Bach’s Fame

by joshir2013

After the last lecture (9/26), I came out with a question: why is Bach so famous?

Don’t get me wrong, he’s my favorite composer of all time, but why did he gain so much fame? Why not one of his contemporaries like Johann Paul Westhoff or Johann Georg Pisendel?

If you look at the facts, Bach published only 3 works during his lifetime, and his remaining works were published posthumously. All of Pisendel and Westhoff’s works were published while they were still living. In addition, both Pisendel and Westhoff had better positions in society for a brief period as Kappelmeisters or court composers than Bach did, so again, why did Bach become more famous than most of his contemporaries?

A closer look at Johann Pisendel’s Sonate a violin solo senza basso would reveal that there are striking similarities to that of Bach’s sonatas, namely the contrapuntal line, the variation of harmony, and the combination of ascending and descending 32nd notes (very comparable to Bach’s 1st violin sonata, the first movement). (Pisendel) (Bach)

Groves argues that “By the melodic independence of each contrapuntal line and the complexity of voice-leading relationships, Bach creates illusion of complete harmony both in polyphonic and in single line music, thus showing an evolved craftsmanship.” So are technical factors like voice leading and harmony and his desire to combine the complexity of German antecedents with the emotionally direct Italian style that which makes him arguably one of the best composers? Or is it a cultural/historical factor like the preferences of critics and music experts that make him more noteworthy than many of his contemporaries?

I don’t know of one answer but the more I think about it, it seems that Bach combined elements of Westhoff and Pisendel to create an evolved Baroque style. He implements the almost excessive tritones of Westhoff and Pisendel’s very direct Italian style into his works. Perhaps it’s a combination of cultural factors and technical factors.

What are your thoughts?