The Steve Jobs – J.S. Bach Connection

Steve Jobs and J S Bach were both pioneers.

What do you suppose was on Steve Jobs’ iPod? What did he listen to….while it may be fun to speculate, it’s been out there for years: he liked all types of music. The person who revolutionized the way we consume music did, in actuality, consume a great deal of it himself. And not just as a passive listener, but like many of us, he was active, thinking about what he was hearing and making constant comparisons.

It is one reason he loved Bob Dylan recordings. Jobs was a child of the sixties, born in 1955, so he grew up when the Beatles and Bob Dylan were the toast of the international music scene. He was also exposed to classical music, and developed a passion for Bach.

In Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs, entitled simply “Steve Jobs,” readers learn that Jobs once obsessively collected concert bootlegs by Dylan from his early electric period of 1965 and 1966. Likewise, Jobs was stunned by the creative majesty of the Beatles. He approached the challenge of securing the Beatles for iTunes with the single-minded focus of Captain Ahab pursuing Moby-Dick. One of Jobs’ proudest professional moments was the day he finally locked up the Beatles to sell their music digitally on iTunes.

Last night I received a note from filmmaker Michael Lawrence, a friend and colleague whose film Bach and Friends I have written about in the past. He was reading Isaacson’s book when he came across a stunning passage. He immediately shared it with me, along with a note talking about its reference to Bach. (It’s on page 413)

As for classical music, there were a few recordings of Bach, including the Brandenburg Concertos, and three albums by Yo-Yo Ma. One afternoon we sat in his living room as he scrolled through the songs on his new iPad. Bach, he declared, was his favorite classical composer.

He was particularly fond of listening to the contrast between the two versions of the “Goldberg Variations” that Glenn Gould recorded, the first in 1955 as a twenty-two-year-old little-known pianist and the second in 1981, a year before he died.

“They’re like night and day,” Jobs said after playing them sequentially one afternoon. “The first is an exuberant, young, brilliant piece, played so fast it’s a revelation. The later one is so much more spare and stark. You sense a very deep soul who’s been through a lot in life. It’s deeper and wiser.”

Jobs was on his third medical leave that afternoon when he played both versions, and I asked which he liked better, “Gould liked the later version much better.” he said. “I like the earlier, exuberant one. But now I can see where he was coming from.” – Walter Isaacson in “Steve Jobs”

You can watch Mike’s Tribute to Steve Jobs on his special page at

As Jacob Stockinger writes in The Well-Tempered Ear, “Steve Jobs and Johann Sebastian Bach may not have been all that different as men who changed the world. Both were visionaries who were loyal family men but who also were consumed by their work, day and night, and who mastered both the large concepts or theories as well as the minute details.”

Mike Lawrence also notes that: “I could not have made “BACH & friends” without his computers and software. In 1989, I filmed an interview with Steve for my Library of Congress film and what a special day that was. I remember very fondly every minute of the time I spent with him. I still have the NeXT coffee mug he gave me.

“A few years back, I put up a clip from the interview on YouTube and it has been viewed over 400,000 times – 34,000 views just yesterday alone.

“But I didn’t know Steve Jobs loved Bach until Mike Hawley asked me to send Steve and his wife Laurene a copy of “BACH & friends.” Mike shared that Steve was one of his closest personal friends. I found this quote of Steve Jobs (below) talking of Bach:

“I had been listening to a lot of Bach. All of a sudden the wheat field was playing Bach. It was the most wonderful experience of my life up to that point. I felt like the conductor of this symphony with Bach coming through the wheat field.”

“Dylan’s words struck chords of creative thinking,” Isaacson quoted Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, as saying.

“You always have to keep pushing to innovate. Dylan could have sung protest songs forever and probably made a lot of money, but he didn’t. He had to move on, and when he did by going electric in 1965, he alienated a lot of people. The Beatles were the same way. They kept evolving, moving, refining their act. That’s what I’ve tried to do — keep moving. Otherwise, as Dylan says, if you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.” – Steve Jobs

One thought on “The Steve Jobs – J.S. Bach Connection

  1. Pingback: Il tributo a Steve Jobs e quel Preludio di Bach mezzo tono sotto | The Apple Lounge

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