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Our friend Sebastian was born this time of year in 1685 – on March 21 or March 31, depending on whether you recognize Old or New Style (Julian or Gregorian) calendar conventions for commemorating things that happened centuries ago. I have friends who insist that one or other date is correct, but for me it doesn’t matter – for me, every year for many years now I have observed a quiet little personal eleven-day period of reflection on Bach’s music between March 21 and March 31. Each day for eleven days, I set aside some time to both play some of Sebastian’s music (on piano, harpsichord, or lute) and to intentionally listen to some of my favorite recordings of pieces that have touched me deeply.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are in the front rank of the masterpieces of Western music, and are his most-performed and best-known works. Ironically, these remarkable pieces are not simply the best or most popular works from a large number of similar efforts, as for instance is the case of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – they are unique in Sebastian’s oeuvre in almost every way. The Brandenburgs are not representative of Sebastian’s output except in the masterful manner of their composition and in the virtuosic forces needed to perform them.
Today is the 330th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Like so many of us, I first encountered his music as a child. I don’t actually remember the first time I heard it – it might have been at church, it might have been in a piano lesson. I am pretty certain that the first piece that I became aware of and associated with his name was Menuet in G. It was only years later that I learned that scholars actually now believe this piece was written by Christian Petzold (1677-1733), but no matter. Sebastian is still credited as the composer in most piano books one will encounter, and if it was good enough for his children…