Author Topic: How did Bach do it?  (Read 1589 times)

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Offline Trazom H Cab

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How did Bach do it?
« on: December 29, 2017, 08:29:31 PM »
I have recently purchased the entire works of Bach in one set but I also have many, many other artists playing their own interps of his many varied pieces.  I've listened to a great many of the cantatas and most of the organ works.  I've listened to both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Passions.  Also the Inventions.  Even so, I don't think I've even listened to more than half the man's output  In fact, I'm sure I have only listened to maybe between a quarter to a third.  There are some 1128 pieces in the Schmieder catalog.  About 213 in the anhang.  How did Bach write all this stuff?  If I handed you every known piece of sheet music covering all of Bach's output and had you copy it down on manuscript paper by hand for, say, 10 hours a day, everyday, it would take you years--a good decade--just to jot it down.  Then there's also the words.  This is astonishing enough but when you think about the sheer importance of many of these pieces, it boggles the mind.  The Well-Tempered Clavier, while not the first book of its kind, really defined how major and minor tempered scales would be employed for centuries to come.  A great many rock, pop and jazz pieces are heavily influenced by Bach.

During the time that Bach was in the employ of Prince Leopold in Anhalt-Cöthen, he wrote Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Clavier Buchlein for Anna Magdelena which became the The Six French Suites, the Six Cello Suites, 15 Inventions and Sinfonia and the Brandenburg Concertos as well as a slew of cantatas and other pieces in just a few years time.  How does someone do that?  The Brandenburgs are considered by many to be the finest classical music ever written and most people who know anything about classical would include them in their Top 5 at least.  How was this guy just churning this stuff out?  It seems that there aren't enough hours in the day.

I'm almost tempted to think that Bach didn't write everything attributed to him.  And this might be true to some degree.  After all, "Minuet in G Major" was attributed to Bach all way until the early 1970s when it was discovered to have been written by Christian Petzold of Dresden.  But, how often could this have happened?  And if Bach didn't write this stuff, who did? 

Right now, I'm ripping the complete cantatas of Bach to my hard drive.  I started last night and got up to 17.  I've been out at it for a few hours today and I'm up to #47.  I  have 23 CDs I still have to rip--and that's just the cantatas!  I still have to rip 100 more to have his complete works!!  It's not until you get started on something like this that you realize what an incredible body of work this is.  How did he write this much stuff??  Beethoven wrote less than 700 pieces as did Mozart (although he died young and likely would have passed Bach had he lived to the same age) and 650 pieces of music is nothing to sneeze at!  That's a large body of work.  But Bach wrote almost 500 extra pieces!  That's phenomenal!!

The man must have lived on 4 hours of sleep a night.  I can even imagine him hearing music in his sleep and then jumping up and jotting it down before he forgot it.  Then he gets the idea to make it into a cantata or an organ piece or a symphony and just can't go back to sleep.  Suddenly, he's feverishly working to get this music into a finished form.  When he was in Weimar, he was under contract to write one cantata a month but he often wrote more and, in at least one case, wrote three (BWV 70, 186a and 147a were all written on three successive Sundays).  I mean, if these were just crap pieces, okay.  But Bach didn't write crap pieces.  This guy was out of control!!

If you average it throughout his life, Bach wrote over 17 pieces of music a year.  More than one a month.  Think of writing something like The Well-Tempered Clavier--just popping that off--a piece in each key both major and minor that does a full circle.  Yet each is both an exercise and a brilliant classical piece in its own right.  And Book 1 was written for his eldest son train up with--just exercises.  How long would that take you to write something like that, do you think?  Bach had to have written it with astonishing speed!  He would have had no more than two years and even then only a limited amount of time because he must have gotten the idea around 1717 when he was incarcerated in Weimar but in 1720 or so he wrote Clavier Buchlein for Friedemann, his eldest son.  Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier was published in 1722 but the Brandenburgs published the year before.  That's truly astonishing.  Absolutely astonishing.  Now, yes, the Brandenburgs were hatched out of earlier musical ideas but those ideas could not have been developed into the Concertos before, say 1719 or 20.  Even stranger is that they were either never performed in Bach's life or they were performed with a stripped-down orchestra.  There was no money for the orchestra Bach specified.  They were forgotten for 130 years or so.  But the amount of work it took to conceive them had to be enormous.  Bach was a young man, then.  Imagine him at 65, shortly before his death, regretting this work never saw the light of day or did he even much care?  Hard to say.  He just kept churning out piece after piece after piece.

