Happy Birthday Bach…..The Man With A Super Human Hearing Organ

Robert Traynor
March 20, 2012

 (1685 – 1750) is well known to most music lovers around the world and was, according to Piano Express , a prolific German composer and organist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity.

Bach was not always appreciated during his own lifetime, and he was considered  “old-fashioned” by his contemporariesNevertheless, Bach is now considered one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.   Today, March 21st, is the 327th anniversary of his birth. 

Click to Hear Bach… Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G Minor, BVW, Allegro Adagio, Bamberg Philharmonic Orchestra

Rose notes that at age 60 Bach was rather healthy, but with age he later fell victim to hypertension and obesity. He expired from a stroke in 1750.  Although Bach is not known to have possessed a hearing impairment, as  Beethoven did, his history includes some interesting twists. 

His fatal stroke is thought by some to have been caused not by hypertension, but rather to have been the result  of 

complications of ocular surgery performed by the “oculist” Chevalier John Taylor  well known in Europe at the time. The last two years of his life he was almost blind.   “Taylor was the poster child for 18th century quackery,” says Daniel Albert, MD, MS the author of Men of Vision, a history of ophthalmology. The book has a chapter on Taylor’s colorful, if gruesome, career. He seems to have had it in for composers as he blinded Handel with his sham surgeries as well.  Click to Hear Bach Tocata y fuga en re menor


In 1894, almost 150 years after his death, Bach’s casket was opened in front of the great University of Leipzig anatomist, Professor Wilhelm His (1831-1904).  Baer (1951) presents a description of how the composer’s body was identified and explains how Professor His, in cooperation with the Viennese Otologist Adam Politzer (1835-1920), conducted a detailed examination of Bach’s temporal bones.  Afterwards, Politzer stated that the results yielded information that were suggestive of Bach’s musical genius.  In their words, while it would be futile to attempt to describe the talent of a great composer from the structure of his temporal bones, a well organized and well developed ear is indispensible in the making of a great composer.

Politzer and His felt that Bach’s temporal bones were exceptionally developed.  For example, they reported, the area of the fenestra rotunda (round window) was 2.5 mm in diameter, compared to the usual 1.5 mm. They also found extra thickness in the mastoid process, particularly the cortical part (body), and abnormalities of the Petrous portion as well.  Further observations were their impressions of unusually strong development of the inferior temporal gyri.  Finally, His and Politzer felt that the first turn of the cochlea was larger than normal suggesting unusual development of the cochlear ganglion and thus higher centers.     

Click to Hear Bach….   Air Suite #3

All this may have been an attempt by famous, well-educated anatomists and otologists to suggest that Bach had bigger, more developed ears than normal human beings.  Hmmmm ……an autopsy on a body that had been buried for 150 years showing that Bach had superhuman ears.

No wonder we mere mortals can only appreciate good music, not create it.  I GUESS SIZE DOES MATTER.




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