Forget Taylor Swift, tune into Bach for musical genius

Entertainment

Just about everyone in popular music has been influenced by German composer J.S. Bach, says acclaimed violinist Madeleine Easton, from the Beatles to Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

"Even Taylor Swift would find she has been influenced by Bach without even realising," Easton told AAP.

Part of the reason is the sheer inventiveness of Bach's chord changes - even the music he wrote for children contains four or five times as many changes as the average Taylor Swift song, she said.

"If you look at any of his other pieces then it just goes off the charts."

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For any inventive-sounding chord change found in popular music, Easton can almost guarantee that Bach (1685 - 1750) got there first, in the late Baroque period.

"He's got good tunes, he's almost a pop star in his own day," said Paul McCartney in a 2005 mini-doco, explaining how he adapted a sequence from Bach (Bourree in E minor) into the 1968 hit song Blackbird.

"Of all the classical composers I think for the Beatles, and me since, Bach has always been an influence," McCartney said.

More recently, the music video for Lady Gaga's 2009 song Bad Romance opens with notes from Bach's Fugue in B minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I.

Then there's Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale, Eminem's Brainless, and Paul Simon's Bridge over Troubled Water adapting or sampling Bach, among a great many others.

Easton, who is enjoying a boost in her public profile after playing at the coronation of King Charles III in 2023, set up an ensemble dedicated solely to Bach's music back in 2016, and she promises Bach Akademie Australia will never run out of material.

Ensembles similar to the Bach Akademie play to packed houses in Europe, said Easton, who realised there was a market for a dedicated group in Australia.

"That's what makes us different, lots of groups play lots of other composers but we decided to do the opposite, and laser in on just one man," she said.

One of the most prolific composers of all time, Bach wrote more than 1000 pieces of music, vastly more than Mozart or Beethoven... and, yes, Taylor Swift or the Beatles.

Bach's artistic excellence sets him apart from his contemporaries and those that came before and after him, said Easton, who argues the composer almost single-handedly developed western music to its peak.

He also used some wild and wacky instruments, including the viola d'amore, a special type of violin with six main strings, as well as "sympathetic strings" below them, which are not played directly but vibrate to make more resonant sounds.

In June, as part of its 2024 season, the ensemble has doubled down with concerts titled "Bach - The Mind of a Genius" in Sydney.

The program includes the seminal work Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C Major, performed by acclaimed Australian harpsichordist Neal Peres Da Costa, the final five parts of the Goldberg Variations, and Aria No. 3 Cantata BWV 105 sung by soprano Bonnie de la Hunty.

For Easton, genius is an uncommon capacity to take the everyday and transform it into something new and sublime.

"Bach took the 12 notes of the chromatic scale which we've had since the Middle Ages, and transformed them into music which is just so meaningful and beneficial and comforting," she said.

Bach Akademie Australia plays in Sydney on June 21 and 23.

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