J.S. Bach: One composer whose greatness no one has to argue, but not many people perform


There’s a nice hour-long documentary on J.S. Bach from the BBC, below. It waxes almost fulsome on his merits. But it’s a strange paradox how, out of all the Classical Greats, Bach is, it’s safe to say, the least performed to a mass audience.

You’ll find Mozart and Beethoven anywhere and everywhere. But Bach? Less so.

Does he intimidate performers as well as listeners?

Is he like Shakespeare, whose plays and sonnets address timeless issues in language from a time past?

Perhaps, as with Shakespeare, the performer needs to work extra hard to make those words compelling to each new generation.

Before we get to the Bach documentary, I want to show a case-in-point of a performer who bends his notes into irresistible narratives: Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt performing Bach’s French Suite No. 5, in G Major at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, courtesy of the CBC:

Now, for an hour on Bach:

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One thought on “J.S. Bach: One composer whose greatness no one has to argue, but not many people perform

  1. Not sure whether I agree on the scarcity of Bach performance, John. Worldwide, bachtrack.com’s 2011 concert tables show Bach faring decently in third or fourth place for frequency of performance: http://www.bachtrack.com/concert-opera-league-tables-2011

    That being said, I do believe Bach is intimidating because he is so mentally demanding, far more so in my view than Beethoven, and light years beyond Mozart. For pianists, Gould set the performance bar so high, that it instills fear in any who approach it. For me, Angela Hewitt just walks under it, albeit successfully.

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