• by John Eliot Gardiner
  • Narrated by Antony Ferguson
  • 21 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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. The fruits of this lifetime's immersion are distilled in this remarkable book, grounded in the most recent Bach scholarship but moving far beyond it, and explaining in wonderful detail the ideas on which Bach drew, how he worked, how his music is constructed, how it achieves its effects - and what it can tell us about Bach the man.
Gardiner's background as a historian has encouraged him to search for ways in which scholarship and performance can cooperate and fruitfully coalesce. This has entailed piecing together the few biographical shards, scrutinizing the music, and watching for those instances when Bach's personality seems to penetrate the fabric of his notation. Gardiner's aim is "to give the reader a sense of inhabiting the same experiences and sensations that Bach might have had in the act of music-making. This, I try to show, can help us arrive at a more human likeness discernible in the closely related processes of composing and performing his music." It is very rare that such an accomplished performer of music should also be a considerable writer and thinker about it. John Eliot Gardiner takes us as deeply into Bach’s works and mind as perhaps words can. The result is a unique book about one of the greatest of all creative artists.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Brilliant book badly presented

Gardiner's brilliant investigation of the man through the music is thrilling and moving. Ferguson's reading could be worse, but not much. His intonation is generally passable, but he is clearly not competent to read this book. Technical music terms, but also multisyllabic academic expressions flummox him, receiving weird emphases and pauses that force the reader to guess what is really being said, not to mention disrupting the illusion that the reader is speaking with understanding. That's not even to count the sporadic errors like "Bach finds the means to take the string out of the aggression".

Worst of all is his pronunciation of German, which is crucial to a biography of Bach. One wonders why Ferguson didn't look at the text and just decide that it would be too embarrassing: Either he should pass on the job, or spend an hour or two at least learning some of the basics of German pronunciation. He sounds like a computer programmed to pronounce English written text, fed with German writing and just ploughing through it. It would be barely less comprehensible -- and less disruptive to the reader -- if the German expressions and texts were simply cut out and replaced with silence or white noise..
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- David Steinsaltz

A Deep History of Bach

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I listen to about three books a week, so I have a broad experience in the varying qualities of books of various genres. I've listened to longer histories, Toland's biography of Hitler, for example, and I have to say that this history of Bach must be one of those books that just needs to be read, not heard. The narration is very precise, which does not necessarily equal pleasant reading. I ended up returning this book, simply because there was not enough movement in the narrative to maintain my interest.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I did appreciate the scholarship in this book, but it does not make for interesting listening.

Did Antony Ferguson do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

None at all.

Could you see Bach being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

Not a chance.

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- Tom

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-02-2014
  • Publisher: Audible Studios