Quotes About Bach Chorales & Music

Bach-Chorale-Example2

Comments about J. S. Bach’s Chorales & Music by Famous Musicians

“If ever a composer showed polyphony in its greatest strength, it was certainly our late lamented Bach. If ever a musician employed the most hidden secrets of harmony with the most skilled artistry, it was certainly our Bach. No one ever showed so many ingenious and unusual ideas as he in elaborate pieces such as ordinarily seem dry exercises in craftsmanship.”
– Johann Friedrich Agricola

“In composition he started his pupils right in with what was practical, and omitted all the dry species of counterpoint that are given in Fux and others. His pupils had to begin their studies by learning pure four-part thorough-bass. From this he went to chorales; first he added the basses to them himself, and they had to invent the alto and tenor. Then he taught them to devise the basses themselves.”
– C. P. E. Bach

“… the late Capellmeister Bach in Leipzig perhaps excelled all the composers in the world; that is why his chorales as well as his larger works are to be most highly recommended to all composers as the best models for conscientious study.”
– Johann Philipp Kirnberger

“No one has surpassed him (Bach) in thorough knowledge of the theory and practice of harmony.”
– Friedrich Wilhelm Marpburg

“The name of Johann Sebastian Bach radiates supremely and sublimely above those of all German composers in the first half of the past century. He embraced with Newton’s spirit everything that has hitherto been thought about harmony and that has been presented as examples thereof, and he penetrated its depths so completely and felicitously that he must be justly regarded as the lawmaker of geniuine harmony, which is valid up to the present day.”
– Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart

“… the creator of harmony: Johann Sebastian Bach -greatest harmonist of all times and nations …”
– Johann Friedrich Reichardt

“Now there is music from which a man can learn something.”
– W. A. Mozart (on hearing Bach motets in Leipzig)

“The immortal god of harmony.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

“He should be called not Bach [‘brook’] but Mer [‘sea’] on account of his endlessly inexhaustible wealth of musical ideas.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

“Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder.”
– Robert Schumann

“Let The Well-Tempered Clavier be your daily meat. Then you will certainly become a solid musician.”
– Robert Schumann

“Bach is Bach, as God is God.”
– Hector Berlioz

“Study Bach. There you will find everything.”
– Johannes Brahms

“I had no idea of the historical evolution of the civilized world’s music and had not realized that all modern music owes everything to Bach.”
– Niccolai Rimsky-Korsakov

“If Beethoven is a prodigy of man, Bach is a miracle of God.”
– Gioachino Rossini

“Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars.”
– Frédéric Chopin

“The Well-Tempered Clavier is the highest and best school; no one will ever create a more ideal one.”
– Frédéric Chopin

“And if we look at the works of JS Bach – a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity – on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered. And in his works we will search in vain for anything the least lacking in good taste.”
– Claude Debussy

“Bach is the beginning and end of all music.”
– Max Reger

“Bach is thus a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads to him.”
– Albert Schweitzer

“O you happy sons of the North who have been reared at the bosom of Bach, how I envy you.”
– Giuseppi Verdi

“… the most stupendous miracle in all music!”
– Richard Wagner

“Bach is a colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach’s time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.”
– Charles Gounod

“Bach is the supreme genius of music … This man, who knows everything and feels everything, cannot write one note, however unimportant it may appear, which is anything but transcendent. He has reached the heart of every noble thought, and has done it in the most perfect way.”
– Pablo Casals

“If one were asked to name one musician who came closest to composing without human flaw, I suppose general consensus would choose Johann Sebastian Bach.”
– Aaron Copland

“… I admit it’s a habit. He (Bach) has given me such joy that I try to bring something of that joy to others. And there are books you cannot read just once. Those are the books that form a part of my programme. I believe that a musician must know the two volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier inside-out, and if possible a good many of the cantatas. I try to pack them into my pupils at all costs. It would seem a bit odd to me if someone had never read the Bible.”
– Nadia Boulanger

