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Bach Books



Exploring the World of J. S. Bach


A Traveler's Guide


Tour Guide

J.S. Bach Works:


Robert L. Marshall & Traute M. Marshall





May 31, 2016




280 pages


HC / PB / Kindle


University of Illinois Press (May 31, 2016)


HC: ISBN-10: 0252040317
ISBN-13: 978-0252040313
PB: ISBN-10: 0252081765
ISBN-13: 978-0252081767


A singular resource, Exploring the World of J. S. Bach puts Bach aficionados and classical music lovers in the shoes of the master composer. Bach scholar Robert L. Marshall and veteran writer-translator Traute M. Marshall lead readers on a Baroque Era odyssey through fifty towns where Bach resided, visited, and of course created his works. Drawing on established sources as well as newly available East German archives, the authors describe each site in Bach's time and the present, linking the sites to the biographical information, artistic and historic landmarks, and musical activities associated with each. A wealth of historical illustrations, color photographs, and maps supplement the text, whetting the appetite of the visitor and the armchair traveler alike.


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Source/Links: University of Illionis Press
Contributor: Aryeh Oron (September 2017)


Book Review: Marshalls' Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide

William Hoffman wrote (July 25, 2016):
Robert L. and Traute M. Marshall, Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide (Urbana IL: University of Illinois Press, 2016), Published in cooperation with the American Bach Society.

At first glance this looks like a 245-page pictorial guide to Bach’s travels, with detailed photographs of churches, organs, and religious symbols, most fitting to his calling to create a “well-organized church music to the glory of God.” Serendipity has produced this guide to Bach’s principle residences in Thuringia (land of Martin Luther and the Bach Family) and Saxony, where Sebastian flourished. This exploration of Bach’s environment is the product of the opening of East Germany with the fall of the wall in 1989, the restoration of civic buildings and churches, and a renewed Bach scholarship, particularly through the editorial board of the American Bach Society, which commissioned this unique English-language edition. It fills a major void in Bach biography of place and musical knowledge.

The first 100 pages are devoted to Bach’s growing and working environments of Eisenach, Ohrdruf and Lüneberg, to organist at Arnstadt, Mühlhausen, and Weimar, to court composer at Köthen and finally, cantor and music director at Leipzig. These are accompanied by numerous relevant photographs with descriptive captions as well as detailed maps and charts. This exploration of Bach’s world describes the growth and transformation of communities, beginning with the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, with special emphases on his musical life and geographic travels by tracing his footsteps. The rest of this guide journeys to towns “Certainly or Presumably Visited” by Bach. These range from Berlin, Hamburg, and Dresden, to formative communities such as Erfurt, Lüneburg, and Weißenfels, to special working connections with Halle, Gotha, and Karlsbad in Bohemia.

The conception and genesis of this book is another fascinating odyssey, in “The Making of Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler’s Guide, found in Bach Notes, Newsletter of the American Bach Society (ABS, No. 24, Spring 2016), In 2012, the ABS chose the Marshalls to visit, write, photograph, and write Bach’s World. Bach scholar Robert L. Marshall is best known for his The Compositional Process of J. S. Bach: A Study of the Autograph Scores of the Vocal Works (2 vols., Princeton University Press, 1972), and The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach: The Sources, the Style, the Significance (New York: Schirmer Books, 1989), a collection of his 16 essays on historical significance, compositional process, questions of authenticity and chronology, and aspects of performance practice. His wife, Traute, is the author of Art Museums PLUS: Cultural Excursions in New England and translator of Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven.

The model for the ABS-commissioned study guide is the 2012 The Organs of J. S. Bach: A Handbook, by Christoph Wolff and Markus Zepf, “like ours a survey of major Bachiana” (ABS Notes: 1), also published by the University of Illinois Press, and translated by Lynn Edwards Butler from the original of the Bach-Archive Leipzig 2006. Replete with photographs and technical descriptions as well as extensive, scholarly appendices, references and bibliography, this book has concise and informative summaries of Bach’s encounters. Best known for his Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (2013 Updated Edition with summary of scholarly findings), leading Bach scholar Wolff provides another fascinating examination of Bach as a diligent journeyman pursuing his vocations, retaining connections, learning lessons, and securing positions for his sons.

The purpose of Exploring the World of J. S. Bach was “to identify those places, sketch their history, and recount the roles they played in the composer’s life,” says the Preface (xiiif). Special emphases outlined in the Introduction examine “Musical Life,” “Travel: Routes and Maps,” and “Epilogue, Re-creating Bach’s move from Köthen to Leipzig Today.” To the plethora of biographical findings of previous Bach scholars, the Marshall provide up-to-date, very useful material on Bach’s encounters with other composers such as Georg Philipp Telemann in Eisenach and Gottfried Heinrich Stözel in Gotha, whose cantatas Bach performed in Leipzig. Special insight is found in the authors’ findings on the Lüneberg school library and influence of composer Georg Böhm and the French style, the “Arnstadt Bach Dynasty,” Bach’s life in Mühlhausen, the various Weimar landmarks Bach knew (1708-17), the personal and musical life and venues in Köthen, and in Leipzig a background on the city’s civic, religious,cultural and intellectual institutions as well as insight into the composer’s life and music.

Beyond Luther’s Doctrine of Justification is the doctrine of vocation or calling (Beruf). Bach in his life, music, and travels sought to fulfill both doctrines in his cantatas as musical sermons and in his daily life. The doctrine of vocation deals with the relationship between faith and works. While Reformers and theologians sought to define these ingredients and their relationship, Bach practiced them. Without works righteousness, he loved his calling with the motto penned to his music, “Soli Deo Gloria,” to “the glory of God alone.” This began with Bach himself in his responsibilities to serve his vocation(s), family, and community as chronicled in Exploring the World of J. S. Bach. Bach engaged himself in the life of each community where he lived and raised his family while repeatedly traveling through much of Thuringia and Saxony, visiting family and colleagues, restoring organs and performing. He was an active member of Luther’s priesthood of all believers, practicing and defending music with Authority.

A brief forward on the ABS genesis of the book is provided by George B. Stauffer, general editor, as well as editor of The World of Baroque Music: New Perspectives (Indiana University Press, 2006), 12 new essays on important locals and music genres of the era. In the ABS Bach Notes, the Marshalls provide anecdotes on their visits to particular towns as well as information about places Bach passed through on his journeys, “the huge role music plays in Germany to this day” (Notes: 3), and organ recitals on instruments Bach played. Unfortunately but understandably omitted in Exploring the World of J. S. Bach, was “Part Three: Bach-Family-Related Sites” where earlier and later members of the Bach Family were active (Ibid: 2). “Perhaps sometime in the not-too-distant future it will be offered in some format to members of the American Bach Society.” Perhaps, like the ABS Bach Notes, it will be available electronically, online. Meanwhile, ABS members can treasure this significant and unique addition to Bach studies as part of their membership.


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