The Right to Write

Numbers are all around us. They’re in the food we eat – “4 table spoons of sugar, 250g of butter, etc.” They’re on our television screens – the TV show Numb3rs is about a mathematical genius, Charlie Eppes who helps his brother, FBI Special Agent Don Eppes, solve cases using numbers. They’re in Pop music too, without numbers, we wouldn’t have our top 100 hits charts, and artists wouldn’t be able to get their songs to No.1.

And not to mention telephone numbers. Without numbers, maybe telephones and mobiles phones will use pictures to identify a person? – “Oh sorry, I called you by mistake; I wanted to call your twin, so sorry.” But a part of what makes numbers so very important is our age. Without numbers, we wouldn’t know when we were born, or how old we are.

Now another good thing about numbers (or a bad thing about numbers depending on you) is math. Math, like numbers, is terribly useful and can be used to find the areas of triangles and other important things like that.

If you have studied math before, no doubt you would have heard of the Pythagorean Theorem. Which is the formula for finding the area of a right angled triangle:  a² + b² = c². What that means, is a², or the height of the triangle, multiplied by b², the base of the triangle, equals c², the hypotenuse of the triangle. See the diagram below for a clearer view.

Pythagoras' Theorem

Pythagoras' Theorem

This mathematical formula is a priceless and significant part of math as we know it today. So who could have been so clever to think up this formula? None other than a man called Pythagoras.

Pythagoras and math

Pythagoras (c. 570 BC – c. 495 BC) was a Greek mathematician, musician, philosopher and scientist. He was a significant part of the development of math, yet not much is known about him as none of his writing has survived. Though he didn’t leave behind any great writings, he left behind a way of life. His disciples called themselves the Pythagoreans.

The Pythagoreans were a select and secretive group and were divided into two groups merely on the base of their interest. One of them were called the akousmatikoi (“listeners”), who were focused more on the religious side of Pythagoras’ teachings, and the other were the mathēmatikoi (“learners”) who were focused more on of the scientific and mathematical side of Pythagoras’ teachings.

A bust of Pythagoras himself.

A bust of Pythagoras himself.

Nonetheless, the Pythagoreans in general adored numbers, and believed them to be the building blocks of life. They believed that each number had their own personality, and that the explanation for something existing could be explained through numbers.

But becoming a disciple of Pythagoras the man supposedly “sent from the gods”, was a very long process. The applicant’s charter, habits, feelings, words, actions and their way of life in general would be examined by Pythagoras himself, and only if they passed successfully would they be accepted into his school.

If they succeeded, they would then have to give all their property to the school, as everything was held in common. Then, for the next three years, they would have no vote in proceedings, and no medical treatment. And after that, they were required by the school to observe silence for five years, with the aim of training them to tame themselves, first to listen and then to attain wisdom.

If after those long eight years or so the pupil was considered unsuitable, he would be expelled and all his property returned. But, despite the risk of being expelled after all the hard work put in, many people from all over the region flocked to Pythagoras’ school, with hopes of learning from the great master himself.

Pythagoras is the bald one in the middle, he is teaching his disciples music.

Pythagoras is the bald one in the middle. He is teaching his disciples music.

Pythagoras and music

Pythagoras not only discovered his famous theorem, but he also discovered the overtone series, which is what you hear on a modern piano today.

It is said that one day Pythagoras was passing by a blacksmiths workshop and he noticed the various harmonies coming from the blacksmiths shop. Later, he went back to investigate, and found that the different tones that came from the blacksmiths hammer when it hit the metal changed according to the weight of his anvil.

Pythagoras was intrigued. He experimented and found that by plucking a string one foot long it vibrates x times per second, and by plucking another piece of string two feet long, it vibrates 2x per second, but at the same pitch. Thus, plucking both strings simultaneously or one after the other, creates an octave.

