Bach’s Versatility and Genius

This week’s Flute and Piano recitals entitled “Life of Bach” have just begun to scratch the surface of this amazing man’s genius. Consider his Crab Canon when placed on a Mobius strip:

At our recitals students taught each other by saying these cards in their own words before playing:

1. Johann Sebastian back was born in Germany over 300 years ago. Musicians named Bach were known as organists and choir directors all through the area north of Bavaria. But J.S. Bach was the outstanding member of the greatest musical family the world has ever known.

2. When Mozart heard a rehearsal of a Bach piece he said, “Now there is music one could learn from!” Later he said, “Bach is the Father of all music.”

3. When Bach grew up he was known for being an outstanding organist and a composer. He was such a great organist that one day when he was practicing in a village church a passerby said, “Well, that is either J.S. Bach or an angel playing in there!”

 4. Before Bach’s time all keyboard playing only used 8 fingers. Bach introduced using the thumb by curving the hand.

5. He used counterpoint, independent melodies played all at once and sounding great together.

6. Bach’s motor rhythms give energy and life to his music.

7. Both his parents died when he was 10, leaving Bach to live with his elder brother Christoph. He taught Bach violin and harpsichord, but he became jealous when Bach copied his book of pieces from the composers of the day. He hurled the book into the fire, and Bach was devastated…until he went to the keyboard and realized he could play all the pieces by heart!

8. Years later Bach had a musical duel with a Frenchman, held in the King’s court. At the tea the day before, both players were urged to improvise. Bach did so beautifully, but the Frenchman Marchand said it wasn’t really his custom to play before the scheduled time. So, they all waited for the next day…when Marchand was nowhere to be found. He had left town.

9. After boarding school in Luneburg, Bach was employed by Duke Wilhelm, who told him he could only write Scripture music, nothing instrumental. But Bach broke the 8:30 curfew every night to practice with his instrumentalists, and every morning he would pay the fines for doing so. Finally, he landed in debtor’s prison.

10. Prince Leopold rescued Bach from prison and the old Duke. He asked him to write instrumental music, the type of music needed at court.

11. But Leopold’s new wife Henrietta told Bach his music was morose, and wanted him to play Italian jigs. So, Leopold helped him get a job at the Thomas Schule. There he could write both instrumental and sacred music.

 12. At the Thomas Schule Bach’s goal was to write liturgical music to follow the church year, for a five-year cycle. So, a young church member could enter the church at age 13 and not hear the same piece of music twice until he was 18!

13. In Bach’s final years he reworked and refined his earlier music. Copying so much music, he at last went blind. At the top left of each composition he wrote’ “Jesus help me.” And upon completion he wrote “Soli Deo Gloria,” “to God be the glory.

14. Bach died without becoming famous as a composer, because Italian rococo music had taken over. His music lay forgotten, even a stray piece used as butcher paper to wrap meat. But 75 years later Mendelssohn found his music on shelves in the Thomas Schule and resurrected it. Since then his music has been beloved by musicians everywhere.


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