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Bach Books



Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven




J.S. Bach Works:


John Eliot Gardiner



England, UK


Hard Cover: October 2013
Paperback: July 2014
Kindle: October 2013
Audiobook: September 2014




Hardcover: 672 pages


HC / PB / Kindle / Audiobook Download


HC: Knopf
PB: Penguin
Kindle: Allen Lane


ISBN-10: 0375415297
ISBN-13: 978-0375415296


J.S. 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 J.S. 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.
John Eliot 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.


Buy this book at:

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Contributor: Aryeh Oron (November 2014)

Gardiner's Bach Biography

David Jones wrote (December 20, 2013):
I've ordered Gardiner's Bach biography after missing the release date somehow, but after reading a sample at Amazon, I have the sneaking suspicion that it is a thickened version of his (very informative) liner notes from the Cantata Series. Has anyone read it yet and what do you think?

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 20, 2013):
[To David Jones] Friends who have it have praised it. It contains a lot of new research, and that was showcased in a BBC documentary a few months ago, which was also fantastic. You'll love the book.

David Jones wrote (December 20, 2013):
Thanks Kim! My copy will be here before Christmas. I almost went the cheap route and got it for Kindle, but I decided this is a book I had to hold in my hands, no ifs ands or buts about it.

William Wentzler wrote (December 20, 2013):
[To David Jones] Gardiner’s _Bach_ has quite a number of nice color plates in it. These typically don’t fare well on Kindles.

David Jones wrote (December 20, 2013):
[To William Wentzler] A Bach scholar broke my little heart when he described the fire/penitential service theory for BWV 131 as a "useful fiction". I hope Gardiner has something to say about that.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 20, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< A Bach scholar broke my little heart when he described the fire/penitential service theory for BWV 131 as a "useful fiction" >
I burst into tears when those hard-hearted scholars said "Schlage Doch Gewünschte Stunde" wasn't by Bach.

Douglas Cowling wrote (December 20, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< I hope Gardiner has something to say about that. >
The Gardiner is on my Xmas books list.

Given the interest in the book, perhaps we should set aside a few weeks to discuss his new conclusions and documents.

William Hoffman wrote (December 20, 2013):
I have the book and I'm including information in BCML current postings. His book is not just a string of his recording liner notes. In fact, he only selectively talks about particular cantatas with excellent themes and context, but these are limited to the first two cycles His thoughts are perceptive, stimulating, and some times provocative.

David Jones wrote (December 21, 2013):
[To Douglas Cowling] That would be great! I miss you guys and the book would give me an opportunity to dive back in. I don't know how tech savvy cantata group members are, but what about a google hangout?

Peter Bright wrote (December 21, 2013):
I'd also like to play a part in these discussions - the Gardiner book arrived in the post today... Although a member from the outset I haven't contributed for a good couple of years and look forward to checking in when I can...

David Jones wrote (December 24, 2013):
[To Peter Bright] I have gotten my book. How would you guys like to divide this beautiful elephant?

Ehud Shiloni wrote (December 24, 2013):
[To David Jones] George Orwell would have said: "Start shooting, and we'll see how it goes from there"....

William Wentzler wrote (December 24, 2013):
David Jones wrote:
< A Bach scholar broke my little heart when he described the fire/penitential service theory for BWV 131 as a "useful fiction". I hope Gardiner has something to say about that. >

Ch. 5, "The Mechanics of Faith" (p. 140f)affirms this "useful fiction":
"the burgomasters recognised the need for a commemorative service of penance, and it's more than likely they commissioned their new organist to compose a cantata for the occasion. This may have been BWV 131," with BWV 4 and 106 "that display three successive, linked approaches to the mechanics of faith and how they operated within Bach's musically active ind during his early twenties."

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (December 24, 2013):
William Hoffman wrote:
< Ch. 5, "The Mechanics of Faith" (p. 140f) affirms this "useful fiction":
"the burgomasters recognised the need for a commemorative service of penance, and it's more than likely they commissioned their new organist to compose a cantata for the occasion. This may have been BWV 131," >

That's very little evidence, and all conjecture.