After further experimenting, Pythagoras found that by dividing one of the strings into halves, thirds, quarters, or fifths of the original length while keeping the other string the same length and then plucking in a similar fashion created an octave, a perfect fifth, and a major third respectively. To hear the differences click here.

This discovery was very important to Pythagoras, for he realised that these tones played musically and in the right sequence on an instrument could change the behaviour patterns of a person and accelerate the healing process.

Pythagoras’ discovery of music prompted the opening of a Pythagoras Graduate School of Music and Sound Research in Finland, and focuses more on the academic side of music and less on the performance side. Their main research fields are:

  • Musical acoustics and sound processing
  • brain research
  • music theory
  • psychology of music
  • media design

Pythagoras’ significant discovery lent further proof to the belief of the Pythagoreans: that everything, including music, was fundamentally made out of their beloved numbers.

The Lily Maid of Astolat

History, being rather unclear, has many different versions of Elaine, Lily Maid of Astolat, from the time of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In the French version of King Arthur, Mort Artu, she tries to get Sir Lancelot to wear her sleeve in a joust after she declares her love.

In Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, she has fallen in love with Lancelot and he agrees to wear her sleeve in a jousting competition as the alternative to becoming involved with her.

In both versions, Elaine’s father, Bernard of Astolat, organises a jousting tournament, in which Lancelot participates. When Lancelot is wounded, Elaine convinces her father to bring him to her chamber for her to nurse him back to health.

While playing nurse, Elaine falls deeply in love with Lancelot. But when she confesses her love for him, he rejects her for he is in love with Queen Guinevere who is King Arthur’s wife. Unfortunately for Lancelot, King Arthur is his boss, and makes it hard for him to see Queen Guinevere. Elaine is heartbroken when Lancelot rejects her and consequently dies of a broken heart. As per her instructions, her family puts her in a barge and floats her down the river to Camelot with a note to Lancelot.

Elaine floating down the river.

Elaine floating down the river.

When she reaches Camelot, she is discovered by the lords, ladies and knights of Camelot. Queen Guinevere is outraged with jealousy until she finds out that Elaine died a virgin and nothing ever happened between her and Lancelot.

Lancelot is guilt-ridden and pays for a lavish funeral for Elaine (which could have been what her family had hoped for in the first place by sending her floating down the river).

The Lady of Shalott

Alfred Tennyson, also known as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is one of the more popular poets in the English language. He was also Poet Laureate – a position that he held longer than any laureate before or after him.

One of Tennyson’s most famous poems is The Lady of Shalott, based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat. Tennyson’s poem was on a poem he had read, Donna do Scalotta, and so it is very different from Thomas Mallory’s version. In this version, no joust ever took place, Elaine had never met Lancelot before, and she is under an undisclosed curse to forever weave a magic web in an isolated tower, with only a mirror to reflect the view from her window.

Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord Alfred Tennyson

However, one day the handsome knight, Sir Lancelot, rides past her window in the tower and the effect that he has on her is so strong that she turns to look out the window at him and the curse is broken. She leaves her tower and finds a boat near a riverbank. She writes her name on the prow and floats down the river to Camelot (in a subconscious effort to chase Lancelot, perhaps).

But before the boat reaches Camelot, she freezes to death and arrives at the palace of King Arthur where Lancelot stands among the Knights, lords and ladies, admiring her beauty.

“Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
A corse between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

– Excerpt from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott.

The story of Elaine of Astolat has been changed and re-moulded many times. The unrequited love that she bore is very much a human experience, making her character more real than most of the others in the time of King Arthur. Though her actions may have been a bit drastic, she has given us great stories and poems, for such is the wonder of the Lady of Shalott.

France was not always the generally peaceful country which we know today. In the 1700s, France underwent an enormous upheaval which undermined its Monarchy and changed to a Republican government.

