The “All of Bach” Project Is Making Performances of Every Bach Piece Available Online: Watch 346 High-Quality Recordings

Grant­ed a wish to trav­el back in time, many a Bach lover would leap to Thuringia, in a pre-uni­fied Ger­many, cir­ca the ear­ly 1700s, or to Arn­stadt, Mühlhausen, the courts of Weimar and Köthen, or Leipzig. There, Bach com­posed his con­cer­tos, suites, fugues, pre­ludes, canons, chorales, organ works, solo pieces, as well as unique works like the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions and The Well-Tem­pered Clavier. He wrote prin­ci­pal­ly for church­es and sov­er­eigns who had his music per­formed in what we now call its orig­i­nal set­tings.

Of course, we can’t hear Bach’s Baroque mas­ter­works the way his con­tem­po­raries did, though we can try. But imag­ine stand­ing in St. Paul’s Church, hear­ing the com­pos­er play his organ works him­self in the ear­ly 1720s. (Built in 1231, the church sur­vived WWII, only to be demol­ished for rede­vel­op­ment under the East Ger­man regime in 1968.) Imag­ine hear­ing Bach’s cham­ber works played in the ornate cham­bers of the 18th cen­tu­ry. It’s a nice dream, but I think we’re for­tu­nate to live in his dis­tant future, and to have expe­ri­enced his music through three-hun­dred years of inter­pre­ta­tions, new arrange­ments and instru­men­ta­tion, and thou­sands of record­ings.

Bach might bare­ly rec­og­nize the way some of his works have been inter­pret­ed. He might object to beloved, yet unortho­dox record­ings by Glenn Gould and Wendy Car­los. He might abhor the notion of record­ing alto­geth­er. Who knows. But the music is no longer his. As Yo Yo Ma has tried to show in his life’s work, Bach belongs to every­one. The Nether­lands Bach Soci­ety shares this belief, and has endeav­ored to upload live per­for­mances of “All of Bach” to their web­site and YouTube. The oppor­tu­ni­ty to see Bach’s works per­formed live in Ams­ter­dam, view­able from any­where at any time, would seem like dev­il­ry to those in Bach’s day.

“Since the start of this unique project,” writes the Soci­ety, “more than 350 of the total of 1080 works by Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach have been per­formed and record­ed in spe­cial ways” in this attempt to “share Bach’s music with the whole world” through “excel­lent audio visu­al record­ings of the high­est qual­i­ty.” These per­for­mances include set­tings very like the orig­i­nals, if very far away in time: “Can­tatas are filmed in a church, for instance, and cham­ber music at the musi­cian’s homes.” They also include high­lights such as the Six Cel­lo Suites at the Rijksmu­se­um and Bran­den­burg Con­cert no. 4 at Felix Mari­tis.

See high­light­ed per­for­mances here and just above, watch new­ly-added (as of Feb­ru­ary) per­for­mances of The Well-Tem­pered Clavier, “48 key­board pieces in all 24 keys,” the Nether­lands Bach Soci­ety notes, “the sort of chal­lenge Bach enjoyed.” This is the com­pos­er at his freest — “In con­trast to the iron dis­ci­pline Bach had to apply to his church com­po­si­tions, here he could aban­don him­self to Intel­lec­tu­al Spiel­erei with­out wor­ry­ing about dead­lines.” Help the Nether­lands Bach Soci­ety con­tin­ue their ambi­tious project with a dona­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How a Bach Canon Works. Bril­liant.

Hear J.S. Bach’s Music Per­formed on the Laut­en­wer­ck, Bach’s Favorite Lost Baroque Instru­ment

Bach Played Beau­ti­ful­ly on the Baroque Lute, by Pre­em­i­nent Lutenist Evan­geli­na Mas­car­di

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Sheldon Bieber says:

    This sounds great . How can I get to lis­ten. What do I join?

  • Alan Thomson says:

    It’s all on YouTube. Just key Nether­lands Bach Soci­ety into the search box on YouTube and the title of any piece you want to hear.
    The Soci­ety’s per­for­mances are con­sis­tent­ly high qual­i­ty and well filmed and have been my go-to peo­ple for all things Bach since I dis­cov­ered their work a cou­ple of years ago.

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