Luke Dahn wrote (December 24, 2013):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I look forward to reading Gardiner's book, too. (I have a hunch it's under the tree right now.)
Regarding Gardiner's new Bach documentary (which on the whole is lovely), was anyone else bothered by his choice of interviewees? More than anything, it's who wasn't featured--leading Bach scholars. Is this a reflection of Gardiner's standing within or relationship with Bach scholarship? Is the book similar?

Or am I imagining this?

David Jones wrote (December 25, 2013):
[To Luke Dahn] I think Gardiner is in the doghouse with a lot of Bach scholars, chiefly because of his stubborn insistence on more than one voice per a part and the lack of "earlier than thou" sound in his orchestral conducting; his sound is colorful and vibrant. I did read that he affirmed the "useful fiction" of a penitential service being the context for BWV 131 and was very glad of it. I'll trust him before I trust Joshua Rifkin (the one to use that phrase to describe the story of a penitential service) In Lutheran practice, it is unlikely that such a terrible disaster would have passed without some sort of penitential observance; it would be as if September 11th passed without any sort of civil or religious ceremony or reflection at all. In any case, I am LOVING the book. As far as this business of "Bach scholars being absent". if Christoph Wolff isn't a Bach scholar, who is?

William Hoffmsn wrote (December 25, 2013):
"On January 1, 2014, Sir John Eliot Gardiner will become President of the Bach Archive Foundation."FN In his new book, Gardiner speaks volumes of the new guard at the Archive, Peter Wollny and Michael Maul, as well as Christoph Wolff. BTW, read the new book, "Reinventing Bach," about the great figures of the 20th century who brought Bach to the front: Schweitzer, Casals, Stokowski, Gould, etc. I still have great respect for Rifkin, especially his suggestions about possible parodied music in the BMM and his reconstruction of Cantata 216a.

FN: Bach-Archiv Leipzig


Gardiner: Bach

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 11, 2014):
For those of you, like me, who are waiting for online discounts of the new Gardiner book, check out this link where you can read gobbets of the text online:

Stephen Allenson wrote (January 11, 2014):
For those of you in the UK, Amazon have an electronic (Kindle) version for £9 sterling. And more amazingly had it discounted in the same format for 99p ($1.50 US) at the beginning of this week. Sadly an offer that disappeared quickly.

I snapped up the 99p bargain, but Santa had obligingly left a hardback copy in my stocking over Christmas.

BTW, a first (and dull) post from me. Christmas brought gales and floods here and a loss of phone and internet for 10 days. And we were out doing homeless volunteering for most of Christmas week. But gradually getting back to normal. (Apart from losing my job, but that's another story.) I have an endless supply of BWV 51 performances to go through so hopefully will add something more appropriate to the debate over the next couple of days.

Belated Happy New Year to all and happy listening!

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 11, 2014):
[To Stephen Allenson] I'm sorry to hear about your job loss and the bad weather, it was so cold here in New York City this week, but things are finally warming up.

I *wished* I knew about that great deal about the Kindle version of the JEG book, because I'd purchased that! But some friends and I were wondering why don't publishers include a free electronic version of the book (at least from online booksellers). Movie studios typically give you an electronic format you can transfer to the PC or portable / cell phone version when you buy a DVD / Blu Ray disc. There's no cost involved for the publishers, since the electronic format of the book already exists.

I'm hoping that the JEG electronic format for the Bach makes use of enchanced format (audio files, movie files, high res images). I J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Father Christmas Letters" in the enhanced format, and Penguin Classics has embraced this in a big way too. It's really remarkable I think.

Stephen Allenson wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Many thanks for the kind words. Life is never quite as straightfoward as we would like it to be.

Meanwhile. Sadly the electronic JEG book is just a straight OCR transfer (with a few typos that inevitably result, and plates and diagrams less easy to read electronically than they are in a "proper" book). Like you I share the wish for a real electronic format that could combine test with multimedia enhancements, but that would be a mammoth undertaking and beset with complex licensing issues. But we can dream.

Meanwhile I'm taking refuge in the print version. Tho that said I'm finding it slightly heavy going. He's great on the music, but trying to cover all the liturgical/historical background at the same time makes it all a bit dense. And less "fun" to read and less insightful than the notes JEG wrote for the BCP recordings.

I'm sure a lot of you out there have got through the whole tome by now. Does it fulfil its original promise or are we still waiting for the best "performer's insight"?

