Centre for Continuing Education

Great Composers Course: The Genius of Bach

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses online and in-person. Please check the delivery format of each class before enrolling.

Please note that course materials (excluding prescribed texts) are shared electronically within 48 hours of course commencement. Printing is not available.

As the composer of some of the most famous works of the classical repertoire, Johann Sebastian Bach has influenced perhaps more composers than any other figure in classical music. Yet he lived a quiet life, surrounded by the family he loved, and little-known in greater musical circles.

During this course, we will examines Bach’s life and music, illustrated by portraits, readings from his letters, and examples of his music.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify some aspects of Bach’s musical style
  • describe how Bach’s music is related to the Baroque period
  • identify some of the genres of music composed by Bach
  • list some of Bach’s major works, and describe their place in his musical output
  • describe the main periods of Bach’s career
  • list some significant events in the life of Bach.


Topics to be explored

  • What do we think of when we think about Bach?
  • Bach’s place in music history
  • Bach’s musical style: what makes Bach sound like Bach
  • The Baroque period: Music in Bach’s time
  • Major events in the life of Bach
  • The early years (1685-1708)
  • St Michael’s School
  • Bach in Arnstadt
  • Lubeck and Buxtehude’s daughter
  • Mühlhausen
  • Bach and Maria Barbara
  • Weimar (1708-1717)
  • Bach’s earliest compositions
  • Cöthen (1717-1723)
  • The Well-Tempered Clavier
  • Maria Barbara’s death
  • The Cello Suites
  • Bach and Anna Magdalena
  • Leipzig (1723-1750)
  • The Passion settings
  • Bach’s Cantatas
  • The Collegium Musicum and the Coffee Cantata
  • Bach’s children

Music we will listen to

We will listen to many of Bach pieces, both famous and less-known. These include:

  • Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
  • The Orchestral Suites, "Air on a G String"
  • Cello Suite in G Major
  • The Goldberg Variations
  • The Art of Fugue
  • The St Matthew Passion
  • The St John Passion
  • The Italian Concerto
  • English and French Suites, Partitas
  • Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  • Christmas Oratorio
  • Mass in B Minor
  • Double Concerto for Two Violins

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike. No prior musical knowledge is required.

Delivery style

This course will be richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. The tutor will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions will be encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


Handouts will be provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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