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Is Bach really back nearly three centuries after his death?

It’s not a strange phenomenon to see musicians’ popularity pick up after their death but for 334-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach, who died in 1750, a modern-day renaissance seemed unlikely

How it was told

He may be no spring chicken, but ol’ Johann’s concertos and symphonies are taking over modern-day streaming services if recent news stories are to be believed.

Forget grime, drill or dubstep, 18th-century classical is the kids’ new jam, particularly for exam revision, according to the Daily Mail, and even, Classic FM claims, gaining a boost from the wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank last October where the bride emerged to Bach’s Pièce d’Orgue, performed by Peter Roper-Curzon.

Also reported on bt.com and itv.com, there has been a 270 per cent rise in listens to streaming service Deezer’s most popular classical playlist.

That has been put down to millennials, who accounted for 43 per cent of listeners, while they also featured prominently in the German composer’s streaming figures, with 32 per cent of all listens coming from under-35s, compared to just 20 per cent of adults aged over 55.

The news was no surprise to Telegraph columnist Laura Freeman. As she put it: “The world is noisy. Is it any wonder a new generation is seeking solace in cello suites and respite from Twitter in toccatas?”

But is this conclusive proof that Bach is back?

FACTS. CHECKED

While Bach may well have seen a spike in popularity, it’s going to take a lot more research than this to prove that he is pulling more strings now than ever before.

The study by Deezer and the Royal Albert Hall is an interesting trends piece but is limited.

The aforementioned percentages mean little without figures – without knowing how many under-35s or over-55s are Deezer subscribers or active users, and whether they have increased or decreased, it is tricky to judge.

Maybe Deezer has a small, hard core of young classical music aficionados? Or maybe the over-55s on Deezer are in the minority in that age group when it comes to seeking out classical music on a streaming service as opposed to a CD or record player? Without concrete numbers, it’s almost impossible to tell.

And it must also be noted that, while Deezer is no slouch, it is hardly the market leader in the music streaming industry.

Deezer’s latest figures show that they have seven million subscribers with 14 million active users. Respectable, but dwarfed by Apple Music’s 56 million subscribers. And the two combined pale in comparison to Spotify’s 87 million subscribers and 191 million total active monthly users.

Before we all start joining orchestras and heralding how Bach has taken over the internet, it is probably worth asking the streaming big boys.

Millennials’ relationship with classical music is a complicated one. On the face of it, the genre is ill-suited to some of the stereotypes thrown at the generation. Do smartphone-stunted attention spans really have the endurance to last all the way through 10 minutes of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 without a catchy chorus to carry them through?

Classic FM’s results last year suggest they do, with Rajar figures showing that they broadcast to 449,000  15 to 24-year-olds and one million people aged under 35 every week.

But it’s not all down to Bach – barely a major video game or summer blockbuster launches without a classical soundtrack to boot, acting as a gateway drug to get the kids into classical music. It has also been suggested that classical offers an escape from the rush of modern life.

So while it could be true that streaming services and the sheer volume of classical music featuring in other media are giving the genre a modern-day boost, it’s going to take a more robust study than this before we can proclaim the composer is Bach for good.

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