But how did it all start? Well, in 1789, the people of France decided that it was…

…the Last Straw

When King Louis XVI of France ascended to the throne, the country was already nearing bankruptcy. Historians generally think that Louis XVI’s predecessor, King Louis XV, is to blame. Louis XV had fought many wars; therefore sending the country into an economic crisis. Naturally, the people of France were not happy with that, as taxes were raised very high for the starving nation. At that time, the streets of France were terribly dirty, and diseases were common. There were many people living on the streets as well. For the impoverished people, looking at the well dressed royals stuffing themselves certainly did not help matters.

In fact, it was the last straw.

Do You Hear the People Sing?

In 1789, the people of France, lead by Napoleon Bonaparte, began the fight against the monarchy. But what really started the ball rolling was the Tennis Court Oath. The Tennis Court Oath was the historic event where 576 out of the 577 members of the Third Estate (the Third Estate consisted of the everyone who was not rich, in other words, the poorly paid working class people, and the even poorer, poorly paid peasants) and a few members of the First Estate were fed up with the Monarchy, and gathered themselves into an indoor tennis court and solemnly swore a collective oath which goes as follows:

We swear never to separate ourselves from the National Assembly, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the realm is drawn up and fixed upon solid foundations.

Not long after the Tennis Court Oath, they stormed the Bastille prison, for though it held few prisoners and was about to close, the Bastille symbolized the royal oppression, and thus, it fell. The guardian of the Bastille was Bernard-René de Launay, who was actually born in the Bastille prison, as his father was the previous guardian. De Launay felt the brunt of the National Assembly’s force, and was battered to death by a raging mob.

Four years and two months after the revolution began, the era which would be known as “The Reign of Terror” (1793 – 1794) began. Led by Napoleon Bonaparte, monarchs (including King Louis XVI) were guillotined left; right and centre, and an estimated 30,000 people were killed all across France. The first victim of the guillotine was the unpopular and tragic queen, Marie Antoinette. Ironically, when Marie Antoinette first reached France, she was but 14, and adored by the people.


Things went downhill around 1782 – 1785; Antoinette had already given birth to a daughter and a son, and with a family enlargement in mind, she bought the Château de Saint-Cloud independently from the husband, King Louis XVI. At that time, the public was developing a highly frivolous image of the Queen, and the purchase of the Château de Saint-Cloud certainly did not help. The public was quickly seeing Marie Antoinette as an empty-headed, spendthrift foreign queen.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

In 1799, while stranded in Egypt, Napoleon heard news of the British’s temporary departure from the French ports and set sail for France. Upon returning, he set about to seize power. On the 9th of November 1799, he overthrew the French Directory (the body of five which had been holding the power in France) and replaced it with his own French Consulate, which consisted of three consuls. Of course, he declared himself the First Consul, but eventually, it lead to just one single consul, then finally, Emperorship.

However, Napoleon was not always in France, as he was busy conquering other countries and whatnot. But in 1812, his luck began to change as he was defeated in Russia. From then on, it all went downhill, and he lost his last battle, the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.


Napoleon died in 1821, it is generally thought that he died from stomach cancer, though some people say he was murdered by arsenic.

The French Revolution was a critical period in history, not only for France, but also for Britain, whose English radicals and numerous liberals wholly supported the revolution. Their motto was “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”

The French Revolution’s influence stretches to the 21st century, mostly thanks to Victor Hugo’s novel, later turned into a musical, Les Misérables (also known as Les Mis or Les Miz). On October 8, 2006 the show celebrated its 21st anniversary, and it’s achievement as the longest running West End musical. Interestingly, it’s not written by Andrew Lloyd Weber, who wrote a significant amount of the modern musicals showing today, but in the original French version, the music is by Claude-Michel Schönberg and the lyrics are by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc

Les Mis the book and the play has been translated into various languages, from Polish to Japanese to the obvious English. A recent revival of Les Misérables in pop culture is Britain’s Got Talent’s Susan Boyle’s version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables.

The French Revolution started in 1789 and ended in 1799. In those ten years, France entered a zone of turmoil, grief, and violence. But it was also a time of renewal, a much needed change of government and overall change for the better.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A name that is known by musicians and music lovers all over the world. This child prodigy was a highly influential Classical era composer.

