When it comes to the piano and exceptional music, Bach is a name that you will hear again, and again...and again! But all for good measure, Johann Sebastian Bach remains one of the most celebrated and interesting classical composers to have ever lived.
Today, following our beginners guide to classical music and focuses on other iconic composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, we focus on the works of Bach, offering his music in a number of ability based titles from our friends at Presto Music.
Each of these titles are suited to those who are just beginning piano, right the way through to those who would consider themselves to play to an advanced or near professional standard, simply scroll to the level that you would consider yourself and discover a new world of possibility! So without further delay, let’s jump into the wonderful world of Bach, why he is such a piano icon and how his works have impacted the world today!
About J.S Bach
To set some context behind the works of Bach, it’s important to learn a little about his life. Bach was born into a remarkable family of musicians who were immensely proud of their achievements, however by the age of just 10 Bach found himself an orphan after the death of both of his parents. His older brother Johann Christoph, a church organist in Ohrdruf, took him in. It was here that his lust for musical exploration came into its own, with a sensational soprano voice, he was a large part of the church and school choir until his voice broke, where he then returned to the violin and harpsichord.
In 1707, Bach headed to Mühlhausen, Germany where he won the post of organist at the court of the Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. He wrote many church cantatas and some of his best compositions for the organ while working for the duke. During this time, Bach played for a number of high figures, including the Duke of Bradnbung, prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cothen. This helped lead to the creation of a series of orchestra concertos, which became known as the "Brandenburg Concertos” and are considered to be some of Bach's greatest works.
Towards the end of his life, by 1740, Bach was struggling with his eyesight, but he continued to work despite his vision problems. He still continued to perform for countless royals and shows in churches, but in 1749, he tried to fix his failing sight by having surgery. The surgery failed and ended up leaving him completely blind. Later that year, Bach suffered a stroke. He died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750.
Musically, Bach was a master at invoking and maintaining different emotions. He was an expert storyteller as well, often using melody to suggest actions or events. In his works, Bach drew from different music styles from across Europe, including French and Italian. He used counterpoint, the playing of multiple melodies simultaneously, and fugue, the repetition of a melody with slight variations, to create richly detailed compositions. He is considered to be the best composer of the Baroque era, and one of the most important figures in classical music in general.
Easy -Intermediate Pieces
Thanks to the popularity and impact that Bach’s works have had on the world, many of his compositions have been translated into highly accessible volumes designed specifically with new players in mind. As with all sheet music, a little theory and understanding how to read and interpret sheet music is required to play these pieces, however they offer many a fantastic introduction to bringing Bach’s exquisite sound into your home and should offer some support for those working to around Grade 1 – 4.
As featured in almost all of our other lists of iconic composers, we are huge fans of the ‘My First’ series. Featuring a plethora of works, My First Bach contains many educational pieces which are, for the most part, arranged in increasing difficulty. Easy two-part chorales and dances are followed by more demanding little preludes, two-part inventions and the first Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier. This volume offers newcomers to the piano a fantastic book to improve skills whilst beginning from a highly accessible position.
Along a similar line to the My First Bach, is ‘My First Book Of Bach’, which is perhaps a little more adult focused, but still created with the beginner in mind. Containing twenty-six favourite pieces in easy piano arrangements, edited by David Dutkanicz, delight in these simple piano arrangements of familiar melodies such as Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring, Wachet Auf and highlights from the Brandenburg Concertos, Goldberg Variations and Inventions, plus menuets, gavottes, bourrees and other fun-to-play pieces, all gathered together here to demonstrate the beauty, enjoyment and skill of J.S. Bach's compositions.
For those who are perhaps more fans of Bach’s organ work, this collection of easy arrangements for piano of well-known choral, organ and orchestral works is for you!
Another easy arrangement has been added to this new edition in response to popular demand: the famous "Sinfonia” from the Christmas Oratorio. Contents also include: Air - Badinerie - I call to Thee, Lord Jesu Christ - Jesus, Thou art still my Treasure - Now comes the Heathens’ Saviour - Siciliano and plenty more. With plenty to explore and discover, this is a sensational place for any beginner!