(I came across JEG a few times as a choir master earlier in my life. To say the experience could be slightly scary is something of an understatement. But he seems to have mellowed a little with age and his interpretations are

a good deal less mannered now that they were back on the 80s and 90s.....)

David Jones wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Stephen Allenson] I almost felt bad saying it, but someone had beat me to it. It is a very dense book and a scholarly, vegetable like read. I would still recommend the book, but I'd say if you're looking for piercing musical analyses, you'd largely do better reading the liner notes from the CDs. Christoph Wolff beats Gardiner hands down for readability but Wolff only analyzes a few large works. The books are complementary.

Luke Dahn wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Stephen Allenson] For what it's worth, here is my take on the Gardiner book:
Perhaps I was too hard on him. :o) Overall a very rewarding read, I thought, though I realized early in the book that I had to modify my expectations.

Paul Beckman wrote (January 13, 2014):
Re. Luke Dahn's review (and caution) of Gardiner's "biography"

I don't think you are too hard on him. The often far-fetched conjecture, especially with regard to Bach's childhood education, is, in my opinion, rather unwarranted, and perhaps best left to an appendix or extensive footnote somewhere.

In a more general sense, I think we have, for the most part, moved far beyond the idolizing of Bach; he has been nearly humanized to death. How many of us are ignorant to his irascible nat, his love of food and drink, his stubbornness? It's not that such information is misplaced in Gardiner's account, it is simply that we aren't spectators at a naked Emporer's parade.

All the same, it's a fine book, and provides a great deal of enhancement to our appreciation of what we love about such sublime and eternal music.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (January 13, 2014):
Paul Beckman wrote:
< .. the idolizing of Bach; he has been nearly humanized to death. How many of us are ignorant to his irascible nature, his love of food and drink, his stubbornness? ... >
Wait a moment, please!

What is wrong with loving food and drink? And sex (which he supposedly also loved, witness his many children)?


(Of course, I mean food and drink in due moderation, and I am not aware of any account of Bach being often drunk or more overweight than it was customary for well-to-do men at the time).

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 13, 2014):
Bach & Diabetes

Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< (Of course, I mean food and drink in due moderation, and I am not aware of any account of Bach being often drunk or more overweight than it was customary for well-to-do men at the time). >

Wolff suggests that Bach had diabetes which might have been the source of his blindness. The disease was poorly understood in the period, and the side effects of appetite dysfunction and consequent overweight should contradict the prevalent attitudes then (and now) that diabetics are gluttonous and often alcoholic.

Paul Beckman wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] I think you misunderstand me: I don't find any problem with Bach's love of food, drink, and sex - just pointing out that we all know that he did find such pleasures pleasurable.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Douglas Cowling] There's a great bit on the Bach website about Bach's failing eyesight by Thomas Braatz citing:.

"Yoshitake Kobayashi, probably the world's best expert on Bach's handwriting, prepared the NBA IX/2 volume "Die Notenschrift Johann Sebastian Bachs: Dokumentation ihrer Entwicklung." As the title indicates, this volume tracks all the changes in Bach's handwriting over the course of his lifetime."

Speculation on the diabetes seems rather pointless, and is pure guess work given there is very little in the way of clinical information.

That's a great resource though on the Bach website, since it uses Bach's handwriting as a diagnostic tool.

Uri Golomb wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Luke Dahn] Thanks for your review of Gardiner's book. I haven't read it yet, but my familiarity with Gardiner's style of writing and research suggests that your review is probably spot-on: my prior assumptions – my prejudice, if you will – is that the book is likely to have exactly the kinds of strengths and weaknesses you cited. I'll report again when I've read it for myself.

There was, however, one particular point which struck me. First, an extended quote from your review:

In Chapter 4, Gardiner proposes the idea that Bach may have visited the Hamburg opera during his trip to that city, even while acknowledging a lack of evidence and, at the same time, challenging such an eminent Bach scholar as Christoph Wolff:

“Just because the writers of his obituary do not mention the Hamburg opera or any contact with its leading light, Reinhard Keiser, does not mean that Bach ‘at the time had no particular interest in opera,’ (citing Wolff, Bach; The Learned Musician, p.65) […] Either of these men (Hamburg opera conductor Keiser or Reincken, organist and board of directors member) could easily have accompanied Bach, given him letters of introduction to attend Keiser’s theatre or even arranged for him to participate in any of the twelve operas Keiser composed for Hamburg between 1700 and 1702. We can surmise that his natural musical curiosity drew Bach as a listener into its orbit, even if, once in, what early biographers identified as an innate shyness held him back from the networking needed for success in a pressurized world whose purpose was to satisfy ‘the vanity of [its] individual executants’.” (pp.99-100)

This is quite a remarkable conclusion built on a mere assumption that “natural curiosity” would have led Bach to the opera. Being willing to venture ideas on such scanty evidence at times leads Gardiner to conclusions that are less than convincing.

