21 March 2012

Celebrating the Vernal Equinox Along with J.S. Bach

How fitting that Johann Sebastian Bach was born on the first day of spring (at least on the old style calendar). J.S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach (Thurgia) in 1685. Johann was the eighth child born into a very musical family.

While J.S. Bach was widely acclaimed as an accomplished organist during his lifetime, his reputation declined as the Baroque style of music became considered old fashioned with the advent of the classical period. However, there was a revival of J.S. Bach’s reputation in the early 19th Century, and Bach became acclaimed as the quintessential Baroque composer. Some compare Bach as the musical equivalent of the literary genius of Shakespeare or the mathematical teachings of Isaac Newton.

JS Bach was known his fervent Lutheran faith as expressed in his compositions. Much of his music became part of the Lutheran hymn book. Along with his acclaimed organ works, Bach wrote famed cantatas, chorals and sacred songs, including: St. John Passion, the St. Matthew Passion,  and a Christmas Oratorio.

Bach was also prolific in his parenthood. Bach fathered twenty children, four of which became famous as musicians. Despite assertions to the contrary, PDQ Bach is no relation, but a musical parody vehicle for musicologist Peter Schickele during a five decade career.

The musical genius of JS Bach had a two track revival in the late 20th Century. Orchestras committed to playing period piece reveled at playing the master of Baroque composition.  Moreover,  Wendy (ne Walter) Carlos transformed many rock listeners into unwitting Bach boosters with her groundbreaking Moog synthesizer Switch On Bach series in 1968.  The original Switched on Bach was the first classical album which sold more than 500,000 copies. 

 And then there was Virgil Fox’s Heavy Organ, where the flamboyant classically trained organist would play before hippies at the Fillmore East (in Greenwich Village, NYC) and the Fillmore West (San Franciso, CA).

In that spirit, let us celebrate J.S. Bach’s 327th birthday, with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull pipping the Bach prelude in C minor.

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