The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Which composer do you most give thanks for? The Ear’s choice is Johann Sebastian Bach – which Wisconsin Public Radio will feature in a special program today from 1 to 3 p.m. Plus, WORT FM is seeking a classical radio host for Monday mornings. | November 28, 2013

ALERT: Do you want to be a broadcaster? WORT FM 89.9 radio host and loyal friend of this blog Rich Samuels writes: “WORT is looking for a volunteer classical music host to cover the Monday morning 5-8 a.m. shift. If any of your readers wish to share their passion for the genre with others via terrestrial radio and the Internet, they should contact WORT’s Sybil Augustine at (608) 256-2001. Some button pushing is required.” 

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.

In past years I have asked which piece of classical music do you think is most appropriate for the day. (And the “Heiligedankgesang” or “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” from the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, by Ludwig van Beethoven has often and justifiably been a favorite.)

Or I have asked: Which piece of classical music do you most give thanks for.

But this past year The Ear has had a very rollercoaster ride with lots of emotional up and downs.

And in that year The Composer for All Seasons proved, as he almost always does, to be Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750, below).


Sad or happy, quiet or agitated, extroverted or introspective – I always felt Bach has something special to offer me, something to about the situation, something to suit. His emotional range is enormous. He encompasses the universe. And Bach’s taps into the deepest emotion of joy and loss without wearing his heart of his sleeve.

For me, Johann Sebastian Bach is The Big Bang of Western classical music. In the music of Bach, you find not only the Baroque aesthetic, but also the Classical aesthetic, the Romantic aesthetic and even the Modern aesthetic.

Is there any other composer I could listen to, day in and day out, without getting bored of? I love so many of them, including Domenico Scarlatti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Maurice Ravel. But I doubt any of them has the range, the wearing power and the sheer staying power of Bach.

But you can decide for yourself – and a special program on Bach, which will air from 1 to 3 this afternoon on Wisconsin Public Radio, might help you decide. Sorry, no advance word about the playlist due to pesky and frustrating FCC regulations or something that prohibit advance posting of program playlists. How anti-tech of them! And how unhelpful!

But I am anxious to hear what you think of my choice.

And I am also anxious to hear if you have a choice of your own.

There is so much Bach to choose from, I hardly know which piece of music to choose to link to.

So as I prepare to give tanks to the miracle of Johann Sebastian Bach, I think I will link to something that is well-known but nevertheless never fails to give me consolation I need it, to reach me when I need to be reached. It is Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” as transcribed for solo piano by Egon Petri, and in a popular YouTube video at the bottom is played superbly by Yoel Eum Son, who performs wonderfully clear voicings, at her final recital of 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

I am that sheep who may safely graze under the watchful eye and protective care of Bach’s music.

So I say: Happy Thanksgiving to Johann Sebastian!


  1. This year I’m giving thanks for the human voice and all the music composed for it, whether alone, in concert, or with instruments. There is a power in the act of singing.

    Comment by Mikko Utevsky — November 30, 2013 @ 12:12 am

  2. And to think that, when he died, someone cleaned out his office and sold or gave the paper that was lying around (with music written on it) to the butcher! Is that apocryphal? Whenever I become totally discouraged about human stupidity, cupidity, violence and cruelty, I resort to Bach to restore my sense of the potential for nobility of our species.

    Thank you, Jake, for your companioning me in my llistening.

    Comment by Connie Kilmark — November 29, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

  3. Jake, I am so sorry for your tremendous loss last week. I’m sure it’s been quite the year you wrote about here. I am thankful every day for the gift of you and The Well-Tempered Ear! With much appreciation and affection, Rozan

    Comment by R Anderson — November 28, 2013 @ 8:41 pm

    • Thank you.
      You bring me comfort and encouragement at a time when I need them.

      Comment by welltemperedear — November 28, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

  4. I’m listening to the Goldberg Variations in Jeremy Denk’s splendid new recording. Yes…I’m enjoying enormously his imaginative traversal through this great work, and thanks for your recommendation. It is a perfect piece for today or any day…because, as you said, Jake, it embraces everything. It is abundance, love, the Life Force, creativity, joy, sorrow, mind and heart. It is everything that draws us to the power of music, and you expressed it so eloquently. I join you in gratitude for Bach, and also am grateful to you for your steadfast service to all of us music lovers in your excellent blog, especially over the past year. Happy Thanksgiving to you and to all Well-tempered Listeners!

    Comment by BL — November 28, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

  5. Baaaaaaaaa-ch! A man for all seasons.The Goldberg variations, the preludes and fugues and toccatas for organ, the partitas, the English Suites….He really holds up., There’s always something to fit one’s mood. And every year, I discover more.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — November 28, 2013 @ 10:21 am

  6. I could not have said it better. Thank you for the perfect start to my Thanksgiving Day!

    Comment by Betsy Hagens — November 28, 2013 @ 7:34 am

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