Baroque music (C 1600 to C 1750). 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.
It isn't excessively technical: You're not very likely to want to read a book like this unless you already have quite some background knowledge of the passions and cantatas either as a listener or a performer, and I think anyone who has got that far will already be familiar enough with musical terminology to be able to follow what Gardiner is saying. But I certainly felt when I got to the end of the book that I would have to come back to some of the chapters and work through them slowly again with a score or a CD to get the full benefit.
This is not a standard biography; again that is fine, but if you want to know the basic data of Bach's life, this is not the place to start. (In spite of the book's 560 pages of text, Gardiner really does not touch upon J.S. Bach's family life at home, which is a little peculiar for a man whose wives went through twenty full-term pregnancies.)
Gardiner is an important and extremely accomplished musician, and it is very valuable to read this appreciation of the great composer written by someone who approaches him from that angle, from someone who understands how Bach's genius is expressed through performance. Just be aware that this should not be the first, and definitely not the last, book about Bach that you read.
Points of interest: JSB already being hired as consultant on new organ design at age 18; how slight musical alterations can express difference between Catholic & Lutheran beliefs; that JSB also wrote for Catholics though a passionate Protestant; how much documentation there is on the details of his activities, even though some whole works are lost; pettifogging beastliness of so many minor officials, bureaucrats, teachers, priest - no wonder he had a temper!