It's scarcely conceivable that anyone could be that prolific.  The two clips below show that Bach wasn't just shoveling out notes to fill in space.  His skill, knowledge and talent to compose this way had to be prodigious:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUHQ2ybTejU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUHQ2ybTejU









« Last Edit: December 29, 2017, 08:44:35 PM by Trazom H Cab »

bwv 1080

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2017, 08:54:30 PM »
Bach was not extraordinarily prolific.  Bach’s peers wrote a comparable, and in many cases greater, amount of music.  In a much shorter career, Mozart wrote more music (based on googling the total time of the complete works on CD).

Quote
ranked by hours of music composed, based on a survey
conducted by _Classical Music_. Source: Russell Ash,
_The Top Ten of Everything 2000_ (NY: DK [Dorling
Kindersley] Publishing, 1999), p. 163.

Haydn (1732-1809)     340 hours
Handel (1685-1759)    303
Mozart (1756-91)      202
Bach (1685-1750)      175
Schubert (1797-1828)  134

Beethoven (1770-1827) 120
Purcell (1659-95)     116
Verdi (1813-1901)      87
Dvorak (1841-1904)     79
Liszt (1811-86)        76
Tchaikovsky (1840-93)  76

https://groups.google.com/forum/m/#!topic/alt.music.j-s-bach/ZtbHnS9UOZs

« Last Edit: December 29, 2017, 09:01:28 PM by bwv 1080 »

Offline amw

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2017, 01:13:06 AM »
Bach did reuse a lot of music in different contexts, eg turning the prelude from the E major violin partita into the first movement of a cantata, etc. But also the Baroque style was so highly developed by this time that a talented composer could turn out large quantities of music very quickly through using processes of internal expansion which have been analysed by scholars eg in ledbetter’s book about the 48.

Online Jo498

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2017, 01:15:10 AM »
Yes, even taking into account that some of Bach's music is lost (reportedly about two years of church cantatas and probably also some chamber music from the Koethen period) although the amount is not clear and it is also possible that a lot of it was actually preserved in slightly different versions as Bach re-used music frequently, he was not extremely prolific for his time. (There is also some organ and chamber music attributed to Bach that was probably not written by him.)

E.g. Telemann wrote more music than Bach and Handel combined!
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline amw

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2017, 01:32:29 AM »
Yes, composers such as Telemann or Vivaldi or Alessandro Scarlatti or CPE Bach were much more prolific than Bach by any measure. And obviously all of that music is also pretty good.

Online Jo498

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2017, 01:43:14 AM »
FWIW, I have never read that the Brandenburg concertos were not performed in Bach's time. To my knowledge they (or very similar earlier versions) were played in Koethen (and probably elsewhere) and I would expect that Bach performed at least some of them also later in Leipzig in the "Café Zimmermann". Although we know mainly of the harpsichord concertos (virtually all of which are arrangements of earlier (often Koethen period) pieces, including the 4th Brandenburg) being performed there, why should not some of the Brandenburgs have been played as well?

Bach wrote some music for teaching or for proving a point, so I would not bet that all of the Musical Offering was really performed in his lifetime (but why not, it can be done with a few musicians in a domestic setting) but concertos and vocal music usually were performed.
(Again the b minor mass might be an exception although the doubts about performances are about its final shape; most of the music was probably performed in their original forms or in smaller chunks.)
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Alek Hidell

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2017, 09:41:12 AM »
If you take the list provided by bwv 1080 and divide those hours by the number of years the composer lived, Mozart comes out on top with an average of 5.77 hours of music written per year. Obviously no composer would begin his production from his first year of life (though with Mozart it's pretty close!), but still that seems the only way to keep the math "fair."

It seems clear that, if Mozart and Schubert had lived longer lives - and assuming no major interruptions in their output - they would eclipse everyone else. They're both in the top five, and neither lived past age 35.
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." - Hélder Pessoa Câmara

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2017, 02:09:25 PM »
In response to the original question, how did Bach do it?

Start off with genius, and it's all hard-work from then on.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: How did Bach do it?
« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2018, 04:21:25 AM »
a) he lived a reasonably long life, and
b) composing was his job and his livelihood, novelty was everything in Bach's time and he was obliged to deliver week in week out.  He was a craftsman with a varied 'box of tools' (in his head) for every task.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2018, 04:25:07 AM by aukhawk »