Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750
On 28 July in the year 2000, Johann Sebastian Bach, without doubt the greatest composer in music history, died exactly250 years ago in Leipzig. Bach commemoration events will resound throughout the world. Countless concerts, festivals,new books and articles, and complete editions of his music on cd, will focus more attention on Bach than he ever enjoyedduring his lifetime. What the 20th century has taught us about Bach will be the subject of reflection and appraisal.The collected letters and documents covering Bach’s life and work have recently been republished; the catalogue of hismusic has been critically examined and is now available in a new version: works which proved not to have been writtenby Bach have been scrapped, while other pieces have been added.
Forgotten and rediscovered
After Bach had almost been forgotten in the 19th century -except by a small group of Bach scholars- much has been madeup for in the 20th century. In 1899 the famous conductor Willem Mengelberg initiated the now traditional annual PalmSunday performance of the St Matthew Passion by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. In 1900 the NeueBachgesellschaft was founded, embarking on a new complete edition and propagating Bach and his music in Germanythrough festivals and the establishment of the Bach Museum in Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace. The first Bach festival tookplace in Berlin in 1901. In 1904 publication of the Bach-Jahrbuch commenced, a series of books containing studies andarticles which still appears annually. Ayear later a study of the performance of Bach’s music was published by WandaLandowska, the first pianist to play Bach in public on a harpsichord. In the same year the celebrated doctor, theologian andorganist Albert Schweitzer published his authoritative work on Bach and his music. And precisely 200 years after Bach’death (1950), Wolfgang Schmieder’s catalogue of Bach’s works appeared. The classification and numbering of Bach’smusic which he introduced half a century ago is still internationally current: the so-called BWVnumbers (Bach’s WerkeVerzeichnis, or index of Bach’s works).
Bach and the European styles
Though considered old-fashioned and severe in his later years, as a young man Bach was most conscious of the musicalfashions of his time. He was fond of all those strange sounds and colours, approaching and imitating them with his typical-ly German solidity. In the course of his life he gathered together an enormous library, including not only countless worksfrom bygone centuries but also the newest fashionable pieces by French, Italian and German composers. Thus we knowtoday what he studied and arranged: Frescobaldi, Froberger, Lully, Corelli, Albinoni, Marcello, Couperin, Dieupart,Kuhnau and Vivaldi. And Bach had the ability to absorb all these different fashions and styles, to adapt them to his ownpurpose, and even to far surpass his examples.