If you listen to a Mozart composition and it transports you to another world, welcome the journey. That would be what they call the “Mozart effect”. It has been found that listening to Mozart, raised students’ IQs by about eight or nine points.

It has also been said that the Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448) decreases the number of seizures that epileptic people have. Maybe part of the reason is that it just sounds nice.

The Making of Mozart

On 27 January 1756, Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl became the proud parents of a baby boy, christened the next day as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Later, the boy’s name was changed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – he would come to be known as one of the greatest composers ever.

Anonymous portrait painted in 1763 on commission from Leopold.

Anonymous portrait painted in 1763 on commission from Leopold.

When Wolfgang Amadeus (or Wolfgangerl to his friends, later shortened to Wolferl) was born, he had only one older sister who had survived birth, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl). Nannerl was a talented musician and it was her music lessons that encouraged Wolfgang’s love for music. When Wolfgang was three, he started to take an interest in her lessons, and started to compose small pieces which his father would write down and he would play.

Leopold was Wolfgang’s only teacher, and while he was certainly a devoted teacher, it was evident that the small boy was eager to make progress beyond what he was taught.

Once Wolfgang’s gift had been discovered, the Mozarts took off on a tour of Europe – Leopold would play the violin and Wolfgang and Nannerl would play on the keyboard. Wolfgang would impress the audience by playing the keyboard with a cloth on top, so that he couldn’t see the keys.

The tour was a hit, and the Mozarts was invited to play for the royal court during their trip to Vienna. This went well, and the noblemen were greatly impressed by young Wolfgang. Apparently, when Wolfgang slipped on the floor, Marie Antoinette, the young Archduchess aged only seven, helped him up. Wolfgang extended his thanks in the form of a marriage proposal. He was, in all probability, gracefully declined.

But a child of his age can take only so much stress, and the travelling wore down the young Wolfgang who developed scarlet fever for two weeks. Those two weeks were enough for the hype to wear off, and people soon forgot about the talented family by the name of Mozart.

Marriage for Mozart

In 1781, Mozart decided that he was old enough to pursue an independent career, and departed for Vienna. He met Aloysia Weber, who was a talented singer, and he fell deeply in love with her. However, she rejected him and later married the actor, Joseph Lange.

Posthumous painting by Barbara Krafft in 1819

Posthumous painting by Barbara Krafft in 1819

Vienna is where he had the famous keyboard competition with Muzio Clementi. In 1782, after establishing himself as “the finest keyboard player in Vienna”, Mozart moved in with the Webers (yes, Webers as in Aloysia Weber’s family). You might’ve thought that it would’ve been a tad awkward, but maybe Mozart didn’t mind because he had set his sights on the Weber’s third daughter, Constanze. She was happier to be Mozart’s wife than her sister, and they married on 4 August 1782, with Leopold’s “grudging consent”. The couple had six children together:

Raimund Leopold (17 June – 19 August 1783),

Karl Thomas Mozart,

Johann Thomas Leopold (18 October – 15 November 1786),

Theresia Constanzia Adelheid Friedericke Maria Anna (27 December 1787 – 29 June 1788),

Anna Maria (died soon after her birth on 25 December 1789) and

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart.

During 1782-83, Mozart was highly influenced by the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, two highly influencial composers from the Baroque period. Like the Classical and Romantic eras, the Baroque era had its own distinctive sound and styles. Such as the fugal (or poly-phony) style. Poly-phony is when there are several voices at the same time, as opposed to the typical Classical right-hand melody and left-hand harmony.

In Mozart’s magical Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a fine example with several fugal passages. One could say the The Magic Flute was the height of Mozart’s spiritual development, and after listening to it one would feel like they had just been refreshed to the extent of feeling reborn. Another fine example of the influence of Bach and Handel lies in the finale of Symphony No. 41 in C (K. 551), Mozart’s last symphony.

