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Reflections of Bach  —  compiled by David Gordon


"I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well."

- Johann Sebastian Bach

Not Brook but Ocean should be his name.

- Ludwig Van Beethoven ("Bach" is the German word for "brook")

Now there is music from which a man can learn something.

- W. A. Mozart (on hearing Bach motets in Leipzig)

Whether the angels play only Bach praising God, I am not quite sure.

- Karl Barth

Bach is Bach, as God is God.

- Hector Berlioz

To strip human nature until its divine attributes are made clear, to inform ordinary activities with spiritual fervor, to give wings of eternity to that which is most ephemeral; to make divine things human and human things divine; such is Bach, the greatest and purest moment in music of all time.

- Pablo Casals

Bach is like an astronomer who, with the help of ciphers, finds the most wonderful stars.

- Friederick Chopin

And if we look at the works of JS Bach - a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity - on each page we discover things which we thought were born only yesterday, from delightful arabesques to an overflowing of religious feeling greater than anything we have since discovered. And in his works we will search in vain for anything the least lacking in good taste.

- Claude Debussy

"She played Bach. I do not know the names of the pieces, but I recognized the stiff ceremonial of the frenchified little German courts and the sober, thrifty comfort of the burghers, and the dancing on the village green, the green trees that looked like Christmas trees, and the sunlight on the wide German country, and a tender cosiness; and in my nostrils there was a warm scent of the soil and I was conscious of a sturdy strength that seemed to have its roots deep in mother earth, and of an elemental power that was timeless and had no home in space."

- W. Somerset Maugham (from 'The Alien Corn')

...the greatest Christian music in the world...if life had taken hope and faith from me, this single chorus would restore all.

- Felix Mendelssohn

Bach is the beginning and end of all music.

- Max Reger

I had no idea of the historical evolution of the civilized world's music and had not realized that all modern music owes everything to Bach.

- Niccolai Rimsky-Korsakov

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Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder.

- Robert Schumann

Bach is thus a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads to him.

- Albert Schweitzer

O you happy sons of the North who have been reared at the bosom of Bach, how I envy you.

- Giuseppi Verdi

...the most stupendous miracle in all music!

- Richard Wagner

Bach is a colossus of Rhodes, beneath whom all musicians pass and will continue to pass. Mozart is the most beautiful, Rossini the most brilliant, but Bach is the most comprehensive: he has said all there is to say. If all the music written since Bach's time should be lost, it could be reconstructed on the foundation which Bach laid.

- Charles Gounod

The poetry, the atmosphere, the intensity of expression, the beauty of the preludes and fugues grip, overwhelm, and stimulate us. Let us not be afraid of the supreme contrapuntal science of the fugues, nor be overawed by the stern appearance and heavy wig of Father Bach. Let us gather around him, feel the love, the noble goodness that flow from each one of his phrases and that invigorate and bind us by ties strong and warm.

- Carl Friedrich Zelter (letter to Goethe, 9 June 1827)

(Zelter was the teacher of Felix Mendelssohn)

Study Bach. There you will find everything.

- Johannes Brahms

Bach is the supreme genius of music... This man, who knows everything and feels everything, cannot write one note, however unimportant it may appear, which is anything but transcendent. He has reached the heart of every noble thought, and has done it in the most perfect way.

- Pablo Casals

Any musician, even the most gifted, takes a place second to Bach's at the very start.

- Paul Hindemith

If one were asked to name one musician who came closest to composing without human flaw, I suppose general consensus would choose Johann Sebastian Bach...

- Aaron Copland

In Bach, the vital cells of music are united as the world is in God.

- Gustav Mahler

If Bach is not in Heaven.....I am not going!

- William F. Buckley

And finally...

When eminent biologist and author Lewis Thomas was asked what message he would choose to send from Earth into outer space in the Voyager spacecraft, he answered, "I would send the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach." After a pause, he added, "But that would be boasting."

 

[Compiled in the early 2000s, when I was... careless. I have no citations for these quotes and cannot verify their authenticity. - D.G.]

 

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