March 21, 2019, marks the 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, a German composer of the Baroque period. Bach is remembered for the Art of Fugue, among other compositions.
To celebrate his birthday, Google released its first ever AI experience Google Doodle. (The first Google Doodle was published in 1998.) It’s befitting that such a creative doodle advancement would run on the birthday of the musical prodigy.
Bach lived to be 65. When his eyesight started to fail in the 1740s, he had surgery performed by a “flamboyant quack” who fully restored his vision for a short time before Bach suffered a stroke as a complication from the surgery.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Google Helps you Compose Like Bach
With the Google Doodle, you can compose like Bach. According to Google, the doodle is “An interactive experience encouraging players to compose a two measure melody of their choice. With the press of a button, the Doodle then uses machine learning to harmonize the custom melody into Bach’s signature music style (or a Bach 80’s rock style hybrid if you happen to find a very special Easter egg in the Doodle…:)).”
The project is a collaboration between two Google teams, Google Magenta and Google Pair. According to its website, Magenta is “An open source research project exploring the role of machine learning as a tool in the creative process,” and Pair is part of Google’s artificial intelligence hub, where Google says it is “conducting research that advances the state-of-the-art in the field, applying AI to products and to new domains, and developing tools to ensure that everyone can access AI.” Pair stands for people + artificial intelligence research.
Developers created a machine called Coconet “that can be used in a wide range of musical tasks—such as harmonizing melodies or composing from scratch.” Coconet was trained on 306 of Bach’s chorale harmonizations. PAIR then engineered the machine’s ability to work on a web browser.
2. The New York Times Named Bach the Most Important composer in the History of Music
Bach was born to a musical family. “He was a member of a remarkable family of musicians who were proud of their achievements, and about 1735 he drafted a genealogy, Ursprung der musicalisch-Bachischen Familie (‘Origin of the Musical Bach Family’),” according to Britannica.
“Music was always present and performed at annual family reunions and large family gatherings,” reports Google Arts & Culture. His father was the town musician director.
His great-great-grandfather was a baker or miller who took to take his cittern (a stringed instrument played by plucking) to the mill and play it while the mill was grinding.
Johann Sebastian remarked, “A pretty noise they must have made together! However, he learnt to keep time, and this apparently was the beginning of music in our family.”
The prolific composer fathered over 20 children, and many of them became composers themselves. When his first wife and mother of 7 children Maria Barbara died, he married his second wife Anna Magdalena the following year and had 13 more children. Bach himself was an orphan by age 10.
3. Bach’s Birthday is Celebrated Widely
Begun in New York City in 2011, Bach in the Subways is a weekend in March dedicated to musicians performing Bach pieces in various locations around the city for free. The tradition grew beyond NYC and subways to include more than 150 cities and 40 countries worldwide. In 2019, Bach will be performed March 21-24.
Google a location and Bach birthday events (in the search bar just below today’s Bach Google Doodle) and you’ll see fundraisers, performances, and more worldwide. Entire festivals and concerts are dedicated to Bach.
His birthday is celebrated on March 21, but is March 31 on the new calendar. The 21st is his birthday according to the Julian calendar, which was in use at the time of Bach’s birth. On the new (Gregorian) calendar, it is the 31st of March.
Yo-Yo Ma is Currently Touring With the Bach Project
Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma has embarked on a journey to perform all six of Bach’s suites for solo cello in one sitting in 36 locations around the world.
As stated on Ma’s website, the fellow classical performer sees Bach’s 300-year-old music as an “extraordinary example of how culture connects us and can help us imagine and build a better future.”
Ma is holding “Days of Action” to coincide with his performances, collaborations with local artists and cultural figures to promote “culture’s power to create positive change.” Ma would only schedule tour dates for The Bach Project in cities where he could schedule a Day of Action as well.
Bach ‘s Passion is a Lasting Inspiration
Bach’s brother funded his musical training. As a child, Bach snuck a score that his brother kept locked away to copy it by moonlight, until he was caught. The score had been given to Bach’s brother by Pachelbel of Canon in D fame, probably the most common wedding song in the world.
In 1705, Bach walked the 280 miles or so from Arnstadt to Lübeck to see and hear Dietrich Buxtehude, the organist in charge of St Mary’s church, the Marienkirche, there,” reports the Spectator.
When Bach died, little of his music had been published. Then in 1829 Felix Mendelssohn, 19-years-old at the time, had Bach’s Matthew Passion to be performed in Berlin. The audience adored the late composer’s work, and the legendary of Bach as we know him was born.