The Influence of J.S. Bach on the World of Music


Jul 7, 2023

The influence of Johann Sebastian Bach could be seen in the works of many highly regarded composers like Debussy, Chopin, and Mozart. Beethoven even called Bach the ‘father of all harmony,’ and for Debussy, he was ‘the Good Lord of music.

Bach’s influence can be seen in classical music, pop music, and jazz.

It’s evident that his music can be played on any instrument, with his melodies being so culturally relevant that contemporary musicians have used them in the centuries after his death.

About Bach’s Musical Background

It’s almost like Bach’s musical excellence came into his DNA. From his father, Johann Ambrosius Bach, and his grandfather Christoph Bach to his great-grandfather Johannes, they were all professional musicians in their times.

Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach
Elias Gottlob Haussmann, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bach’s sons Johann Christian, Johann Christoph, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, and Wilhelm Friedemann were all influential composers, as was his nephew Johann Ludwig.

While it remains unclear, he most likely learned the fundamentals of music theory from his father.

From his first formal keyboard lessons from the influential composer Johann Pachelbel to studying church music in the school library, he became a composer and performer of sacred music and the keyboard.

Bach devoted himself to keyboard music, particularly the organ, and worked on church music and chamber and orchestral music.

His Works

Among the many compositions Bach produced, St. Matthew Passion, the Goldberg Variations, the Brandenburg Concertos, two Passions, the Mass in B minor, and 200 surviving cantatas of 300 have seeped into the popular music of modern times.

He was mainly known for his organ music than as a composer. His works include the greatest cantatas, violin concertos, mighty organ works, and sublime music for multiple solo instruments.

However, his solo compositions are the musical building blocks of professional composers and instrumentalists. This includes his concertos, suites, cantatas, canons, inventions, fugues, etc.

Explanation of ornaments written in Johann Sebastian Bach's hand.
Explanation of ornaments written in Johann Sebastian Bach’s hand
Johann Sebastian Bach (digitized by Yale University), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The famous organ written in rhapsodic northern style – Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and Prelude and Fugue in D Major are some of Bach’s famous compositions.

With two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for the keyboard, he composed the Well-Tempered Clavier. However, in his time, clavier referred to many instruments, especially the clavichord or harpsichord, not excluding the organ.

In due course, Bach developed his take on using melody and phrasing in his organ works. He transcribed the works of many composers, showing his admiration for them. Studying the Italian Baroque style and playing Giovanni Pergolesi and Arcangelo Corelli inspired his own seminal violin sonatas.

Influence After Death

Bach’s music was neglected for about 50 years after his death. It was natural that a composer considered old-fashioned even during his lifetime would be of any interest in the time of Mozart and Haydn.

It could also be attributed to his music not being readily available, and most of the church music was losing its importance with changing religious thoughts.

The late 18th-century musicians weren’t ignorant of Bach’s music, which profoundly influenced Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. As a Baroque-era composer, only a few of Bach’s works were written for piano, with the focus being on string instruments, harpsichords, and organs.

A highly religious person, much of his work had a religious symbolism inspired by various hymns. Perhaps, Bach’s implementation of counterpoint (combining two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture, with each retaining its linear character) in his work was his most valuable contribution.

Although he hadn’t invented the technique, his vigorous testing of the boundaries had his work largely characterizing the idea. He revolutionized the concepts of modulation and harmony.

His sophisticated approach to four-part harmony defined the primary format of arranging pitches in Western music – the tonal system.

Bach’s work was also essential in developing the ornamentation techniques that have been excessively used in popular music over the years. Ornamentation is a flurry or rush of musical notes, not vital to the primary melody but intended to add texture and color to the piece.

The Voyager Golden Record is a gramophone record of a broad sample of common sounds, images, music, and languages of Earth sent with two Voyager probes into outer space. More than any other composer, Bach’s music features three times more on this record.

Famous Musicians That He Inspired

Bach was mostly remembered for his instrumental works and as a renowned teacher. Between the late 18th and early 19th centuries, several prominent composers recognized him for his keyboard works.

After being exposed to his work, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and Mendelssohn began writing in a more contrapuntal style.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of 13 in Verona.
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of 13 in Verona
anonymous School of Verona, attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli (Salo, Verona 1706-1770), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mozart learned from his contrapuntal music and transcribed some of Bach’s instrumental works. Beethoven had mastered the Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC) by the time he was 12.

However, Mendelssohn revived Bach’s music by performing St. Matthew Passion. Chopin based the Twenty-Four Preludes, Op. 28 (one of his most important set of pieces) on the WTC.

Modern examples of popular music using counterpoint include Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Scarborough Fair/Canticle,’ and The Beatles’ ‘For No One.’ An avid student of classical music, Paul McCartney used counterpoint in his work with The Beatles.

Several 20th-century composers referred to his music, like Villa-Lobos, in his Bachianas Brasileiras and Ysaye, in his Six Sonatas for solo violin.


Bach certainly did change the course of music history. Whether you’re playing or listening to most Western or instrumental music, he most definitely contributed to it. Apart from his musical offering, his music has the ability to communicate and be understood by all. It crosses the bar of age, knowledge, and background.

According to Max Reger, the famous German composer, “Bach is the beginning and end of all music.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *