Johann Sebastian Bach
By Oscar Danielsson.
What is an icon? Well, the literal word definition according to the Cambridge dictionary is “a very famous person or thing considered as representing a set of beliefs or a way of life.” However, this isn’t the exact way that I see it when it comes to iconic artists. To me, an iconic artist is someone whose music is still listened to and replayed for decades after its original inception. It is a person who either creates a whole new trend or someone who takes inspiration from others and creates a very important piece. Also, I think something that can make someone iconic and stand out is if they excel and become very famous while having loads of competition.
Before I started having music last year I hardly ever listened to music, let alone music from the baroque period. But, when we had music history I was surprised by how much Bach was able to play at the same time when I heard his Toccata and Fugue in D minor. So, even though I normally don’t really listen to music I listened to this piece a number of times leading up to our test and a few more times after that. So, I was quite familiar with Bach’s work leading up to this and had listened to it earlier, so I felt that I connected more with his music than with other iconic artists, which is one of the big reasons for why I chose him.
Johann Sebastian Bach was an artist who lived during the baroque period. I considered him to be an iconic artist for two main reasons. The first one is that he was inspired by many other artists for his work, among them George Böhm, but still managed to develop them and set a new trend. An example of this is the fugue, with people such as Girolami Frescobaldi composing pieces that include fugues before Bach. Despite this, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue is one of the most important works of the classical period. Toccata and Fugue is a piece that was composed by Bach, between 1704 and 1750, historians aren’t exactly in agreement. It starts with some Toccata, before moving on to the Fugue part, and finishing off in coda. Also, I felt that he was iconic because he is one of the most important composers from the baroque period, which was one of the most difficult periods in musical history, because of the social context. In the baroque period, something called mecenates played a vital part in forming the characteristics of baroque music. The way that it worked was that rich folks could sponsor artists in general, and they would then produce work for those people. Due to this, composers were making the most difficult and overwhelming music possible, to convince affluent people to sponsor them, and, the fact that Bach emerged as the most important one in such a period, really makes him special. This makes me consider him to be an iconic artist.
Being an artist is something that can be interpreted differently by different people, so what is an artist? For me, it is someone who can invoke feelings in people, whether they are positive or negative, or of happiness or sadness. It can also be that they send a message to the people that either listen to or watch their art. This is something that, for me, applies to many types of arts. Amongst them are actual art, music, poetry, etc. How they do that, and which style they adapt is up to them, and the different styles appeal to different people.
Even if you’re an iconic artist, with several positive aspects, you can’t be perfect, and even someone as musically gifted as Johann Sebastian Bach isn’t excellent from every perspective. The biggest compliment that I would give to him is that he managed to both compose and play some of the most important musical pieces, in one of the most difficult musical periods, as I mentioned earlier. When you listen to some of his works, like Toccata and Fugue in D minor, there are so many different things happening at the same time. I can find it difficult to follow and comprehend everything that is happening when I’m listening to it. But, from the audience’s perspective, this can be a bit overwhelming and not the most enjoyable to listen to, so if something in his music could be improved I’d change it from being overwhelming and too much to something a bit nicer and that is more enjoyable to listen to. Also, I think that his music could be improved by implementing some musical styles or techniques that were characteristics of other musical periods that were after Bach’s time. For example, prior to the romantic period there was no changing the key of a piece. You chose one and that was the one you had to use throughout. I think that if this was implemented into Bach’s music it would be easier for his music to tell stories and really connect with the listeners. If you change the key from minor to major or vice versa it changes from either being happy to sad or from being sad to happy. I think this would make Bach’s music better and more enjoyable to listen to. The criticism that I would give to Bach is his temperament, and that he was prone to losing his cool. This is a little ironic, since one of his most famous works is called the well-tempered clavier, and Bach wasn’t particularly well-tempered. An example of this happened while Bach was a teacher. One of his students was having a hard time, and making some errors, and Bach lost his cool. He called this student a “nanny-goat bassoonist”. Another instance of Bach having a temperament was when he was attacked with a walking stick. Bach took out a dagger. This is something that could’ve had deadly consequences if they weren’t pulled apart, because Bach chose to respond with a knife.
Being one of the most important artists of the entire classical period, Bach obviously influenced a lot of music and other types of arts through the time that has passed since he was alive. An example of this, that is recent is from the BBC. Krzysztof Penderecki said that he would never have written his St Luke Passion if it wasn’t for Bach. He was most likely inspired by one of the most important works by Bach, the St Matthews Passion. Another song that was influenced by Bach and his music was a song called “A Winter Shade of Grey”. This was a hit song released in 1967, and the lead singer of the performing band, Gary Brooker admitted that some bars that were taken from Bach’s “Air on a G String”. But, this isn’t something that has just come up recently, his music has influenced others for hundreds of years, these are just some examples of Bach influencing more modern music. Bach’s legacy is also passed on through the way that he influenced many other very famous and important composers. Amongst them are Mozart, one of the most important composers to ever grace this Earth. Mozart was a big fan, took inspiration, and called him the “original father of harmony.” In turn, these great composers inspired many other ones, and Bach’s legacy continued to be passed through the generations.
In conclusion, an iconic artist, for me is Johann Sebastian Bach. He is someone whose music is played and enjoyed by people for generations after their original creation. He is someone who took inspiration from others and turns it into some of the most important pieces ever made. He is someone who stands out in the tough competition of the baroque period. I think that the largest compliment I’d pay to Bach is that he was able to play and compose such difficult music and that he, as previously stated, stood out in the most difficult musical period. On the other hand, I think that his music could be improved by making it less overwhelming, and also by changing the tonality during his pieces, so that they are better at telling stories. Also, I think that Bach didn’t have the best temperament, and that it could’ve caused destruction if other people hadn’t stopped him. Bach has an extraordinary legacy, with him influencing modern composers such as Krzysztof Penderecki, and the song, “A Winter Shade of Grey”. He also impacted older composers like Mozart, and from there his legacy was spread through the generations. This is why I feel that Johann Sebastian Bach is an iconic artist.