Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner
A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach

68%

8 Critic Reviews

...if you want a balanced biography, this is not for you. The opening chapters are chaotic...But if you want a detailed analysis of the cantatas, the two Passions and Mass in B minor, and a feeling for their wondrous piety, Gardiner provides exhaustive satisfaction.
-Financial Times

Synopsis

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the most unfathomable composers in the history of music. How can such sublime work have been produced by a man who (when we can discern his personality at all) seems so ordinary, so opaque—and occasionally so intemperate?

John Eliot Gardiner grew up passing one of the only two authentic portraits of Bach every morning and evening on the stairs of his parents’ house, where it hung for safety during World War II. He has been studying and performing Bach ever since, and is now regarded as one of the composer’s greatest living interpreters. The fruits of this lifetime’s immersion are distilled in this remarkable book, grounded in the most recent Bach scholarship but moving far beyond it, and explaining in wonderful detail the ideas on which Bach drew, how he worked, how his music is constructed, how it achieves its effects—and what it can tell us about Bach the man.

Gardiner’s background as a historian has encouraged him to search for ways in which scholarship and performance can cooperate and fruitfully coalesce. This has entailed piecing together the few biographical shards, scrutinizing the music, and watching for those instances when Bach’s personality seems to penetrate the fabric of his notation. Gardiner’s aim is “to give the reader a sense of inhabiting the same experiences and sensations that Bach might have had in the act of music-making. This, I try to show, can help us arrive at a more human likeness discernible in the closely related processes of composing and performing his music.”

It is very rare that such an accomplished performer of music should also be a considerable writer and thinker about it. John Eliot Gardiner takes us as deeply into Bach’s works and mind as perhaps words can. The result is a unique book about one of the greatest of all creative artists. 

 

About John Eliot Gardiner

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John Eliot Gardiner is one of the world’s leading conductors, not only of Baroque music but across the whole repertoire. He founded the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. He has conducted most of the world’s great orchestras and in many of the leading opera houses. He lives and farms in Dorset, England.
 
Published October 29, 2013 by Vintage. 672 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Arts & Photography, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Music in the Castle of Heaven
All: 8 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
on Oct 05 2013

A celebrated conductor of baroque music debuts with an examination of Bach’s compositions, descriptions of various works and some inferences about the genius who created them...An erudite work resting on prodigious research and experience and deep affection and admiration.

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NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by James R. Oestreich on Dec 03 2013

Mr. Gardiner writes in a lively, conversational fashion, if not always a syntactically correct or felicitous one. Dangling participles and other detached modifiers abound.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Peter Conrad on Oct 30 2013

His book is not a biography, but its guesses about the inner life of an impersonal man are shrewd...Gardiner's is a festive book, enlivened by the "joy and zest" of Bach's "dance-impregnated music".

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Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Iain Burnside on Oct 26 2013

For a book subtitled A Portrait of Bach there are remarkable inconsistencies. It's clear that Gardiner's priority is Bach the church musician, rather than Bach the court composer, but much of the instrumental output is barely mentioned.

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WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Michael O'Donnell on Nov 22 2013

"Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" is an unusual book—part biography, part exegesis of Bach's choral masterpieces (the cantatas, masses, oratorios and passions). Mr. Gardiner organizes it in 14 loosely related chapters, or "spokes" of the wheel that is Bach's life and music.

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Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by Andrew Clark on Oct 11 2013

...if you want a balanced biography, this is not for you. The opening chapters are chaotic...But if you want a detailed analysis of the cantatas, the two Passions and Mass in B minor, and a feeling for their wondrous piety, Gardiner provides exhaustive satisfaction.

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Washington Times

Good
Reviewed by Michael Taube on Jun 05 2014

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, a world-renowned English conductor, has helped open a scholarly window to the life, music and mystery that defines Bach.

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The Economist

Above average
on Oct 12 2013

This book is not a biography in the conventional sense—of which there are plenty already, some of them excellent—but an attempt to uncover the man through his music.

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