It was in Vienna that Mozart met Joseph Haydn and they struck up a close friendship despite the difference in age. The two remained close friends and after Mozart’s death,   Haydn offered to teach Wolfgang and Constanze’s youngest son music when he was of age, and did so.

Mozart’s Memorial

Since the scarlet fever Mozart had contracted as a child, he was a rather sickly person. He fell in and out of sickness all throughout his life. On 5 December 1791, Mozart had his final illness. He passed away at 1 a.m., leaving behind an incomplete Requiem in D Minor (K. 626), an influenced Beethoven, and an altogether changed musical world.

Some say that the Requiem is what led Mozart to his early death. It was commissioned by the eccentric count Franz von Walsegg anonymously. The count himself was an amateur chamber musician, and one of his hobbies was commissioning music from composers greater than him and passing it off as his own.

The Requiem was one such an occasion. The Requiem was a death mass intended for the Count’s late wife, and about death, basically. So when Mozart started writing it, he became so immersed in it that the only way that he was to finish it was to ultimately, die.

Mozart enjoyed fame during his lifetime, and he often earned enough for him and his family to live a wealthy life. However, they didn’t have savings accounts back then, and when the Mozart’s found that they were spending excessively, they had not enough willpower to do anything about it.

Mozart did not die in complete poverty, but the last of his great grand children did. In fact, the community had to pool together some money to ensure that she did not die on the streets. Long after Mozart’s time, there have been many great composers, but none quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On 21st June 2009, the Earth will be at the closest distance to the sun than it has been the whole year. When the Earth is either at its furthest or closest distance from the sun, it is called a solstice. Solstices have the power to bring change and new energies.

As astronomers have found out, the Earth is tilted on an axis, and very slowly moves round the sun, at the same time that it spins around this axis. Astronomers such as Galileo, have also found that indeed, the sun and its solar system do not move around the Earth, but instead, the Earth is one of the many planets that circles the sun as the centre of the solar system.

Far left: the Summer Solstice, Far right: the Winter Solstice, in between: Equinoxes

Far left: the Summer Solstice, Far right: the Winter Solstice, in between: Equinoxes

As you can imagine, the sun holds such power, that when a Solstice comes around, the Earth’s many inhabitants can feel the effects.

The  sibling of a solstice, so to speak, is an Equinox. An Equinox happens when the sun is right in the middle of the Earth’s equator, and the Earth is neither leaning towards nor away from the sun.

Solstices happen twice a year, once in June – the summer one – and once in December – the winter one. The Summer Solstice occurs sometime between June 20 and June 21, and the Winter Solstice sometime between December 21 and December 22. The Summer Solstice is the longest day and the shortest night in the year. In turn, the Winter Solstice is the longest night but the shortest day in the year.

Humans have known about the relationship between the Earth and the sun since the very beginning, and have built monuments such as the Stonehenge to monitor the sun’s yearly progress.

Solstices are celebrated all over the world. There are the Dōngzhì festival in China, Christmas worldwide as well as the Summer Solstice celebrations in many Mediterranean countries.

In the Dōngzhì festival, which takes place around the Winter Solstice, Chinese families get together to eat yummy glutinous rice balls (Tāng Yuán) that represent family reunion and prosperity. Christmas, which also takes place around the time of the Winter Solstice, is not only a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but also a celebration of the Winter Solstice.

The delicious

The delicious Tāng Yuán (pronounced: Tong Yee-IRN).

Many Mediterranean countries dedicate the Summer Solstice to St. John the Baptist, and their rituals are very similar to the Celtic festival, Samhain.

The spiritual aspect of the solstices is change. It is said that with the Summer Solstice, tomorrow 21 June 2009, all of the old and murky will be swept away and the new will be brought in. Many people will feel the turmoil that this entails in the few months, weeks or days leading up to the solstice.

For example, a project that you’ve been trying to push for a long time is just not budging, and things are just not working out for you, but never fear, for when the Solstice comes, everything should become clear.

