Classical music can be divided into several major eras - Medieval and Renaissance are way back there, the Baroque era is from 1600 to 1750, the Classical era is from 1750 to 1800, the Romantic era is 1800 to 1900, and classical music since 1900 is just called 20th Century. Each of these eras has major composers. Bach is by far the most major composer of the Baroque era.
Bach is one of the most prolific and widely recorded composers. He composed all kinds of works for all kinds of instruments and many of his works have been transcribed for various instruments other than what they were written for.
Musicians of all kinds find inspiration in his music. I remember some rock and roll guy (I think it was Keith Richards) talking about the mathematical symetry of Bach's music.
A long time ago when I was reading psychedelic literature I came across several references to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, which were thought by some to be the ultimate "trip music". And I remember reading an account of a vision from someone's trip in a book called The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience (Masters and Houston). In this vision God was going to destroy the Earth since we had done nothing worthwhile in all our time here. Many things were submitted as proof that we were worthy of sparing. Nothing created by man met with approval until some of Bach's music was submitted. God then had to hear all of Bach's music and on the merits of Bach's music alone, the Earth was spared. It could almost be a true story (or maybe it is).
One of my favorite records ever is an LP on Nonesuch called Bach Lute Music with Walter Gerwig playing unaccompanied lute. I think this is actually transcriptions of violin and/or cello sonatas (which are solo pieces). It finally made it onto CD. Amazon
One of the most popular records of its time was Switched on Bach, by Walter Carlos (who later became Wendy Carlos). I think it may have been the first million-selling classical record. This record was kind of a demo for the first really serious and significant electronic instrument, the Moog synthesizer. As well as showing off what could be done with the Moog, it demonstrated the adaptability of Bach's music. This is a classic record, still quite enjoyable. Here is Wendy's website.
A trend that arose in probably the 1980's was the performing of Baroque and other older music on "original" or "period" or "ancient" instruments. There are lots of recordings of Bach's music on original instruments, which have a bit of a different sound from modern instruments. One thing I don't always like about Baroque music is the sound of harpsichords. Of course most of his keyboard music is performed on piano today, but not on the original instrument recordings. But I would recommend getting a recording of the Brandenburg concertos on original instruments.
Bach's music is about as sacred and holy as music can be.
For more Bach info, see:
J.S. Bach Homepage (www.jsbach.org)
Amazon Bach Store
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