Johann Sebastian. Bach: The Legend Endures Even After 300 Years. His Beautiful Compositions Still Have An Impact On The Music World Today

ByQuyen Anne

Sep 10, 2023

12 Of The Greatest Bach Piano Pieces: His Best Keyboard Works

Bach is one of the most revered classical composers of all time. His music has been enjoyed by audiences for centuries, and his piano pieces are some of the most beloved classical works ever written.

So, If you are looking for an introduction to the great composer, in this blog post, we’ll take a look at 12 of the greatest Bach piano pieces of all time. So sit back and enjoy some amazing Bach music!

1. Minuet In G Major

First, we have Bach’s Minuet in G major. This is one of the most recognizable pieces in all of classical piano, and even if you aren’t sure exactly what this piece sounds like, there’s a good chance you have heard it before.

The piece is known for its elegant melodies and simple harmonies and many beginner piano students will learn this piece because it is relatively easy to play. However, even experienced pianists enjoy playing Minuet in G Major because of its beauty and charm.

After learning the basics of reading your notes, counting the beats, and how to read the key, you should give this piece a try. It is not that challenging, but it will test the basics of fingering, phrasing, and counting.

2. Toccata And Fugue In D Minor

Okay, so Bach’s Toccata And Fugue In D Minor is actually a piece for the organ, but it is arguably his most recognizable composition.

Just about everyone has heard this piece, and you have probably heard it in the background of a wide variety of horror movies. If you go out at all on Halloween, there is a good chance that you will hear this piece somewhere.

Even though it doesn’t sound like the happiest piece in the world, it is still absolutely beautiful. While you will not be able to mimic the sound of the organ on the piano, there are still plenty of transcriptions available.

3. The Goldberg Variations: BMV 998

In general, as you move forward in music history, the pieces get more challenging; however, there are plenty of pieces that Bach wrote that are plenty challenging enough! Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a perfect example of this.

The Goldberg Variations are among the most challenging pieces in all of classical piano. Even though there are some variations that are relatively straightforward, it truly takes a master of the piano to play all of the Goldberg Variations exactly as they were intended.

If you feel like you have the skills necessary to tackle them, consider giving them a try! Keep in mind that you do not need to learn all of them at the same time. Pick your favorites and learn those.

4. The Italian Concerto In F

Bach wrote plenty of beautiful concertos during his time, and one of the most popular is the Italian Concerto. It has been featured on TV shows and movies before, so don’t be surprised if you have heard it before.

There are several movements, but the third movement is the most recognizable. It is also the most challenging. It is a movement of perpetual motion, and it does not stop for anything!

It takes a lot of practice to learn how to play this piece well, but it is definitely worth it.

5. French Suite No.2 In C Minor

If you are looking for an intermediate piece you might be able to play, consider tackling The French Suite No. 2 in C minor. Arguably one of Bach’s best and most popular keyboard works, it’s a perfect example of the composer’s mastery of the genre.

It is not a piece that will push you to your limits, but it is a great way for you to test some of the basic skills regarding the piano. You will be asked to handle basic changes in expression and phrasing, and you will have to work hard to adequately convey the emotions of a piece.

The suite is divided into seven movements, each of which features a different dance style. Throughout the work, Bach demonstrates his remarkable ability to evoke different moods and emotions through his music.

The French Suite No. 2 is a timeless masterpiece that remains as fresh and relevant today as it was when it was first composed over 250 years ago.

6. Prelude And Fugue No. 2

If you want to push your skills just a bit more, you may want to take a closer look at some of the preludes and fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier. It is one of the most recognizable collections of sheet music for the piano!

If you start at the front and work your way forward, you will be exposed to a wide variety of beautiful pieces. This includes the second Prelude and Fugue, which is very recognizable and one of Bach’s most famous piano works. It’s often used as an audition piece for conservatories and music schools.

The Prelude is meant to be played up-tempo and is a beautiful, lyrical piece that showcases the pianist’s range and facility.

The Fugue is a complex and challenging work that requires the pianist to have a strong command of counterpoint.

Both the Prelude and the Fugue are essential works in the Bach canon, and they are sure to challenge and delight any pianist who takes on the challenge.

7. Air On The G String

Of all of Bach’s piano pieces, “Air on the G String” is perhaps the best known. Written as part of his Orchestral Suite No. 3, the piece was originally intended for string orchestra but you can certainly learn the piano arrangement on your own.

While it’s a relatively simple and straightforward piece, pne of the things that makes “Air on the G String” so special is its melody. The soaring theme is both beautiful and timeless.