Neil Gaiman opens up this unique book with darkness – a hand with a knife – and a baby.

The baby is a curious boy and while the mysterious “the-man-Jack” murders the baby’s family, the boy escapes from his crib and toddles out of the house unbeknownst to the-man-Jack, thus saving his life.

He wanders into a graveyard where two ghosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owens, find him. After much contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide to keep him and to give him the freedom of the graveyard. Bod is, however, not allowed outside the graveyard in case he is murdered by the people who killed his parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Owens will be his father and mother, and Silas, who is the keeper of the graveyard and the only one who can wander beyond the gates of the graveyards, will be the boy’s guardian.

After further contemplation, the residents of the graveyard decide on a name. Thus, Nobody “Bod” Owens is christened. He’s normal boy…well, except for the fact that he lives in a graveyard and all his friends are ghosts.

But all that changes when Bod is about five. He meets a girl named Scarlett Amber Perkins. When Bod and Scarlett visit a barrow – a place where people keep their treasure – they meet the Sleer, a creature whose master went away and promised to return but never did. Three weeks later, Scarlett’s father gets a job in Scotland and she is forced to move.

In what seems like a twist to the story, Bod goes to a normal school. Silas lets Bod go to school on one condition: he is not to be noticed. Living up to his name, he’s a Nobody there; even the teachers have no idea who he is.

In time, the good in him comes out the way it usually does in most fictional and TV heroes. He tries to stop some school bullies by teaching them a lesson, using skills that he learned from the ghosts. It works but people start paying attention to him.

After nearly being arrested for scaring the bullies, Bod stops going to school and life returns to “normal”. However, something has changed. Bod has tasted the outside world and he gets more adventurous.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

There are two illustrations to choose from, this is the less scary one.

He visits a part of the graveyard that has been forbidden to him ever since he could remember. There he meets a witch by the name of Liza Hempstock. He befriends her, and makes it his mission to get her a headstone, as witches didn’t get headstones in the olden days. It just wasn’t done.

He gets her the headstone, and Liza develops something of a crush on him, despite him being only about 12. In the process of getting the headstone, he makes his presence known to the Jack-of-all-Trades, a group of assassins whose best assassin is the-man-Jack.

While this book is certainly one of a kind, it has some amount of predictability. Scarlett comes back from Scotland with a Scottish accent that makes her feel very out of place. Heck, it makes me feel out of place for her, just thinking about it.

When Scarlett returns to the Old Town where Bod’s graveyard is, she meets the-man-Jack in said graveyard. She and her newly-divorced mother are charmed by “Mr. Jack Frost”, and when she meets up with Bod, she unknowingly leads Bod to “Mr. Frost” while trying to help him find his parents.

Thus, the chase ensues. The four remaining Jacks show up and they all go after Bod. He cleverly traps each of them to their deaths, until the final one, the-man-Jack is left. Bod finally frees himself from the Jack-of-all-Trades and gives the Sleer their new master – the-man-Jack. Scarlett is really shocked, and wants to never see Bod again. Sadly, they don’t reunite.

This book is certainly a refreshing one to read. It’s well written, the plot is well thought out and it’s realistic. It’s a children’s book in so far as there are no swear words in it. But when reading this book (and possibly losing a night of sleep over it), you don’t feel like it’s a children’s book at all, as there are so many layers to it. It’s certainly a book you won’t regret reading – or losing a night’s sleep over.

When you think of classical music, three composer’s names tend come up: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Despite them all having been around at different times (though Mozart and Beethoven met briefly in Vienna), they had something in common. They were all geniuses. And they were all not appreciated in their own times. Later, though, the works of Bach was rediscovered by Felix Mendelssohn, who arranged for a performance of St. Matthews Passion in 1829. It was a resounding success and it earned Mendelssohn much acclaim at the early age of 20. After that performance, Wolfgang Schmieder began indexing Bach’s works giving us that lovely “B.W.V” next to a number that we now see beside every one of Bach’s pieces.

How did this wonderful composer come about to this earth? Well, let’s go back to the beginning…

The Time of Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 31 March 1685 and died in 28 July 1750.

Bach lived during the period of music known as the Baroque period. If you study Classical music, you will notice that pieces composed in the same era will sound similar. For example, if you were to compare Johann Pachabel and Antonio Vivaldi, they would both have about the same styles, such as the Poly-phony style in which there are two voices in one piece, and not just melody and harmony as it evolved into in the Classical period. If you don’t recognize the names, Johann Pachabel is best known for his Canon in D, the only canon he ever wrote, and Antonio Vivaldi is best known for his Four Seasons composition.

Sonata for single violin #1 in E minor BWV 1001, Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach's own handwriting

Another composer from the baroque period and J.S Bach’s contemporary is Georg Friedrich Händel – who later added an “E” to the “Georg”, changed the “Friedrich” to “Frideric” (though who could blame him – Fried-rich?) and dropped the two dots above his “ä” in his “Händel” when he moved to England and became a subject of the country, making him George Frideric Handel.

A person, who had much to do with Bach’s career and who could have changed it was Georg Philipp Telemann, who in his time exceeded Bach’s popularity greatly as he was offered a post in Eisenach as Kapellmeister over Bach. Despite that, Telemann and Bach may have kept up a strong correspondence with one another, and Telemann was even godfather of one Bach’s own son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Curiously, although Handel lived about 50 miles away from Bach in later life, they never once met – a fact which Bach regretted deeply.

When Bach was 10, he became an orphan and was sent to live with his oldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach. It was there that, at midnight, when everyone was asleep, he would creep down to his brother’s study and copy music in a dimly lit room. It may have been because of this that later in life his eyes gave out and he died shortly after a failed eye operation.

When J. S. Bach was 22, he decided that he was of the age to settle down and choose a wife. He had fallen deeply in love with his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach, and so it was perfect that they should marry. In those days, marrying one’s cousin was not scandalous at all, and considered okay as long as it was your 2nd cousin and not your 1st. Scary, isn’t it? Bach and Maria had seven children together, of which four survived childbirth.

They had a comfortable and happy marriage until Maria’s sudden death in 1720. According to Maria and Bach’s second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian was away in the Carlsbad spa with his employer, the Duke of Anhalt-Cöthen, when Maria died. When Johann Sebastian returned to their home in Cöthen, he found out that she had died and had already been buried.

Bach took a year to mourn but looking after four children was not an easy task. He was a busy man as the Kapellmeister (director of music) to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and so he married Anna Magdalena Wilcke in 1721 to help out with the washing up, presumably. Anna Magdalena was 17 years Bach’s junior and a very talented soprano singer. Bach wrote a number of compositions dedicated to her, most notably the Notebook for Anna Magdalena.

Together, they had 13 children, of whom six survived.

It has to be said that Bach, like Beethoven, was rather grumpy in his time, but perhaps that is to be expected of a perfectionist.

Bach looking rather grumpy.

And older Bach looking rather grumpy.

After Bach

Bach’s legacy lives on, and is an irreplaceable part of every classical musician’s repertoire. The Classical era gave us melodious composers such as Joseph Haydn, Johann Christian Bach, Muzio Clementi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Romantic period gave us breath-taking composers such as Felix Mendelssohn, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Frederic Chopin and Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Baroque music gave us many marvelous composers like Arcangelo Corelli, George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachabel and Antonio Vivaldi, but none like the great Johann Sebastian Bach.

Since Mendelssohn’s history changing discovery, Bach has garnered many admirers’, among whom, are Frederic Chopin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. He has influenced thousands of young composers in both Classical and Rock/Pop genres. In fact, his Toccata and Fugue in D minor has been used in many rock songs. Bach has even been referred to as the “father of all music” – a title that has never been more true.

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

June 2017
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