In this particular case, I feel that Gardiner was right to challenge Wolff – I agree that Gardiner's claim is not convincingly supported, but neither is Wolff's. They both, in fact, suffer from the same problem: a refusal to acknowledge the lack of evidence.

As I understand it, we have evidence of Bach's visit to Hamburg, and of some of his activities there; but much of the visit is undocumented. Hamburg had an active and prestigious opera house at the time; that much is clear. Wolff concludes that Bach did not visit the opera and did not even wish to; Gardiner concludes that Bach probably did visit the opera. Both conclusions are unwarranted. If Gardiner had simply criticized Wolff for dismissing Bach's putative opera visits too hastily, I would have agreed with him. The problem is that Gardiner's speculations are no more warranted than Wolff's. He is right, BTW, about Bach's natural musical curiosity, but whether that curiosity would have motivated him to visit the Hamburg opera during his visit (and, if so, whether such a visit could have been, and has been arranged) is anybody's guess.

Information on Bach's life is tantalizingly incomplete, and not all the information we do have is reliable. Biographers are uncomfortable with this sense that, in too many places, they simply have to say "we don't know". The urge to reconstruct a plausible story is understandable; and I don't mind speculation as long it's clearly marked as such. Gardiner's text, as quoted, does provide an admission of its own speculative nature – but this admission is a bit weak, and the whole thing strikes me as too much wishful thinking. But I remember having the same feeling reading some passages of Wolff's The Learned Musician, too (I don't have the time now to hunt for specific examples). I suspect that it's a bug that afflicts a lot of Bach biographers.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Uri Golomb] Thanks Uri.

Even JEG mentions there is really VERY little we know regarding Bach. In a scientific inquiry, unless there is documentary evidence, it's just speculation. It's fun, and exciting, and understandable given how little survives, but I find it fascinating when JEG does turn something concrete (e.g. Bach's school records), you get the reactions you have seen (i.e.some folks are bothered by the implications). While the abuse of children during this period was something I had always suspected, but until this book, never really seen much research on it.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 13, 2014):
The Systemic Abuse of Students

Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< While the abuse of children during this period was something I had always suspected, but until this book, never really seen much research on it. >

One could add the Rosenmüller episode at St. Thomas to the history of institutional abuse which scholars to date have largely ignored. I suspect the documentary evidence is probably more extensive than we realize and awaits historians who will assemble and synthesize it.

Linda Gingrich wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Luke Dahn & Uri Golomb] Thank you to Luke and Uri for their reviews and insights. I am about halfway through Gardiner's book and have also taken the conjectures with a grain of salt. However, as a conductor I found deeply interesting his discussion in chapter 7 of many modern musicologist's tendency to view of the act of performance as "an optional extra--uncontrollable and variable, therefore misleading and potentially damaging to the intrinsic perfection of a composition as preserved in print..." (p. 226 & surrounding pages).

As a performer (and composer), this is where I live! There is indeed a price to be paid when a piece of music is handed on to a performer. Live performance is uncontrollable and variable, even sometimes during the very actof performance itself, but that is part of the joy of music making. And even if only one person is sitting alone studying a score, are they perhaps creating a performance with themselves as performer and audience?

But perhaps this modern attitude is not as wide-spread as he suggests?

Luke Dahn wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich Uri Golomb] Thank you for your comments. I agree with Linda (and Gardiner) on that front. If analysis doesn't lead us back to the music and give us an enhanced experience, then it's virtually useless. And as I suggested in my review, those qualities in Gardiner the Writer-Scholar that make me roll my eyes just a bit are likely the same ones in Gardiner the Conductor-Performer that lead to goosebump-inducing performances.

