The Music of J. S. Bach

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

The music of J. S. Bach represents a pinnacle of Western culture. He absorbed and raised to unimaginable heights the conception of music that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, in which music is a vehicle for metaphysical and cosmological truth; but he was also a child of the early Enlightenment and wrote some of the most joyful and communicative music ever written. He absorbed every possible influence and transfigured them: the Italian and French styles, the art of counterpoint, the dance suite, the concerto, sacred music, and much more. His combination of often breathtakingly complex polyphony with advanced and powerful harmonies was unprecedented. Virtually every composer that followed him used his music as a foundation for their musical thinking. Even today, Bach’s music is crucial for both the composer and the attentive listener. This class will provide a survey of the entire range of Bach’s work and will combine detailed attention to particular pieces with background concerning the life of the musician in the 18th century, the role of the composer and improviser, the complexities of patronage, and other issues.