Intermediate - Early Advanced Pieces
As we shift into the more intermediate works of Bach, we are brought to a far more in depth understanding as to the nuance and emotion behind his works. Each of these pieces are typically suited to around the Grade 4-6 mark, however it’s not uncommon for many to find certain pieces easier to master and others incredibly difficult to understand.
Each of these pieces and books however do bring with them an immense sense of joy and reward for those who can master them.
Around this level, we can also begin to delve into far deeper understandings of Bach’s works by focusing on the individual compositions that make his works so iconic, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is one such example that brings with it a warming sense of beauty and exploration of what the piano can unlock to learners.
Part of the ‘more than the score…’ series, this volume focuses on one piece (in this case, Bach’s iconic Prelude & Fugue in C major) with written masterclasses and background information encouraging an exploration of the music – beyond the printed score.
Written masterclasses from one of a panel of internationally-renowned pianists including Joanna MacGregor, Roy Howat, Daniel Grimwood, Clare Hammond and Adam Tendler, this exceptional volume allows you to discover Bach in an entirely new way, offering immense insight and depth into the work.
Many consider Bach to be the alpha and omega of piano playing: there is hardly a piano pupil who did not start off with his little preludes or his inventions. And almost all pianists regard his Well-tempered Clavier as an unsurpassed highpoint in the history of piano music.
This exceptional volume follows the sensational path of Bach’s life, but not without the occasional sideways glance at some less prominent pieces by the Master, such as his picturesque “Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother”, opening Bach up in an entirely new way.
Advanced - Professional Level Pieces
Finally, we move into the most seasoned of Bach pieces and those that bring with them a truly masterful understanding of the piano and Bach’s exceptional works in expression. To accomplish any works within this next category is truly a challenge in itself and requires a sensational level of appreciation of the instrument, however those willing to try will receive incredible rewards.
For those looking for what could almost be considered ‘The Bible Of Bach’, look no further! Featuring over 23 of the composers most famous masterpieces, this volume is all the Bach lover needs to delve into a sensational appreciation of Bach’s works.
Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias, better known as two- and three-part inventions, were an integral part of the teaching repertoire used in the composer’s piano lessons - and many players will know them in some way or another!
Within this volume, ornamented versions from copies by Bach’s pupils providing an insight into Bach’s ornamentation have been printed separately; any mixing of the different versions has been deliberately avoided. A suggestion has been made, by means of an example, for the realisation of the ornament signs of Sinfonia No. 5. The notes on interpretation and the critical remarks provide information on further aspects of the performance practice. They are to be considered as suggestions and encouragement to study works the execution of which had not been laid down to the last detail, thus opening up a wide range of creative possibilities for teaching.
This volume covers Bach's idea of how composing a collection of preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys was new and revolutionary in the second decade of the 18th century.
Bach was the first composer to conquer the entire breadth pf tonality in his Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), thus providing the musical world with masterpiece of keyboard literature. The preludes and fugues of “The Well-TemperedClavier” embrace an entire cosmos of compositional devices and musical characters the “ne plus ultra” of ‘unity through diversity’. Here Bach not only presented the sum total of keyboard artistry in his day but foresaw its future evolution. His treatment of the keys marked a turning point in music history.
Almost an insight into the personal life of Bach, written when a 20-year-old soprano employed at the princely court in Köthen married the court’s Kapellmeister, set to become the greatest composer of the age. As his second wife she married into a young family with four children, and a busy household filled with music. The music book that Bach presented to his new wife Anna Magdalena in 1722, and replaced more lavishly in 1725, treats us to a tantalising glimpse inside this unique family, allowing us to sit beside Bach as a composer, teacher, husband and father. Over the years, these notebooks became a place for the family to share instructional exercises, favourite pieces – by Bach and other composers – to play or sing, early composition efforts from the children, and first versions of some of Bach’s more ambitious keyboard works.
We hope you have enjoyed this list and have found something that interests you! The world of Bch truly is a colourful one to explore, so we wish you all the best in your ventures. For expert advice on getting more from your instrument and making sure you have the right piano to enable expression to Bach’s level, if you are looking to upgrade your piano, contact our experts today!