After reading Gardiner's rich commentary on the cantatas, I wondered something. As I listen to my favorite cantata passages over and over and over again, with hand on the "rewind" button, I wondered whether in rehearsal Bach ever asked his ensemble to sing that part again! And again! And again! ...just because of how majestic the music was.

Stephen Allenson wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Luke Dahn] A good and well-balanced review from you I think. (Though I will give a more informed judgement when I've finished the book.) Not too hard on JEG and giving credit where credit is due to the views of a thoughtful practical musician. (And well done for making it through. I had little time for outside reading when I was in the throes of my doctorate many years ago.)

Where I'm struggling in the early chapters is with Gardiner's slightly imperious and over-magisterial "command" of all aspects of 17th-century German history, geography, sociology, theology and "zeitgeist". I don't quite trust all the interpretations of evidence that Gardiner throws out (though he writes very engagingly). Nothing specific that I can point at. I just have a natural suspicion of a lot of rather broad generalisations. (He said making a broad generalisation.)

When he writes about the music, it's a different matter. There I'm engaged and more inclined to take his views on board. But JEG as our foremost English-speaking historian of 17th/18th century Germany? Hmm.

A good book nonetheless. But one to be taken with some reservations in giving a wholly accurate and convincing view of the historical context.

Meanwhile. Are we all enjoying C52 this week, given the rather overwhelming white-voiced coloratura roller coaster ride of C51 last week?

Stephen Allenson wrote (January 13, 2014):
[To Linda Gingrich] A great point to have brought up. Most of us will have had the benefit of many arguments around Richard Taruskin's trenchant views on the unholy cocktail of HPI, Werktreue/textural fidelity and the everyday reality of trying to perform music in a way that engages and communicates.

And Bach is where a lot of the attention is still focused for many of us. Because the music is just so great and our knowledge so limited and room for conjecture so large.

But if there's no room for joy in all of this, then what is the point?

Happy engaged listening to all

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (January 14, 2014):
Gardiner: Bach and Speculation

[To Uri Golomb] Thank you Uri!

The world of speculations is a dangerous one, and I believe that many researchers fail to apply modern scientific methods (e.g. mathematical statistics) that would help a lot in elucidate uncertainties . Even worse, those few who did (like the late John Barnes) received more attacks than praise.

Actually, there are unknowns about JSBach that can be deduced with minimal margin of error. Well-known examples:

CLAVICHORDS: In young JSBach's milieu clavichords were mostly triple-fretted. Except for a few little preludes, no keyboard work by JSB is playable in these instruments, and therefore we can safely assume that, if he composed something for the clavichord, was in his later years when unfretted clavichords started to become fashionable.

TOCCATA AND FUGUE: After Williams and Humphreys decades ago put together many pieces of evidence showing that JSBach could not possibly have composed BWV565, many wrote that their work was inconclusive and implausible: the recordings and editions keep attributing the work to JSBach. Actually, and regardless of personal feelings, it can be shown that they have proved the matter conclusively, with a minimal margin of error.

On other Bachian matters, however, the evidence is much less conclusive, very diverging conclusions have been reached, and opinions go back and forth every time somebody finds a minuscule piece of evidence or a major work is published. Some well-known examples:

- ORGAN TEMPERAMENT: Except for a few short trips, JSB spent most of his life in Saxony, and none of the organs he played is extant. Not a single document or evidence about their tuning has survived. Based on non-Bach contemporary documents, most writers on the subject (e.g. Ledbetter 2002 and myself 2009) find it very likely that the organs JSB played were tuned circular, and present-day discussions are largely about which circular temperament is either musically best or historically more likely for JSBach. Nevertheless, Ortgies (2004) finds this unlikely (based on statistics of extant organs) and finds it more likely that JSB wrote his organ works just to be read, not played. It has also been suggested that they were meant for a pedal harpsichord or clavichord, though the evidence that JSB ever had such an instrument is nil, with very scarce mentions of these instruments before 1750 and all the few extant ones being dated later.

- INEGALES: Until not long ago, and with virtual absence of mention of notes inégales in Bach or his milieu, most leading musicians and musicologists (including Frederick Neumann and Gustav Leonhardt) found it very implausible that JSB meant any of his French-style dances to be performed with inégales. More recent writers find plenty of indirect but very strong evidence that in German countries in JSBach's time most musicians were playing French-style pieces employing the French manners including inégales (Little and Jenne 2001, Ledbetter 2002 and myself 2010).

