Bach’s music remains nowadays as strong a model of musical perfection as it ever has, maybe even more given today’s heightened historical awareness, which provides a more reliable appraisal of its merit within the context of Bach’s own day. Musicians of later eras have gratefully acknowledged their debt to his authority. It’s now more than 250 years since he passed away, but his overall stature in the canon of Western musical art continues to grow, and his popularity with the listening public holds firm.
Popularity alone, however, is no measure of worth or greatness. At the time I write this, a rap album containing songs with such ennobling titles as Puke and Big Weenie is high on the charts. However, I will venture to propose that the Mass in B Minor will be a treasured achievement of Western culture long after Big Weenie has faded away. (In fact, for all I know, Big Weenie could already be considered hopelessly quaint by rap cognoscenti.) If that be elitism, so be it.
An attempt to fathom Bach’s greatness using words is rather like trying to appreciate the Mona Lisa by running one’s hands over it. Let Bach’s music stand advocate for his greatness, and let the babble of commentary recede into the background. Decide for yourself. There are no prerequisites or qualifications: your job is just to listen attentively, and Bach will take care of the rest.