Happy Bachday!

Today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest composers in the history of classical music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was an incredibly prolific musical genius who wrote many of the finest and most beloved pieces of the baroque era. His extraordinarily diverse output included the Brandenburg concertos, toccatas and fugues, brilliant works for solo cello, titanic passions, cantatas, and just about every form of music that was written during that era. Bach was an incandescent giant who was born 337 years ago, on March 31, 1685.

Or wait a minute–was it March 21, 1685?

Bach is one of those historical figures whose birthday (and the precise dating of other events in his life) was affected by the change from the Julian calendar–so named because it was adopted by Julius Caesar and had been used since them–to the Gregorian calendar. That change shifted calendar dates forward to account for deficiencies in the Julian calendar. Bach was born on March 21 of the Julian calendar, which equates to March 31 on the Gregorian calendar–which was the calendar that had been adopted in Germany when Bach died in 1750. So, should we celebrate his birthday on March 21 in the modern Gregorian calendar, even though he didn’t actually arrive until several days later, or on March 31, even though his recorded birthday is days earlier?

I suggest that we not worry about such trifles, and spend the entire period between March 21 and March 31 celebrating the brilliance of this true musical prodigy, whose music fills my playlists. To those who insist that March 21 is the correct day to celebrate Bach’s birth, I say fine: let’s call March 31 Bachday, instead.

Happy Bachday, JSB and music lovers everywhere!

Happy Bachday

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s 328th birthday.  He was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, in what is now Germany.  Today, Sirius XM marked the occasion by playing all Bach, all the time, on the Symphony Hall channel, and it made my commutes to and from work delightful indeed.

It isn’t difficult for Sirius to program all Bach for a 24-hour period, because Johann Sebastian was astonishingly prolific.  He wrote hymns, church music, concertos, cello suites, cantatas, and organ music, among other pieces.  He also was an accomplished organist who also played the harpsichord, the violin, and the viola.  His works helped to define the distinctive baroque style of music that prevailed in the early 1700s.  Interestingly, Bach’s works apparently fell out of favor after his death, and his compositions did not become highly regarded until the early 1800s.  Now, of course, he is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers in history, and his music is a staple of every classical radio station around the globe.

I love Bach’s pieces, and my iPod is filled with dozens of his compositions.  His works are so rich and expressive of a mood that it makes me wish I had met him to see whether his personality matched his music.  Bach’s compositions are vast and intricate, but at its core there is a certain radiating peacefulness.  If you’ve had a tough day and want to unwind and calm down, Bach is a good choice.  You can quickly get lost in his complex, intertwining melodies and the serenity that comes from well-ordered music that suggests a well-ordered world.