- 16' HARPSICHORD: It was shown by Hubbard, and agreed by makers for decades, that adding a 16' foot choir to a harpsichord, no matter how well it is done, is detrimental for its sound quality and produces inconveniences not just in action lightness and maintenance cost, but also in transposing the sound down an octave. Accordingly, for decades nobody made or played harpsichords with 16'. More recently it has beenshown that at least one 16' harpsichord existed in JSBach's milieu, in the Zimmermann coffee house. Therefore JSBach is likely to have played it, but he might also have hated it! Anyway, lo and behold, everybody is now making and playing JSB in 16' harpsichords! (How it sounds? It depends whom you ask!). Regardless, it is a statistical fact that only a small percentage of German harpsichords had 16' choirs, and they were built in Northern Germany in late Baroque times, thus making it quite unlikely that JSBach would have (or like) one. But the truth is: we simply do not know.

- EARLY PIANO: JSBach, Silbermann, Potsdam, CPEBach, DScarlatti, we know the stories. It has been argued that the old JSBach and DScarlatti would find the early piano of the 1740's an unwieldy instrument, musically and mechanically, but some have published writings arguing the contrary!

Linda Gingrich wrote (January 14, 2014):
Ah yes, the never-ending and vexing performance/scholar questions! I think that there is a kind communal consummation of a piece when it is performed that is missing if it simply stays on the page--virginal and untouched! (Dare I go in this direction!!)

And I agree with Luke about the eye-rolling and compelling-performance Gardiner; it's his imagination that produces both.

Sometimes in rehearsal I have had my singers repeat a passage simply because it was so beautiful.

Claudio Di Veroli wrote (January 14, 2014):
Linda Gingrich wrote:

< Ah yes, the never-ending and vexing performance/scholar questions! I think that there is a kind communal consummatiof a piece when it is performed that is missing if it simply stays on the page--virginal and untouched! (Dare I go in this direction!!). >
Dear Linda: In spite of what I seem to imply in my previous post, I belong to that far-from-insignificant percentage of early music performers who believe that every scholarly analysis we read, however farfetched, helps us at better understanding what early-music composers meant when they jolted down those notes on the stave. There is, IMHO, no more complete interpretation of a piece of music that the one that makes music utilising not just the notes on the score, but the vital additional information about implicit meanings: far from limiting our interpretational freedom, it enhances it, allowing us to "add" to the score rhythms and ornaments that, actually, the score directly implied because the composer gave them for granted.

Long live the hard-working scholars, including those with whom so many of us disagree. Without them there would be no no performance criteria, no early instruments, no guidance, no democratic discussions, and we would be still interpreting JSBach in the obscurantists ways of the Romantic era.

Douglas Cowling wrote (January 14, 2014):
Linda Gingrich wrote:
< Sometimes in rehearsal I have had my singers repeat a passage simply because it was so beautiful >.

This is such a wicked pleasure in Bach because, even as you are savouring the moment, you know that you should be rehearsing that difficult passage on the next page.

Julian Mincham wrote (January 14, 2014):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] Well said Claudio!

For myself I tire of the sniffy way in which some musos, and a lot music lovers talk of 'analysis. as if it is a dry and remote activity unrelated to the music. Very seldom is an attempt made to differentiate between the (related but differing) processes of 'musicology', 'analysis', and 'description'.

The last simply describes the musical events (e.g. a new theme begins here, the tempo (rhythm, orchestration) changes at this point) very often with a lack of technical language which obviously has an appeal for the non technically orientated music lover. Musicology looks at the broader social, cultural, notational and performance (e.g. through a study of the original instruments and technical practices) processes. One of the most important of these in recent years has been the dating and systemation of Bach's works through water marks etc etc.It is irony that what some might see as a tedious and repetitive process has been instrumental in bringing us the lighter, more dance-like and enthralling performances of recent years which contrast markedly with many of the slow and dull efforts from the middle of the last century--I have a number of these on LPs and play them from time to time to remind myself of how far we have travelled.

