Johann Sebastian Bach, The Pop Chart Wizard!

Paul McCartney and John Lennon: a number of songs they composed for The Beatles featured work by Johann Sebastian Bach
Paul McCartney and John Lennon: a number of songs they composed for The Beatles featured work by Johann Sebastian Bach

by Ray Setterfield

July 28, 1750Johann Sebastian Bach, the master of sublime Baroque music, died on this day. Celebrated for the choral and sacred music that he composed nearly 400 years ago, Bach has had a surprising impact on modern pop charts, influencing stars such as Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga.

According to Paul McCartney, Bach’s Bourrée in E minor lent its shape and harmony to the opening of Blackbird, by The Beatles. And a piccolo trumpet plays lines from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in the orchestration of the worldwide Number One hit, Penny Lane.

Other Bach “borrowings” in Beatles’ songs includes All You Need Is Love, where his Invention No. 8 in F rings out during the final orchestral section.

His four-part chorale O Sacred Head Now Wounded inspired Paul Simon when he was writing Bridge Over Troubled Water, and a reworking of Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring opens Lady Linda by the Beach Boys.

The chart-topping Everything’s Gonna Be Alright by pop/hip-hop trio Sweetbox featured a comprehensive sample of Bach’s Air on the G String from his Orchestral Suite No. 3, while the harpsichord music that opens Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance is based on the Fugue in B minor from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Even heavy metal has felt Bach’s influence. His Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is featured in Eddie Van Halen’s instrumental piece, Eruption, while renowned guitarist Jimmy Page adapted Bach’s Lute Bourrée in E minor during a live performance of Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker.

Rap has also encompassed Bach’s work. Slim Shady leans on the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in Eminem’s Brainless, while Brazilian rapper MC Fioti samples Bach’s Partita in A minor for solo flute, in his monster hit, Bum Bum Tam Tam. 

All this would probably have amused – if not gratified – Bach, who was born in Germany on March 21, 1685. He became a composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque era and is seen by many as music's most sublime creative genius.

He came from a family of musicians, stretching back several generations. His father, Johann Ambrosius, worked as the town musician in the family hometown of Eisenach.

In the 65 years that Bach lived he composed 1,128 known pieces of music, while another 23 were lost or unfinished. His best-known compositions include The Well-Tempered Clavier, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Air on the G String, Goldberg Variations, and the Brandenburg Concertos.

In 1706, he married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. They had seven children but only four reached adulthood. Maria herself died in 1720, and the following year, Bach married a singer named Anna Magdalena Wülcken. They had 13 children, bringing Bach’s total as a father to 20, but tragically more than half of the second marriage’s offspring died as children.

By 1740, Bach was struggling with his eyesight, and in 1750 he decided on surgery to correct his vision. It went horribly wrong and the operation left him blind. Said to have been broken-hearted, Bach later suffered a stroke and died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750.

Published: June 18, 2021
Updated: June 21, 2021

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