The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which Bach works and which Bach performers did Apple visionary Steve Jobs like best? Now we know, thanks to Walter Isaacson’s new biography. | November 13, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that when Apple founder and whiz kid visionary Steve Jobs (below) died, I heard from someone who reads this blog and who knew that Jobs considered J.S. Bach his favorite composer.

Here is that post:

But no one seemed to know which works by Bach and which performers of Bach he favored.

Now, the mystery is solved and we do know and even have strong suspicions (the Cello Suites?)

Here is another letter from Michael Lawrence (below) and did a DVD on “Bach and Friends.”

It related to the new and bestselling biography of Jobs by former Time editor Walter Isaacson (below), who has been on a book tour and making the rounds of radio, TV, the Internet and other interviews about Jobs.

Isaacson rarely discusses Jobs’ taste in music in the media.

But one reader of the biography – our friend Michael Lawrence — has found out the answers.

Here is his e-mail to this blog:

“Hi Jacob:

“I have been reading the new bio on Steve Jobs and found this reference to Bach.  Thought you might be interested.

Here is Steve Jobs on J.S. Bach from  the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (below):

“As for classical music, there were a few recordings of Bach, including the Brandenburg Concertos, and three albums by Yo-Yo Ma (below). One afternoon we sat in his living room as he scrolled through the songs on his new iPad.

“Bach, he declared, was his favorite classical composer. He was particularly fond of listening to the contrast between the two versions of the “Goldberg Variations” that Glenn Gould recorded, the first (below top) in 1955 as a 22-year-old little-known pianist and the second (below bottom) in 1981, a year before he died.

“They’re like night and day,” Jobs said after playing them sequentially one afternoon. “The first is an exuberant, young, brilliant piece, played so fast it’s a revelation.  The later one is so much more spare and stark.  You sense a very deep soul who’s been through a lot in life.  It’s deeper and wiser.”

“Jobs was on his third medical leave that afternoon when he played both versions, and I asked which he liked better. “Gould liked the later version much better,”  he said.  “I like the earlier, exuberant one.  But now I can see where he was coming from.”

Mike’s Steve Jobs Tribute can be found at:

Which of Glenn Gould’s two versions (below, of the opening aria theme) of the “Goldberg” Variations by J.S. Bach do you prefer and why?

The Ear wants to ear.


Posted in Classical music


  1. While the later version is more contemplative, it seems almost painfully slow to me, probably because I’m more familiar with the older version.

    Comment by Ann B. — November 13, 2011 @ 11:38 am

    • Hi Ann,
      Some people compare the later version to a man at prayer.
      Gould was 50 when he made it and died shortly after recording it.
      One of the great losses is that he was planning on re-recording all the Bach he had recorded previously. It would have been wondrously insightful to hear the differences — like early Picasso versus late Picasso.
      Whether you like the earlier or later Goldbergs, both are equally committed and convincing, so much so that it is hard to believe they come from the same performer.
      Be well.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 13, 2011 @ 5:09 pm

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