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Thread: A question for lovers of J S Bach

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    Default A question for lovers of J S Bach

    Is there a connection between a love of Bach and a knowledge of music theory?

    My music teacher upheld Bach as the greatest composer of all time. I like his work, but could never see why he was / is considered greater than Mozart or Beethoven. He despised Wagner who's works I find more moving than Bach's.

    I can see that for Wagner, music was the expression of dramatic themes (hence, to some, not pure). I think that is why my teacher despised him (he had a low opinion of the Romantics generally but Wagner was his bete noire). I gave up music as an academic subject in third year (age 13), and my knowledge of music theory is minimal. For me, music as the development of purely musical themes is less important than its emotional effect. Hence what may be a partial 'blind spot' for Bach.

    Does any of this strike a chord with others' response to music?

    To the Bach lovers; how much music theory do you have, and how much do you think it has influenced your taste?

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    I think there could be a weak connection between loving opera and not being extremely fond of Bach.
    This might be more relevant in your case than anything about music theory.
    Obviously Wagner is also a historically/theoretically extremely important composer and far more controversial than Bach (i.e. there are very few people who strongly dislike Bach's music (a negative reaction is usually rather distinterested boredom, the worst I personally encountered was one who said Bach concertos reminded him too much of baroque putti), but lots who detest Wagner's), so there are probably lots of people who think they might like Wagner more if they knew more theory.

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    Senior Member Haydn70's Avatar
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    I have my BM/MA/PhD in music composition, and I love Bach’s music with a passion! But I remember loving some of his music, particularly the Brandenburg concertos and some of his organ music when I was just at the very beginning of my formal studies, i.e., before I really knew anything substantial about music theory.
    “If it is art, it is not for all, and if it is for all, it is not art.”

    Arnold Schoenberg

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    I think to answer the question one would have to first determine that there is a correlation between knowledge of music theory and special love of Bach. From there, one would have to understand what the causal relationship might be. I have very little knowledge of music theory, but I love Bach. It's true that I probably like Mozart and Beethoven more, but those three are my favorite composers.

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    Bach is my favourite composer and has been for over 30 years. My theoretical music knowledge is limited to being able to read (slowly) and play (badly) a simple score (like right hand and left hand for keyboards).

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    There is another aspect I think could be important but it does not hold only for Bach vs. Wagner. But Bach is a composer with a considerable amount of music regularly played by amateur or beginning pianists (like some Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann...) and sung by amateur choristers (like some Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms...). Whereas playing/singing Wagner is rare for non-professional musicians. If you don't "get" Wagner by listening, you are unlikely to appreciate his music by playing some of it. Whereas people who find Bach at first a bit boring only listening might come to love the music by playing e.g. the two part inventions, taking part in a performance of a choral work etc.

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    Bach's my favorite composer, and I have little training in music theory.

    Concerning the notion that Bach's music doesn't generate much emotional punch, I think it's nonsense.

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    I do have training in music theory and this can help to appreciate the formal aspects of the music, but it is absolutely not necessary to understand the piercing emotional ecstasy of Bach's music. No composer has moved me to tears nearly as much as him. Perhaps theory would be more beneficial to understanding the most abstract works such as the AoF and some of the organ works, but in the great choral works, cantatas, cello suites, and WTC; Bach is the ultimate chronicler of the human condition through music of the most overwhelming purity, insight, and sincerity. The technical mastery of his work is a secondary factor to my enjoying it; its inexplicable effect on my mind and heart is foremost.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    I'm an ardent admirer of both J.S. Bach and Wagner, they are both amongst my most favorite composers of all. Wagner's music in my opinion is much more passionate and powerful in the expression of strong emotions than Bach's, but the latter's works in the other hand tend to show a mastery of craft and a purity of deep spiritual expressions that make me feel I'm in a higher plane when I hear it. Both composers can bring me to an state of ecstasy if I hear them under the right conditions, and both can make me shed some tears sometimes (what usually is somewhat rare for me).

    I have only a superficial knowledge of music theory, mostly acquired through books and the internet, as I have never had a formal music training at school.
    Last edited by Xisten267; Sep-13-2021 at 03:10. Reason: Grammar mistakes.

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    Senior Member Red Terror's Avatar
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    As a fan of classical music for over a decade and still knowing nothing of music theory, Bach remains my favorite composer of all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellerophon View Post
    Is there a connection between a love of Bach and a knowledge of music theory?
    No...

    But, obviously, being trained in music can help you follow the music more easily.

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    I have a solid background in harmony/counterpoint/keyboard and although I deeply respect Bach's accomplishments, his work as a whole is just not interesting to me. He did essentially "write the book" on western music - how to harmonize, voice leading, counterpoint and just about everything else. But I did like Bach long before I studied music: from the glorious orchestral transcriptions by Stokowski, Calliet, Raff Elgar and others. My theoretical background allows me to appreciate music on a level that a someone without that knowledge cannot, but that doesn't mean they don't find it immensely satisfying and moving. There are times when too much theory can actually ruin music: you find yourself analyzing and criticizing rather than just enjoying.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellerophon View Post
    Is there a connection between a love of Bach and a knowledge of music theory?
    I can't say for certain since I have had a fairly serious musical education and I can't listen as if I haven't. But I suspect not, since it is my belief that good music transcends our intellectual capacity and goes directly to our hearts/souls. And it matters not a bit whether it is Bach or Wagner, both can do it.

    I am not one to quibble over who's great or not, for me if the music touches you deeply, then you have found a composer to hang on to no matter who says what.
    Last edited by SanAntone; Sep-13-2021 at 02:55.

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    I have only some fundamental knowledge in music theory and basic skill in piano playing. So I can not think about how professionals would appreciate Bach's music, because I am not on that level. But I find that most experts in classical music that I know about do consider Bach to be either the greatest composer or among the top.

    I remember professor Robert Greenberg mentions in his lectures that Bach is the greatest composer due to the technical perfection and aesthetical beauty of his works. And he says that though he does not write one single chorale, he considers Bach's chorales essential to the music compositions. He says when he gets stuck on writing his music, he would try some Bach's chorales, not because he is composing in that way, but they contain hints that are helpful to composition in general.

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    I fell in love with Bach long before I knew what triple counterpoint was. When I finally learnt how to write triple counterpoint, love turned into the highest esteem and reverence I have, all for the man who above anyone else imv, married the technical and the musical with such a transcendent and expressive artistry.

    For me, 'knowing' does enhance his music, but knowing as such is not a necessary pre-requisite to being moved by his work.
    Last edited by mikeh375; Sep-13-2021 at 13:35.

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