Johann Sebastian Bach

Stephen A. Crist and Derek Stauff

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Johann Sebastian Bach

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Johann Sebastian Bach is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers in the history of European art music. During his lifetime (b. 1685–d. 1750), Bach ranked among the foremost musicians in Germany; he was active as organist, teacher, director, instrument technician, and composer. Bach’s compositional legacy includes examples in all major genres of the time except opera: nearly two hundred church cantatas; approximately two dozen secular cantatas; a handful of motets; the B-Minor Mass and some shorter works with Latin texts; the St. Matthew and St. John Passions; the Christmas, Easter, and Ascension Oratorios; a large body of organ music (including works based on chorales); many important harpsichord works (e.g., Two- and Three-Part Inventions, English and French Suites, Well-Tempered Clavier, Italian Concerto, Goldberg Variations); chamber music; concertos (including the popular Brandenburg Concertos); the Musical Offering; and The Art of Fugue. Several of Bach’s contemporaries were equally or even more prolific, but the uniformly high quality of his output is unparalleled. Some of his music was known and esteemed in the latter half of the 18th century and the early decades of the 19th by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and others. In 1850, the centenary of Bach’s death, Robert Schumann and other leading musicians formed the Bach-Gesellschaft, with the goal of making his complete works available in print. Since then, admiration for Bach’s music has remained high, especially among musicians. Many composers have identified Bach’s style as an influential factor in the development of their own musical language. The milestones of Bach research—such as the biographies Forkel (see David and Mendel 1998, cited under Historical and Biographical Documents) and Spitta 1951 (cited under Biographies), the Bach-Jahrbuch (see Journals and Serial Publications), the Bach-Gesellschaft edition (1851–1900), and the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (cited under Music Editions)—have mirrored the development of the field of musicology as a whole. The secondary literature on Bach has mushroomed to gigantic proportions. The present article provides some guideposts to assist in steering interested readers through this mass of material.

Article.  11209 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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