Music In The Castle Of Heaven
A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach
By John Eliot Gardiner
Published on October 3rd 2013 by Allen Lane/Penguin
If you are looking for a short introduction to the life and works of Bach, this is NOT the book you are looking for. This outstanding volume is positively encyclopaedic in its scope, approach, scholarly erudition and size, clocking in at 600 pages in the digital edition and all the while retaining its author's enthusiasm and love for Bach.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is a world renowned musician and conductor who has a truly phenomenal passion for Bach, having played and sung the composer's works since he was a young child; he has harnessed this performer's intimate knowledge with his background as a historian to produce a thoroughly comprehensive portrait of the life and times of the whole Bach family from its earliest recorded instances, though its primary focus is on the Master himself, Johann Sebastian Bach. It is a delight to learn so much about Sir John's own musical journey through life at the opening, which sets the scene for the rest of the book.
There is an in-depth analysis of many pieces of music and I found it a delight to become acquainted with so very many pieces I had not previously encountered, listening to them wherever possible, often via YouTube, as I was reading Sir John's commentaries in the book. The sheer prodigious output of Bach is almost unbelievable; the liturgical music he composed for the Sundays and feast days of the Christian year in cantata form alone is staggering. I particularly enjoyed learning about so many other great composers who were either more or less contemporaneous or influential on J S Bach, and how this amazing musical jigsaw puzzle of sources and influences fits together. The nuts and bolts of composition make for absorbing reading even for me, and I cannot read a note of music.
This is a truly remarkable book and I cannot recommend it too highly to anyone who likes music.