THIS may jar some, but i think it's fair to say that the greatest composer in the history of western music -- all due respect to beethoven, mingus, lennon/mccartney, etc -- was johann sebastian bach... the old man's birthday -- born in 1685, you dont look a day over 300! --- is today.
those with a good memory for interplanetary expeditions recall that bach's music played a prominent role on the voyager golden record sent out with the pioneer spacecraft. in a more modest context, i sometimes use his piano music to cure hangovers: those strict contrapuntal lines really focus a blurred mind.
there are lots of reasons to love bach's work, as anyone who has heard glenn gould's stripped-down interpretation of "goldberg variations" can vouch... perhaps the first classical music i ever fell in love with was gould's very architectual treatment of "the well-tempered clavier." i also love andras schiff (whose live version of "goldberg" is a lifetime highlight for me), murray perahia (whose sensitivity is the opposite of gould's approach), and till fellner (lately my favorite WTC, almost liquid in its lyricism.) ian mcewan has turned me on to angela hewitt. and the emerson quartet does really interesting things with bach in their "the art of the fugue."
to some people, bach's music is scary -- literally. HERE is a piece i wrote for the LAT a few years back in which musicology scholar kristi brown looked into bach's place in cinema. directors often employ bach's music to suggest an insane or dangerous hyper-rational genius, including hannibal lecter.
but forget about all that. tonight, toast the great man with a nice weimar lager (is there such thing?)
Photo credit: Flickr user hotzeplotz