Music in the Castle of Heaven
By John Eliot Gardiner
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780375415296, 672pp.)
Publication Date: October 29, 2013
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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.
John Eliot Gardiner is one of the world’s leading conductors, not only of Baroque music but across the whole repertoire. He founded the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra, the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon, the English Baroque Soloists, and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. He has conducted most of the world’s great orchestras and in many of the leading opera houses. He lives and farms in Dorset, England.
“An erudite work resting on prodigious research and experience and deep affection and admiration.”
“Typical John Eliot to combine so much erudition with even more passion and enthusiasm. It made me want to rush and listen to all the pieces whether familiar or unfamiliar. A treasure chest.”
–Simon Rattle, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic
“Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven is a unique portrait of one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time by one of the greatest musical geniuses of our own age. John Eliot Gardiner uses his extraordinary immersion in Bach’s music to illuminate Bach the man more brilliantly than in any previous work, and has created his own deeply moving work of art.”
–Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“A superb achievement, scholarly, lively, controversial and judicious. Like all great biographies of creative artists it builds a bridge from the past to the present and brings the work to new life.”
“John Eliot Gardiner’s book is, apart from anything else, a tremendous feat of narrative: he has the rare gift of always putting the camera in the right place. He tells this long and richly involved story in a way that makes everything clear, and sets the life and the music in a historical perspective where every detail is relevant and every comment illuminating. Simply as a biography this is splendid, but the fact that it comes with such a wealth of musical understanding and experience makes it invaluable. I learned an enormous amount, and I know I'll return to it again and again.”