"To write great music, the musician must make his life a great song. "
Bach (Oxford Composer Companions)
Though he begins by bemoaning "the difficulty of writing
anything on Bach remotely worthy of its subject," Malcolm
Boyd goes on to do exactly that. This volume from the Master
Musicians Series intermingles chapters on Bach's life with
chapters on his music in a delightfully clearheaded way.
Boyd is perfectly willing to say whether he finds a piece of
music to be substandard and freely takes issue with the
scholarship of earlier analysts. Taking nothing for granted,
Boyd disproves common assumptions about relative dates of
compositions. The section on cantatas begins with brief
notes on the genre, a few antecedents, and the subtypes of
secular and sacred. Boyd then briskly reviews the surviving
works, dwelling on a few for some enlightening and
representative details. Boyd's charts are very easy to
follow (appropriate for a composer whose music is often
compared to architecture), and his musical examples are
spectacularly well chosen. A 22-page work list (revised in
1997), a life calendar, and a brief chapter on numerology
round out a highly rewarding volume.
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
Harvard professor and Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has written a densely argued, contextually rich study of the great "wellspring" of music. The subtitle refers to a famous attack on Bach for using too much artifice and creating works of dry pedantry, which Wolff masterfully counters with his vision of Bach as a true paradigm shifter, comparable to an uncanny degree to the genius of Isaac Newton. Wolff's book is itself richly contrapuntal in its development of themes and synchronic significances, doing the master proud.
The Cambridge Companion to Bach
The most well-respected Bach scholars share their wisdom on the composer's performance, style, and artistic sensibility.