Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven

by John Eliot Gardiner

Paper Book, 2015




New York [NY] Vintage Books 2015


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.

Media reviews

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La música en el castillo del cielo resulta una obra de múltiples acordes y armonías. Sus más de 900 páginas entremezclan la experiencia personal con la estricta biografía, pero también con la musicología y el análisis pormenorizado de las dos grandes Pasiones, la de san Mateo y la de san Juan, y algunas cantatas. En estas, además, Gardiner aborda el método, la extenuante periodicidad —prácticamente una a la semana durante algunos años— y su cadencia. También en la intrahistoria de esa lucha por la dignidad de la autoría, en la que Bach se empeñó para ser considerado más allá de un simple mayordomo al servicio de príncipes y pudientes.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
This delivers exactly what we would expect : a clear, passionate and intellectually demanding account of J.S. Bach's vocal music. How it came to be written, how it fits into the development of 18th century music, Lutheran theology, and Saxon local politics, how it might have been performed, and what makes it special for modern listeners.
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.
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LibraryThing member lothiriel2003
The book was well-written and erudite...and far more technical than I was interested in. The fault was mine, I'm sure, but I was completely lost for a good third of the book.
LibraryThing member yooperprof
Four months to read this book! Some brilliant things here, but also very frustrating. Gardiner strongly believes that Bach's religious music, specifically the prodigious cantata cycles, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and the B minor Mass, are at the absolute center of Bach's accomplishment and identity. Fine, but he neglects Bach's stupendous "abstract" music, and really fails to address how those not attached to Bach's Lutheran variant of Christianity - how those who may not be religious at all - may find Bach's work to be the most important musical accomplishment of the last millennium.

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.
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LibraryThing member vguy
Excellent book, hard going for a non-musician, though he does his darnedest to be non-technical . i listen to and love Bach's music a lot, but found it hard to know which bit was under discussion. Would be more accessible as a radio series with musical examples/quotations. What i did get was a sense of Bach's originality and creative force. Also how he fits into the context of his time (JEG, we discover, is a historian by training, not a musician).
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!
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