But perhaps the sniffiest comments relate to the 'musical analysis' which is applied to the musical elements and components and asks the more penetrating why?and how? questions. Such discussions require a knowlege of a number of basic musical terms (see Luke's last email) by which many music lovers exclude themselves, although there is no reason to do so as there are a number of good musical glossaries around. Why did the composer choose that particular modulation and what is its expressive effect? Is the writing for the voices derived directly from images in the text, and if so how? What particular form of interrupted cadence is the composer using at this point and what is the consequent musical effect? I disagree with Luke's statement

'If analysis doesn't lead us back to the music and give us an enhanced experience, then it's virtually useless' only in so much as I would say that musical analysis is rooted in the text and leads us FROM an enhanced awareness of how the composers has utilised his elements TO a greater depth of and pleasure in performance. When I see master classes by someone such as Barenboim I am deeply impressed by his composer-like grasp of the musical processes and how this saturation with the music enhances his interpretations.

Let us remember that the pleasure we received from exhilarating performances may well rest on a profound knowledge of how the musical elements have been constructed, a process of which both the interpreter and his/her predecessors will have partaken. The performer's temperament is, of course one of a number of other factors, but he/she has to know what they are doing.

Linda Gingrich wrote (January 14, 2014):
Let me hasten to add my agreement with Claudio and Julian (and a shared chuckle with Doug). Musicology and analysis made the writing of my dissertaton on Bach's chorale cantatas a musical and theological joy and feast--every day--and ignited a real passion for the cantatas. No conductor worth his or her salt ever disdains the insight musicology brings to score study. Just as, I'm sure, no musicologist worth his or her salt disdains the magic of performance. They work hand-in-hand. I simply had never considered the discussion as presented by Gardiner, and it sparked a chain of thoughts and imaginings in my mind that I couldn't resist chasing down, testing out, probing, hither and yon.

Here's to Gardiner for stirring things up!

William Hoffman wrote (January 15, 2014):
An examination of Bach's Passions and performances shows a strong connection and collateral evidence to early contact with the Hamburg opera. Peter Williams (Bach's Organ Music) at the 2012 American Bach Society conference on Bach's organ music suggested in his keynote address that perhaps Bach performers and scholars should spend less time looking at notes and more at his life, especially early connections to Hamburg. It is no coincidence that Bach learned much from the "Keiser" Passions as well as the Passions of Christian Friedrich Hunold and Christian Heinrich Postel (St. John text), c.1705. Read my BCW Passion articles.

David Jones wrote (January 15, 2014):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I think we should be circumspect in our disdain of "conjecture". Scientists make educated guesses and hypotheses all the time. It's important to reiterate that if we only relied on what we knew for certain, any Bach biography, from Forkel's to Wolff's would have to be hacked by two thirds.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (January 15, 2014):
David Jones wrote:
< I think we should be circumspect in our disdain of "conjecture". Scientists make educated guesses and hypotheses all the time. >
But they're tested constantly against evidence, and or have their results reproduced, that's an important difference.


George Stauffer's Review of Gardiner

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 9, 2014):

Linda Gingrich wrote (February 9, 2014):
[To Douglas Cowling] Thank you for this link! In reading Gardiner's book, I was alternately dazzled, puzzled, stimulated, and sometimes indulged in some eye-rolling over his imaginative flights. Stauffer's review touches on some of these reactions, but in an even-handed and generous manner.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (February 9, 2014):
[To Linda Gingricj] Good review. I also had no idea what a talented a painter Felix Mendelssohn was (the review included a painting by Mendelssohn of the Thomasschule and Thomaskirche in Leipzig, 1738.

Norma Svelingson wrote (February 10, 2014):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] Mendelssohn was, as we all know, very well traveled. Every time he went to a new place he would paint views of it to send to Fanny, much the same as we might purchase a postcard picture of a place to send. The paintings – mostly water colors – are exquisite.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 10, 2014):
Norma Stevlingson wrote:
< Mendelssohn was, as we all know, very well traveled. Every time he went to a new place he would paint views of it to send to Fanny, much the same as we might purchase a postcard picture of a place to send. The paintings – mostly water colors – are exquisite. >
If I recall, Mendelssohn's watercolour of the rear of the Thomasschule is the only drawing shows the window of Bach's study. It astonihes me that the room where so many masterpieces were written was lost in a renovation in the 1890's, well fter Leipzig had bece a pilgrimage spo for Bach's devotees.


