Brent Antonson

The "Bach Motif" Secret ♫

!! Classical music listeners only !!

Brent Antonson
Jul 5, 2022
3 min read
Image from Masterclass
Image by Masterclass

The "Bach Motif" Secret ♫


          !! Classical music listeners preferred !!

I want to take you to a special place filled with memories, memory-makers, and soundscapes. When one thinks of classical music, they might have one of two pictures in mind:

1) the lutist strumming awkwardly to a piccolo-wielding maniac hopping about the king's court trying for amusements, and getting it. Someone is hammering keys of some sort of early piano. This is the Baroque...

2) a symphony seen through violins, creating a wind tunnel of woodwinds and trumpets, and someone on the piano running his trilling fingers up and down a keyboard. This is a Classical Symphony.

That's painting with some big brushes but hey - when it boils down to it, some stations treat their classical library like a random, no repeat workday.  And new albums of the ancient material keep being generated and well-represented on iTunes. This is largely the playlist repertoire of classical music stations, terrestrial, online, or satellite. Sirius' limited vision of classical for the ages is stunted in the 19th century. Most of it doubles as elevator or 'on hold' music. Passion is infrequent. We've been haunted by these old ghosts lying about...

Beethoven is the Shakespeare of Classical music but it's a lot of work to enjoy a compilation. I can't abide most of the works of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, most Russians, or most Germans. I seek lonely solo quintet mirages... I want the music to suspend me and entertain my writerly mindset without breaking a sweat. Kind of like Enya without Enya. But I can only write to vocals in music if they're not in English. Like Andrea Bocelli is a great white Italian noise.

The only symphony I can work with is Bach-post-Baroque, particularly the six Brandenburg Concertos. He went through such a transformation as newer instruments came out. That leaves Mozart, Chopin, and Vivaldi in my Top 5s. If you listen to classical music, then this paints the picture of a certain type of individual. Whoever shies away from the huge scores seems to find themself on the fringe, quintets and quartets, soloists.

I cannot tell my Debussy from my Shubert but I can tell a Bach from my Vivaldi from anything else.
— Brent Antonson

I can't invest the energy it would take. I don't think radio stations that play classical have any idea where classical is today. CBC Radio 2 used to, but they went sideways like a derailed train of flowers.

But wait, what has fallen into 'New Classical"? Was it this amazing sound? There is a subset of wonderful new music, often solo piano, that has dominated my playlist for nearly three years. Dirk Maassen and Chad Lawson have reintroduced the world to a classical that was never done 200 years ago. It's light and pastoral, it's dark and depressing, and it's uplifting and clear.

This ain't your Grandpa's music..!

Delicately textured, manifest silence, just keep tapping, touching, and stoking the piano to life. It is plain and mysterious as it is sexy and solipsistic. I attribute all of the 20+ new players of this genre to be acting on the Bach Motif, a little-known art of working everything with mathematics. Bach was a stringent musician and this subset has done what would bring tears into Bach's eyes. Pachelbel's Canon in D is the prime example of it.

The Bach motif is a succession of notes important or characteristic to a piece, B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, in which the note B natural is named H and the B flat named B, it forms Johann Sebastian Bach's family name. One of the most frequently occurring examples of a musical cryptogram, the motif has been used by countless composers.

b–a–c–h is the beginning and end of all music
– Max Reger, 1912

These keys, while known throughout the centuries as cryptic and self-serving, are all that is needed to produce most of the known Western canon of repertoire. But this motif, laden within, guides a wealth of lonely and thoughtful notes, a grand distance from the baroque era and in the genre of Bach's Air in G. There are new composers finding these keys all the time and releasing more history to the motif.

If you are into classical but find it kind of 18th century, chunky, and too dynamic on the piano, harpsichord, or trumpet, try a Classical Crossover Artist. I've limited my preferences so I can offer the best of which I'm most sure I can pass on these artists as gold. If you like simply desirable, ambient slow music (often with slight jazz influences), these artists will not disappoint:

Classical Crossover artists:

Dirk Maassen
Chad Lawson
Piano Novel
Jóhann Jóhannsson
Helen Jane Long
Fiona Joy Hawkins
Brian Crain
Ryan Stewart
Ludovico Einaudi

Ambient Soundscape Artist:
Marconi Union

Thank you, I hope I've led you on a chase through artists and the hallmark of the Bach motif to finding enjoyable listening success. Care what goes into your ears...!


Bach Motif:



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