As you would expect, it has been used in countless movies, commercials, and TV shows over the years as well as at weddings. It’s no wonder that this piece continues to be one of Bach’s most popular works.

8. Concerto In D Minor – Adagio

Bach is far from the only well-known composer of the Baroque era. He kept in touch with a wide variety of Italian and French composers, and he often tried to mimic them with his compositions.

That is exactly what he does with his Concerto In D Minor. It is a slight modification in style when compared to other composers of his era, including Lully, Couperin, and Corelli, but it is still a beautiful piece.

One of Bach’s most popular piano pieces, it is well known for its beautiful and moving Adagio, the second of three movements in the concerto.

The Adagio begins with a simple, yet elegant melody in the right hand, which is then supported by the left hand providing the harmony. The Adagio builds to a powerful climax, before calming back down.

The Concerto in D minor is a fantastic work, and the Adagio is one of Bach’s finest moments.

9. Concerto No. 1 In D Minor

Bach’s Concerto No. 1 In D Minor is another beautiful concerto that you may want to try. At the time he was writing this piece, he was the concert director for the Collegium Musicum, and he was asked to continually produce new pieces.

While it’s not one for the beginner pianist, there are plenty of arrangements available, so try to find one for the solo piano. Then, test yourself by trying to bring out the various melodies as Bach intended.

10. Invention No. 1 In C Major

Another type of composition worth mentioning when considering Bach’s best piano works are his two-part inventions. These are pieces that have two separate melodies that work together to bring a unique sound to the forefront.

His invention No. 1 is one of the most popular which is likely because it is relatively easy to play and sounds great when performed well.

A great example of Bach’s use of counterpoint and his mastery of the keyboard. It is no wonder that this piece has remained popular for centuries.

11. Concerto No. 7 In G Minor

Bach’s Concerto No. 7 In G Minor is another beautiful composition for piano worth mentioning. It is a bit more challenging than some of the other pieces, but it was intended for the harpsichord with string orchestra. That being said, you can play it as a solo pianist and test your skills.

This concerto also served as an inspiration to a lot of composers who would come after him, including Haydn and Mozart.

12. Sinfonia No. 1 In C Major

And finally, after you finish the two-part inventions, you may want to consider giving a three-part invention to try, such as Bach’s Sinfonia No. 1 In C Major.

Composed in 1723, it’s a short but fast pace piece that will test your counterpoint skills. That’s because instead of two melodies working together, you will have to deal with three. Clearly, this will be a bit more of a challenge, but it is a beautiful way for you to work on your rhythm, fingering, and phrasing.

Summing Up Bach’s Best Piano Works

That wraps up our article on Bach’s best piano pieces. We hope you enjoyed learning about them.

But, as you can imagine from such a prolific composer as Bach, this list is just a few of the many beautiful pieces that he wrote.

Still, if you’re studying the piano, or just learning more about classical music, Bach wrote some of the most beautiful and timeless pieces ever written and should be considered essential listening.

Let us know which pieces you think we should have included!

ON the face of it, Johann Sebastian Bach is a paradox. This ambitious, cranky, sententious composer held low-paying church jobs most of his life, fathered 23 children, and calculated his career steps with ruthless precision, willing even to offend wealthy patrons and church officials alike to get what he wanted. He was often mired in family and professional problems, overburdened in his later years with the responsibility of providing music in four major Lutheran churches in Leipzig.

But through it all he remained one of the outstanding keyboard virtuosos of his day. Through it all he poured out music of genius and beauty that has spoken eloquently to generations of listeners of all sorts — even to those today, in the 300th year since his birth, who have no idea what a fugue or a canon really is.

His Mass in B minor, which he worked on in one way or another for more than 20 years, was never performed in its entirety in his lifetime. Yet it is considered one of the two or three towering musical achievements in the history of the Western world. And then there is the gamut of inspiration from the “St. Matthew Passion” to the Brandenburg Concertos, from the violin concertos to the greatest cantatas, from the mighty organ works to the sublime music for various solo instruments. And this little list but scratches the surface of the output. It is estimated that two-fifths of the cantatas he actually wrote are lost; the German catalog that lists all his known works includes some 250 entries in the cantatas alone.

Bach produced not only incomparable liturgical and secular music, but works for his own satisfaction. “The Art of Fugue,” his abstract study of fugues of every sort, left incomplete at his death, was probably meant to be a final documentation of his insights and understandings of the complex musical form that he brought to perfection in his lifetime.