Gardiner's Bach - Book Review

Aryeh Oron wrote (December 7, 2014):
This message is sent on behalf of Dick Wursten

Sir John Eliot Gardiner amazed the world with his ‘Bach-Pilgrimage’ (2000) and hit the top 10 of non-fiction with his Biography (2013). Anyone interested in Bach and his cantatas will not be able to get around this book. In my humble opinion readers should be aware that this book - contrary to the propaganda and despite the many footnotes - is not a scholarly biography, but a very subjective appreciation of Bach’s music (fiction rather than non-fiction). For those interested:
[Dick Wursten, active member of the Bach-cantata mailing list in the beginning of this century]

George Bromley wrote (December 7, 2014):
[To Aryeh Oron] I was given a copy of this book by my son and could not put it down, a real must.

Stefan Lwicki wrote (December 8, 2014):
I was glad I took this book with me when I went on my Bach holiday to Thuringia in September. If anyone is interested, I wrote a brief review on my blog:

Julian Minchamy wrote (December 9, 2014):
An interesting review which accords pretty much with my own views.

I think the continuing problem that occurs with much of the writing about Bach lies in the wording. There is much that can be inferred from a study of the music---the key word being 'inferred'. Conclusions need to be expressed in ways that reflect upon an interesting and stimulating inference having been drawn i.e. it seems that----it could be argued that----the setting of the words here could indicate----the evidence might lead one to think that.....etc etc. When the conclusions are more forcefully expressed, they can appear dogmatic and didactic and are off-putting to the reader.

Few people are more qualified than Gardiner and Koopman to express their views about Bach, man and music. They know the music intimately from both an analytical and a performance point of view. But their views are just that---individual perspectives, not researched fact.

I've often wondered how many of the countless books on JSB would have been written if only established factual material had been permitted. But it remains the task of the reader led, one might hope, by the experts, to differentiate between established fact and subjective inference. The degree to which Gardiner (and others) have been successful in doing this is a proper matter for review and comment.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 9, 2014):
I have only read a small portion of Gardiner's book (having downloaded it on Kindle recently), but the review resonates with the little I've read, and with many of Gardiner's other writings (CD liner notes, articles, interviews etc.) with which I'm more familiar; and I don't just mean his writings about Bach's music. I've always had a higher opinion of Gardiner the conductor than of Gardiner the musicologist. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy reading what he has to say. When he talks about the music itself (including text/music relations), he is often insightful and inspiring. The trouble begins when he moves to historical conjectures, which in his case usually range from the plausible-but-unproven through the unlikely-yet-just-about-possible to the downright false.

Ultimately, I'm going to read his book because I expect it to shed light on the music – and also to shed light on Gardiner himself, and the motivations behind his musical choices as a prominent and often fantastic performer of Bach's music. I don’t expect to learn much about Bach the man, though.

Luke Dahn wrote (December 9, 2014):
[To Uri Golomb] My take on Gardiner is precisely in the vein of Uri's (and Dick Wursten's) comments. I sent my review to the list back in January when I wrote it, so apologies for resending. But the second half of the review cites a few examples of Gardiner's engaging in the sport of conjecture, in case anyone is interested.

I always thought it will a bit telling sign that Gardiner's book was published by Knopf rather than a more academic publisher like a university press. Perhaps I'm reading too much into that fact. At any rate, I do wonder what people like Wolff, Butt, Robin Leaver and the like think of Gardiner's brand of scholarship. Perhaps some of you can shed light??


Book notes...

Peter Boe wrote (December 14, 2014):
First time posting to this group, which seems to get extremely scant traffic. Nonetheless, and in the interest of getting some discussion going, I thought I would drop a few lines to the group.

I have read virtually all of the Bach literature available, speaking in terms of biography and analysis. But I have not yet read John Eliot Gardiner's 'Music In The Castle of Heaven'. Today, one of my students gave me a copy as a gift. I've been aware of this book for some time now, and am anxious to begin it. I'm wondering if any of the group have read it and what their thoughts about it might be.

Also, I just finished reading a book called 'The True Life of JS Bach' by one Klause Eidam. Apart from his rather distasteful bashing of some of the greatest of Bach scholars, I found the book to be questionable on several levels. I am very curious to know what the general assessment of this book is, and how it is viewed by the better-known contemporary Bach scholars, if anyone has this information.

Hoping you all have a wonderful Holiday season,


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