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 GardinerSee more books from this Author
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.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from Kirkus
Mr. Gardiner writes in a lively, conversational fashion, if not always a syntactically correct or felicitous one. Dangling participles and other detached modifiers abound.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from NY Times
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".Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from Guardian
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.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from Guardian
"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.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from WSJ online
...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.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from Financial Times
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, a world-renowned English conductor, has helped open a scholarly window to the life, music and mystery that defines Bach.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from Washington Times
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.Read Full Review of Music in the Castle of Heaven... | See more reviews from The Economist
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