Johann Sebastian Bach holds a singular position in the history of music. A uniquely gifted musician, he combined outstanding performing virtuosity with supreme creative powers and remarkable intellectual discipline. More than two centuries after his lifetime, Bach’s work continues to set musical standards.
The noted Bach scholar Christoph Wolff offers in this book new perspectives on the composer’s life and remarkable career. Uncovering important historical evidence, the author demonstrates significant influences on Bach’s artistic development and brings fresh insight on his work habits, compositional intent, and the musical traditions that shaped Bach’s thought. Wolff reveals a composer devoted to an ambitious and highly individual creative approach, one characterized by constant self-criticism and self-challenge, the absorption of new skills and techniques, and the rethinking of riches from the musical past.
Readers will find illuminating analyses of some of Bach’s greatest music, including the B Minor Mass, important cantatas, keyboard and chamber compositions, the Musical Offering, and the Art of Fugue. Discussion of how these pieces “work” will be helpful to performers—singers, players, conductors—and to everyone interested in exploring the conceptual and contextual aspects of Bach’s music. All readers will find especially interesting those essays in which Wolff elaborates on his celebrated discoveries of previously unknown works: notably the fourteen “Goldberg” canons and a collection of thirty-three chorale preludes.
Representing twenty-five years of scholarship, these essays—half of which appear here in English for the first time—have established Christoph Wolff as one of the world’s preeminent authorities on J. S. Bach. All students, performers, and lovers of Bach’s music will find this an engaging and enlightening book.
A fascinating and eminently readable account of many of the issues that have been uppermost in Bach research in recent years.
Wolff has [produced] fundamental work about the composer, from his earliest music (‘newly discovered chorales’) to his last (Art of Fugue, parts of the B Minor Mass), sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental, all represented in this book… Every one of these essays…has the knack of presenting new information that triggers further thought… One does constantly sense a fresh conception of the composer.
Not since Spitta’s monumental Johann Sebastian Bach has there been as refreshing a look at Bach’s work as in this collection of essays by one of the world’s preeminent authorities… Wolff’s essays on Bach are a must for every musician, whether layman, performer, or composer. For the latter the essays will provide especially valuable insights into the process of composition.
What there is to know about Bach, Christoph Wolff knows. And everything Wolff…knows about Bach’s life, he has poured into this new and magisterial biographical portrait… [Bach] is user-friendly, helpful, and entertainingly informative. Direct and illuminating commentary on Bach’s major works, and on the major musical issues that Bach confronted, fill the book… [Wolff’s] main text surrounds the facts of Bach’s life with an invaluable sense of context—additional facts about musical life, courts, patronage, church doctrine, ecclesiastical and municipal politics… Wolff has provided every lover of Bach with a book to learn from.
This volume will be useful not only to conductors, performers, and scholars, but to other listeners, myself included, who will be stimulated by it to find ever deeper levels of meaning in Bach’s many-splendored genius… Christoph Wolff functions here as a philologist and palaeographer deciphering a complex manuscript, as a biographer contemplating the mysteries of continuity and change in the composer’s long and productive career, as a demythologizer reviewing the legends about Bach with which we all grew up, as a social and intellectual historian placing the musical oeuvre into its total context, as a sensitive listener who even after all these years of research has not lost the capacity to hear and admire the miracle that is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
- 480 pages
- 7 x 10 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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