Johann Sebastian Bach, born this day in 1685 into a family of gifted musicians, was a German composer, organist, and musical scholar of the late-Baroque period. His works, edifying in their grandeur, have earned him respect as one of the greatest composers in history.

His exceptional skill as an organist was recognized in his time, but he was not fully acknowledged for his composing until the first half of the 19th century. His vast repertoire includes the six Brandenburg Concerti written for Prince Ludwig of Brandenburg, The Goldberg Variations, The Well-Tempered Clavichord (collections of preludes and fugues), more than 300 cantatas of which "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" is perhaps best known, and The St. Matthew Passion.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, organist of renown himself, said that "music is an act of worship with Bach. … Any room becomes a church in which his sacred works are performed and listened to with devotion. … If the director and the performer do not feel themselves in a consecrated mood, they cannot communicate such a mood to the hearer; something cold will settle upon the music and deprive it of its best strength."


"To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbor may be benefited thereby."
— Epigraph to the Orgelbuechlein, cited from Carl Hermann Bitter in Johann Sebastian Bach, translation by Rush Rhees

"I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can't think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that -– its humanity."
— Glenn Gould in Gramophone

"I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course."
— Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, on what message to send to an extraterrestrial civilization

Spiritual Practices

Of Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major, cellist Christopher Costanza writes, "Throughout this inviting movement ... we experience a wide variety of moods and emotions as we encounter dissonances and resolutions, melodic shapes, unexpected harmonic progressions, and ingenious implied 3-voice writing." Notice your mood before you listen to the piece, and then give the music your full awareness. Does passing through this variety of moods and the unexpected progressions lead your mood through changes, too?
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