Concurrent Styles in JS Bach’s Lifetime, Visually [UPDATED]

Ralph Locke aptly reminded us recently what epiphanies can come when we step back and juxtapose different stylistic streams that occurred concurrently in history. Just for fun, I decided to make a timeline to visually reinforce his point. The timeline is quite circumspect, with JS Bach’s lifetime as the rough overall frame, and only including the pieces under our recent discussion (JS’s cantatas, Pergolesi, and WF Bach’s keyboard sonata in F), and many more could be included. But you can easily see that Pergolesi’s entire short life fits within the span of JS’s mature career. I also couldn’t resist including Johann Stamitz on the timeline to represent the symphonic tradition, about which we will be reading soon. Though Stamitz outlived JS, Handel outlived Stamitz by two years. (Click on the image to pull up a larger version.)

The timeline was made with the demo version of Timeline 3D.


Here is an updated version of the timeline incorporating suggestions from Jonathan Bellman (see the comments). It includes bookends of JS’s career: Brandenburg concertos at the front end, and Musical Offering at the tail. I also made the image file larger. If these images seem helpful to anyone, feel free to save them and use them freely for your own purposes.



  1. I loved this–would like to download it and use if for teaching, but today isn’t the day to mess with registering etc. I’m delighted to know about this program; what would be even more fun is to put other key works of Bach in there for context. Art of Fugue, Musical Offering on the far end, and the virtuosic Brandenburgs and violin sonatas/partitas while Pergolesi and Stamitz are children.

  2. Mark Samples says:

    Thanks, Prof. Bellman, for your suggestions! As you can see, I have incorporated some of them in an update of the post.

    I just downloaded the demo of that program this morning, and am happy so far with the speed of timeline creation—it’s much faster than drawing it out by hand! I’ve always felt that timelines are a great teaching tool, and the ability to make a subject-specific timeline in about 15 min. would even make it rather practical. If you (or others) are interested, here is some other info about it:

    • The program is for macs only
    • The full version has some slick 3D capabilities
    • You can get it for a discount (along with a bundle of other apps for mac) for a limited time at:

    I can’t vouch for the software any more than an hour’s tinkering will allow (and have no affiliation with the promo listed above), but there you go.

  3. Ralph Locke says:

    Wow, this does make a number of points quite vividly! Thanks for letting us know about the software (alas, Mac only)…

  4. Nathan Baker says:

    A Google search for “free timeline creator” reveals several options for us PC users. I’ll try some of them out during the deader times in my office tomorrow morning and let you know which ones I like.

  5. Elaine Fine says:

    J.S. Bach didn’t need to be an innovator. Perhaps that is the main difference between Bach and everyone else. His music challenges our innovations as interpreters, because it can make sense in so many different ways. It is music that is beyond style, and is music that never gets old.

    When you consider the style of the Musical Offering Trio Sonata, J.S. Bach seemed to have been writing in the style of C.P.E. Bach, perhaps as a way to get the King to recognize the value of his son’s style. He could write in any style, but since he hadn’t exhausted his store of new material and new ways of working with it, he didn’t need to.

    It would also be nice to consider Bach’s close contemporary compatriots (and friends) like Fasch, Graupner, and Telemann. Johann Friedrich Fasch was extremely experimental–even writing terrific music for Chalumeau. His teacher Christoph Graupner was a great supporter of Bach, even though Graupner was writing in a far more “progressive” style (like Stamitz, he wrote for the viola d’amore). Telemann was all over the map, donning nationalistic styles from Italy to Poland from 1700 onward.

    When you look outside of Germany you have Scarlatti and Rameau (another true innovative genius). It was a wonderful time.

  6. If anyone’s interested in Timeline/Map visualizing software for music, you might be interested in a web resource I’ve created with Natasha Skowronski, a student of mine at MIT. This map tracks the pieces from the Craig Wright textbook plus about 1/3 of the additional pieces I use in my version of the class (I don’t use all these pieces). Each piece links to a 30-second excerpt of the work, or in a few cases (such as the Peri, Euridice) YouTube videos of performances.

    It is only complete up to about 1610 — after that, you’re likely to find that everyone lived in France…

    All the technology used is open-source, and about 95% reused from other code. So it’s really ready for reuse (with acknowledgment)

    Michael Scott Cuthbert
    Assistant Professor of Music, M.I.T.

  7. Mark Samples says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this great resource! What a nice way to interact with the music, see it on a timeline, hear clips, and locate it geographically. Well done to you and Natasha!

  8. Mark Samples says:

    I just reread your comment about Bach not needing to be an innovator. It is a good reminder to us historians (and through us to our students) that innovation is not the only reason for us to study composers of the past. So often when we teach, we only have time to get to the innovations.

    Marian Smith (for whom I am a teaching assistant this term) said it yesterday when she taught Beethoven to her undergrads yesterday. We went over all of the innovations (progressive fragmentation, tinkering—or obliterating—of formal convention, symphonies no. 3 and 5, Op. 131, etc.). But before we finished with our brief foray into Beethoven’s output and style (60 minutes for Beethoven? that’s the reality of teaching), she made a conscious—and I think crucial—choice to also discuss the less flamboyantly innovative, but still wonderful pastoral symphony. Hopefully the students picked up on the point that innovation isn’t the only aspect of music history that we should pay attention to.

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