Matthew Barley/Cellist

See deep enough and you can see musically; the heart of nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it.

Thomas Carlyle


Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque period. He enriched many established German styles through his exceptional musical skills, and the adaptation of rhythms and forms from abroad_—_this can be seen in his use of dance movements in the cello suite; for instance the Courante from France, Sarabande from Spain and Gigue from England. Many of Bach’s works are extremely popular 300 years later, such as the Brandenburg Concertos, the St Matthew Passion, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and his solo works for violin and cello. His music is revered for its intellectual depth, technical command, and pure artistic beauty.

Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach into a very musical family; his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach was the director of the town musicians, and all of his uncles were professional musicians. His father taught him to play violin and harpsichord, and his brother, Johann Christoph Bach, taught him the clavichord and exposed him to much contemporary music. He held several musical posts across Germany: as Kapellmeister to Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, Cantor of Thomasschule in Leipzig, and Royal Court Composer to August III. Bach’s health and vision declined in 1749, and he died on 28 July 1750. Modern historians believe that his death was caused by a combination of stroke and pneumonia.

Bach’s abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime and his abilities to improvise the most complex musical forms on subjects given to him by members of a concert audience were legendary. However, he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time.

Click here to read about Suite No. 5 in C minor, being performed on Matthew Barley’s Around Britten tour.

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