Is Bach the greatest achiever of all time?

I’ve been reading and rereading biographies of Bach lately (for some podcast prep), and it strikes me he might count as the greatest achiever of all time.  That is distinct from say regarding him as your favorite composer or artist of all time.  I would include the following metrics as relevant for that designation:

1. Quality of work.

2. How much better he was than his contemporaries.

3. How much he stayed the very best in subsequent centuries.

4. Quantity of work.

5. Peaks.

6. Consistency of work and achievement.

7. How many other problems he had to solve to succeed with his achievement.  For Bach, this might include a) finding musical manuscripts, b) finding organs good enough to play and compose on, c) dealing with various local and church authorities, d) migrating so successfully across jurisdictions, e) composing at an impossibly high level during the four years he was widowed (with kids), before remarrying.

8. Ending up so great that he could learn only from himself.

9. Never experiencing true defeat or setback (rules out Napoleon!).

I see Bach as ranking very, very high in all these categories.  Who else might even be a contender for greatest achiever of all time?  Shakespeare?  Maybe, but Bach seems to beat him for relentlessness and quantity (at a very high quality level).  Beethoven would be high on the list, but he doesn’t seem to quite match up to Bach in all of these categories.  Homer seems relevant, but we are not even sure who or what he was.  Archimedes?  Plato or Aristotle?  Who else?

Addendum: from Lucas, in the comments:

I’m not joking when I say I have thought about Bach in this light every week for the last 20 years.

His family died young, and his day job for much of his life was a school teacher! In addition to the daily demands on him to teach Latin and theology and supervise teenage boys and so on, there was the thousand small practical challenges of life in the eighteenth century. No electric lighting. Crappy parchment and quills. The cold, the disease, the lack of plumbing, the restricted access to information, talented players, and the manual nature of every little thing.

And, perhaps most of all, to continue such a volume of high-quality output when the world seemed not to care. Yes, he had a local reputation among those in the know, but there were never any packed concert halls or grand tours to validate his efforts. He seems to have been entirely internally driven by his genius and his commitment to the eternal and divine.



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