But much of Bach’s keyboard music was specifically written to maintain his reputation as the leading virtuoso of his day. In fact, for nearly a century after his death it was his reputation as a virtuoso that kept his name alive, but in only the rarest of musical circles. So complete was the oblivion Bach had fallen into — even though Mozart was influenced by the music, and Beethoven had mastered the 48 preludes and fugues of the so-called “Well-Tempered Clavier” by the time he was 12 — that Felix Mendelssohn’s Leipzig performance of the “St. Matthew Passion” in 1829 was a sensation. In fact, the Bach renaissance had had its first milestone event.

That renaissance has gone through many transmogrifications over the ensuing century. Whereas once the mighty choral works were performed by hundreds, today the B-minor Mass has been recorded with a total of 28 performers. Whereas cuts were once deemed crucial to public appreciation, now every last repeat is programmed and even expected. Today an increasing public audience prefers to hear Bach performed on original rather than modern instruments.

But the issue is not so much how performance practices have changed, but rather that the essential Bach has spoken throughout the ages under all sorts of conditions: The vision, the spirit, has shown through — the fundamental qualities that make Bach unique are to be heard when the music is played on a synthesizer or in a recital, or when a theme is incorporated into a pop song, or bowdlerized on a canned, elevator-music sound track.

Bach’s solo compositions are the musical and technical building blocks for professional instrumentalists and composers. His creative genius in the musical forms he honed into definitive statements of the genre — fugues, inventions, canons, cantatas, suites, concertos, etc. — have become the collective foundation and rule book for composition and all forms of musical creativity today.

Many people have ridden to fame on Bach’s coattails. Minimalist composer Philip Glass freely admits his debt to the composer. Throughout this century, disparate virtuosos the likes of organist Virgil Fox, harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, cellist Pablo Casals, Moog synthesizer composer Wendy Carlos, and harpsichordist-conductor Trevor Pinnock have established themselves with the help of Bach.

To the late pianist Glenn Gould, there was no more extraordinary keyboard work than the “Goldberg Variations,” which remains one of the definitive statements on the notion of variations in the musical literature. Mr. Gould recorded it twice, and by the second time he had come to see the piece as a massive but unified cycle.

Janos Starker, the only cellist to have recorded the Unaccompanied Cello Suites four times (the latest is due out on Sefel Records within the month), states very simply: “He was a universal genius who has found the way to speak to all mankind. Whether it was in the religious works or worldly music, he found the melodies, the rhythms, the structure, that appeal — timelessly — to anyone.”

Flutist Carol Wincenc waxes quite personal on the subject: “Bach to me is the epitome of transcendence, because he appears so richly to me spiritually first and foremost. . . . I can’t begin to comprehend it, because I really think he’s gone beyond a certain level of humanness.”

And yet, Bach would not have this universal appeal if all that his music projected was an otherworldly vision. On the one hand, Mr. Starker can declare: “I consider religion to be the understanding of the infinite, and speaking to the infinite. Bach speaks — at least the way I hear and conceive and perceive him — to the infinite.” On the other hand, Miss Wincenc can exclaim: “It’s just so fundamental. He’s so jazzy, so humorous, so light, so gay . . . you have all the colors of the rainbow there.”

John Bayless, whose improvised recording “Happy Birthday, Bach” interweaves familiar themes with the famous tune in a clever, skillful tribute to the composer’s enduring contemporaneity, states quite simply that he would not have gotten started but for Bach. “In the improvising process — it has been such an incredible part of my musical growth and career — Bach’s music was the illuminating and emotional stimulus that brought me to music and playing the piano. I improvised first in the style of Bach, when I was 4 or 5.

“There are very few composers,” Mr. Bayless continues, “that I’m always in the mood to listen to. If I’m ever sad, or not in the greatest of spirits, that [listening to Bach] always does it. I can’t explain it.”

Mr. Starker tries to explain what it is that fascinates him with the music. “All music — and Bach established the rules — consists of what I speak of as the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. The horizontal is the melody line, the vertical, the rhythm and the harmonic structure, and the diagonal I call the emotional content which manifests itself in timing and colors, tensions, non-tensions, and so on.”

Bach had an uncanny ability to write superbly for all instruments. In the book “Conversations with Igor Stravinsky,” written with Robert Craft, the Russian composer vividly described this skill: “What incomparable instrumental writing is Bach’s. You can smell the resin in his violin parts, taste the reeds in the oboes.”

One can chart the course of this master’s life and draw general conclusions, but Bach’s enduring significance is that he will go on communicating as long as people are interested in performing, composing, learning about, or just plain appreciating music.

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