“… The person who crystallized all these ideas for me was Nadia Boulanger, justly recognised as the most celebrated teacher of composition in the twentieth century. When she accepted me as a student in Paris in 1967, she had just turned eighty and was partially blind, but with all her other faculties in tip-top order. Her way of teaching harmony was founded on Bach’s chorales, which she regarded as models of how to establish a beautiful polyphony – with each voice being accorded equal importance while still playing a different role in four-way conversation, now advancing, now retreating: contrapuntally conceived harmony, in other words. She insisted that the freedom to express yourself in music, whether as a composer, conductor or performer, demanded obedience to certain laws and the possession of unassailable technical skills. One of her favourite sayings was ‘Talent [by which I think she meant technique] without genius is not worth much; but genius without talent is with nothing whatsoever.'”
– John Eliot Gardiner

From this list of “testimonials” by many of the greatest musicians of all time you can see what a benefit it would be to your own growth in musical understanding to study the music of J.S. Bach. It has been observed that the chorales of J.S. Bach, above all of the other forms he wrote in, are the foundation of his entire style. It is not an accident that every student of music who enters college MUST study the Bach chorales. They have been the foundation of music education, good taste, form, voice leading, and music theory for more than 150 years. You can now save yourself countless hours of time and gain instant inspiration with this new fully analyzed version of the Bach chorales.

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Bach the Musician

‘ … it is illuminating to read first-hand accounts of the accompaniments fashioned by one of the greatest improvisers of all time. Writing of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Friedrich Daube expressed himself as follows in 1756:

“For the complete practice of thorough bass it is necessary to know three species: the simple or common; the natural, or that which comes closest to the character of a melody or a piece; the intricate or compound.

The excellent Bach possessed this third species in the highest degree; when he played, the principal part had to shine. By his exceedingly adroit accompaniment he gave it life when it had none. He knew how to imitate it so cleverly with either the right hand or the left, and how to introduce an unexpected counter-theme against it, that the listener would have sworn that everything had been conscientiously written out. At the same time, the regular accompaniment was very little curtailed. In general his accompanying was like a concertante part most carefully constructed and added as a companion to the principal part so that at the appropriate time the upper voice would shine. This right was given at times even to the bass, without slighting the principal part. Suffice it to say that anyone who missed hearing him missed a great deal.”

Lorenz Mizler also listened to Bach’s accompaniments. He wrote in 1738:

“Whoever wishes truly to observe what delicacy in thorough bass and very good accompanying mean need only take the trouble to hear our Capellmeister Bach here, who accompanies every thorough bass to a solo so that one thinks it is a piece of concerted music and as if the melody he plays in the right hand were written beforehand. I can give a living testimony of this since I have heard it myself.”‘
– (excerpt from William Mitchell’s Introduction to C.P.E. Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments)

“In 1781, three decades after Johann Sebastian Bach’s death, Johann Friedrich Reichardt announced the second and enlarged edition of Bach’s Vierstimmige Choralgesänge and, in veritably extolling terms, referred to the composer as ‘the greatest harmonist of all times and nations’. The Berlin composer, theorist, and writer Reichardt had a remarkable sense of Bach’s artistic greatness, authority, and influence, but he could hardly have anticipated Beethoven’s notion of Bach the ‘progenitor of harmony’, let alone the fact that Bach’s four-part chorales would, for more than two centuries and to the present day, reign supreme as the pre-eminent fundamental text for the teaching of harmony. …

… Describing his father’s teaching method, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1775) emphasized: ‘The realization of a thorough-bass and the introduction to chorales are without doubt the best method of studying composition, as far as harmony is concerned.’ The four-part setting of chorale melodies served to explore the harmonic implications of a given cantus firms and to develop an appropriate contrapuntal configuration of four singing voices, while the thorough-bass realization advanced the understanding of the fundamental vertical harmonic structures. Moreover, the art of the thorough-bass represented not only the point of departure for a beginning composer, but also the general frame of reference for the structure of Baroque polyphonic composition and its performance.”
– Christoph Wolff (Preface to the translation of Precepts and Principles For Playing The Thorough-Bass Or Accompanying In Four Parts … by Pamela Poulin)