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Culture and Recreation

Music

Why do music historians talk about “before Bach” and “after Bach”?

Some scholars use these terms to classify music history since the life work of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was so substantial, consisting of some 1,100 works, and has had lasting and profound influence on music composition. While he was not famous during his lifetime and had disagreements with employers throughout his career, J. S. Bach’s works and innovations in many ways defined music as people now know it. The tempered scale is among his inventions, and he initiated a keyboard technique that is considered standard today. Chronologically, J. S. Bach marks the end of the “prolific and variegated” baroque era, which began about 1600 and ended the year of his death, 1750.

A devout Christian, J. S. Bach believed that all music was to “the glory of God and the re-creation of the human spirit.” As a spiritual person and true believer in eternal life, he left behind an impressive body of church music, including 300 cantatas (or musical sermons) as well as passions and oratorios. As a devoted family man who believed all his children were born musicians (and therefore, the Bachs could stage drawing-room music at any time), J. S. Bach also wrote chamber music, including instrumental concertos, suites, and overtures. Among his most well-known and beloved works are The Saint Matthew Passion; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring; Sheep May Safely Graze; and his Christmas Oratorio.



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