In all his positions as choir director, Bach composed sacred cantatas—a total of some 300, of which nearly 200 are extant. There are also over 30 secular cantatas, composed at Leipzig, among them Phoebus and Pan (1731). The bulk of his work is religious—he made four-part settings of 371 Lutheran chorales, also using many of them as the bases of organ preludes and choral works. In addition, he composed an astonishing number of instrumental works, many of them designed for the instruction of his numerous pupils. In his instrumental and choral works he perfected the art of polyphony, displaying an unmatched combination of inventiveness and control in his great, striding fugues.
During his lifetime, Bach was better known as an organist than as a composer. For decades after his death his works were neglected, but in the 19th cent. his genius came to be recognized, particularly by romantic composers such as Mendelssohn and Schumann. Since that time his reputation has grown steadily.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.