J.S. Bach in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann
J.S. Bach in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann
The date of Johann Sebastian’s birth, 21 March 1685, was carefully recorded and it is supported by the date of baptism on 23 March; these dates are old-style, which explains why we sometimes celebrate Bach's birthday on 31 March.

J.S. Bach was born into a musical family and was the most prominent member of a huge family of musicians of every kind that extends from 16th to 19th century. A composer and organist, Bach was the most important figure of the Baroque period. His genius combined a supreme creativity with technical mastery where intellectuality and inventiveness were balanced. Since the revival of his music in the 19th century, audiences around the world are still impressed and amazed with his music.

As an organist himself Bach’s output for organ is huge, his best compositions came to light during his time in Weimar as an organist, the Trio Sonata in E flat Major, BWV 525, from that period, marks Alison's selection:



While living in Leipzig, Bach was responsible for providing music for the city’s four main churches – how busy he must had been! Magnificats and motets for the services, a cantata for every Sunday and, of course, works for the major festivities such as his great two Passions came to light during this period. Thankfully, his creativity didn’t suffer from such a busy life. Hedy has chosen the magnificent motet Singet dem Herrn. It is believed that Mozart was deeply impressed when he heard this piece:



Mark has chosen the final chorus from the St John Passion – a greater work, in his opinion, that the St Matthew. Oddly, as a non-believer, Mark finds something overwhelmingly moving and comforting about this chorus and its message:

"Rest in peace, you sacred limbs,
I shall weep for you no more,
rest in peace, and bring me also to rest.
The grave that is allotted to you
and contains no further suffering,
opens heaven for me and shuts off hell."



Luce, has suggested this version of the incredible Ivry Gitlis of the Chaconne, a complex, powerful work and extremely moving piece that challenges both technique and musicality of violinists:



Luce couldn’t help adding another suggestion and here it is what it is considered a masterpiece in sacred music, the St Mathew Passion. Though we don’t know how it sounded back in Good Friday 1727, when it is believed to have been first performed, no doubt this setting of St Matthew's gospel has not lost its power to communicate with the audience.



Simon has suggested the Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, which had quite a curious conception. The concerto is built to show off both the qualities of a fine harpsichord and the skills of an accomplished player, as was Bach himself. It is said that Bach composed it so it would show off the quality of his new harpsichord and that Bach himself sat at the harpsichord on the première. It is also supposed to have been composed towards a competition against Louis Marchand. It is the first example of a concerto with a solo part for keyboard.



David chose the Cello Suite no. 1, in a rather lovely performance by Mischa Maisky... the ultimate music to soothe troubled minds.



The well-known story behind the Goldberg Variations, is that they were composed to help the sleepless nights of Count von Keyserlingk, although this anecdote, related by Forkel is now believed untrue. Either way, this is among one of the most beautiful and brilliant piano pieces, in which a simple, gentle aria is extended during several minutes. Katia's all time favourite version is that of Glenn Gould.



As Luce, Katia couldn't help adding a second piece to our Bach playlist, the Mass in B minor, conducted by the unsurpassed Frans Brüggen.