J.S. Bach and the Quest for Musical Perfection

Brandeis University

Gil Harel is a musicologist and music theorist who lectures widely at Brandeis University and additional venues on topics ranging from renaissance motets to atonal opera. A piano accompanist and vocal coach, Professor Harel’s musical interests range from western classical repertoire to musical theater and jazz. Previously, he has served on the faculty at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China, and at CUNY Baruch College, where he was awarded the prestigious “Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.”



The name of Johann Sebastian Bach is synonymous with musical genius. In conservatory and college classrooms around the globe, his works are used as a blueprint for studying harmony. His death in 1750 would inspire historians to mark this year as the end of the baroque period. In fact, Bach’s music was “out of fashion” in the decades preceding his demise – and yet, he indefatigably pursued his signature complex, polyphonic style in a time when audiences were craving simplicity. During this program, Professor Gil Harel will delve into the musical Zeitgeist of a European society that was fast embracing the tenets of the Enlightenment. Swimming against this inexorable current, J.S. Bach created iconic works such as the Goldberg Variations, The Art of the Fugue, The Musical Offering, and more. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Harel will analyze selected works and discuss the legacy of a composer who continues to inspire listeners in a way that Bach himself surely could never have fathomed.


Discussion Questions:

  1. How did Bach’s religious convictions (i.e., those of a Pietist Lutheran) shape his attitude towards music?
  1. What are the features of the “galant style,” and how can we suppose Bach felt about it?
  1. What was the significance of Bach’s meeting with Frederick the Great in 1747?
  1. How did the role of the artist change throughout the 18th century?




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