons have contributed to Bach’s popularity today. Musicians
still play Bach because of the beauty and technical challenge of his
work. People listen to his music sheer joy and emotions evoked.
Bach is considered the greatest composer of all time for a number of
reasons. But, one overall reason comes to mind. His music
has the ability to reach out to every human soul and connect us to
something greater within and without ourselves. Don’t be
intimidated by Bach.
you refuse to listen to Bach because you think classical music is boring
or intimidating then you are missing out. This composer has the
ability to captivate master musicians, mathematicians, and to the
average listener. Give Bach a try and understand why he is
considered the greatest composer and a genius of all time. The
music isn’t hard to understand, simply let it flow over you and
don’t be afraid of the feelings it evokes.
get a true understanding of Bach try listening to some music on either
end of the “easy” and “hard” spectrum. I recommend
Bach’s Two and Three Part Inventions these pieces of music were
written as exercises for keyboard students. From a musicians
standpoint they really aren’t that difficult to play. But, they
sound so rich and complex, because they are. Now, also I would
recommend Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy this is arguably the hardest piece
of music to play on the piano (or harpsichord). If one listens to
the Goldberg Variations you will see the whole range of human emotion
expressed. In the Variations death and resurrection are explored
and life and celebration are exalted. Bach’s music is a
celebration to all aspects of human life.
readers, listen to Bach, if nothing else for your own edification.
There is a reason why he remains so popular and why so much music and
technique is based upon his work. It is because people have
connected with his music on some level. Bach at some level; can
speak to all of us. Perhaps because he poured himself into his
work. Yes, listen to Bach’s compositions. Within his music
you might just see a reflection of what your heart and soul cannot
speak. But, that which was given voice in the souring harmonies
and mournful melodies, and the whole range in between.