Contributors are Gregory G. Butler, Jen-Yen Chen, Alexander J. Fisher, Mary Dalton Greer, Robert Hill, Ton Koopman, Daniel R. Melamed, Michael Ochs, Mark Risinger, William H. Scheide, Hans-Joachim Schulze, Douglass Seaton, George B. Stauffer, Andrew Talle, and Kathryn Welter.
The position of Johann
Sebastian Bach as one of a numerous family of musicians is unique. Of no other
composer can it be said that his forefathers, contemporary relations, and
descendants were all musicians, and not only musicians, but holders of very
important offices as such. All his biographers have therefore given some account
of his family antecedents before proceeding to the history of his life; and I
have found myself obliged to follow the same course. In other respects I have
adopted the plan made use of by the older biographers, of keeping the account
of his life distinct from that of his compositions.
Every biography is
necessarily based on that written by his two sons, four years after his death,
published by Mizler, and the one published in 1802 by Forkel, who was intimate
with the sons. Hilgenfeldt’s account follows these, and in later years further
information has been acquired from the searches into archives, and other
ancient documents, by C. H. Bitter and Philipp Spitta. Any details concerning
the life and works of this remarkable man are interesting; and it is probable
that researches will be continued for some time to come. Thus, last year (1898)
a “celebration” took place at Ohrdruf in memory of Bach’s school career there;
and[vi] Dr Friedrich Thomas took the opportunity of publishing some details of
the Bach family which had escaped Spitta.
The name of Bach is
reverenced by Thuringian organists, and I this year had interesting
conversations with his successors at Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, Herr Kellermann
and Herr Möller. But the chief music-seller at Arnstadt told me that “Bach’s
music is out of date; no one has now any interest in such old-fashioned
Although we have heard the music of J. S. Bach in countless performances and recordings, the composer himself still comes across only as an enigmatic figure in a single familiar portrait. As we mark the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, author Christoph Wolff presents a new picture that brings to life this towering figure of the Baroque era. This engaging new biography portrays Bach as the living, breathing, and sometimes imperfect human being that he was, while bringing to bear all the advances of the last half-century of Bach scholarship. Wolff demonstrates the intimate connection between the composer's life and his music, showing how Bach's superb inventiveness pervaded his career as musician, composer, performer, scholar, and teacher. And throughout, we see Bach in the broader context of his time: its institutions, traditions, and influences. With this highly readable book, Wolff sets a new standard for Bach biography.
Intended as both a practical guide and an interpretive study, the book consists of three introductory chapters on general matters of historical context, style, and performance practice, followed by fifteen chapters on the individual works, treated in roughly chronological order. The works discussed include all of Bach's individual keyboard compositions as well as those comprising his famous collections, such as the Well-Tempered Clavier, the English and French Suites, and the Art of Fugue.