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Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach [Hardcover]

John Eliot Gardiner
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Oct 2013

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 the Second World War. 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, which explains 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, scrutinising 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.

SIR 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 Revolutionnaire 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.

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Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach + Bach: Motets [2011] [SDG: SDG716]
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (3 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713996625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713996623
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 4.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 27,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Gardiner has joined the select ranks of luminary musicians articulating their experience, with this long, sumptuously illustrated survey of Bach's life and times. The result is dazzling (Iain Burnside Observer)

There could be no better-qualified guide to the mysteries behind Bach's music than the conductor who has breathed new life into its performance . . . As an exploration of Bach's labyrinthine thought-processes, and as an analysis of his music's overwhelming power, this book will now be required reading . . . for listeners and performers alike (Michael Church Independent)

Gardiner weaves industrial-strength scholarship, musical analysis and performing insight into a highly readable narrative ... extraordinary (Richard Morrison The Times) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Sir 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 the English Baroque Soloists, and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. He has conducted most of the world's great orchestras and in many of the leading opera houses. He lives in London and Dorset.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A landmark study 28 Oct 2013
By J. Baldwin VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a very fine book - a veritable magnum opus. It is a truly astounding achievement, representing as it does Gardiner's lifetime struggle to get to grips with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Little is known about Bach's private life, and Gardiner's research reveals many unexpected details about his upbringing, his character, his faults, his family relationships and the many difficulties and frustrations he faced.

Gardiner's scholarly commentary on Bach's compositions, especially the cantatas, the two Passions and the B minor Mass - "a procession of gripping musical works of exceptional worth" - must be unique in the literature. Readers need to have a good working knowledge of the music to make much sense of Gardiner's dissection of these masterpieces and reading these sections of the book is quite a struggle. (There is so much technical detail here that an 8-page glossary of musical terms is provided in an appendix to help readers understand the complexities.) But this analysis is very illuminating, "allowing us to see [Bach's] humanity filtering through into the music." It is Bach, Gardiner concludes, "who gives us the voice of God - in human form".

Almost every page of the book reveals Gardiner's profound love and understanding of Bach's music. He summarises what Bach's music means to him as follows: "the most beautiful and profound manifestation that man is capable of in complex harmonious sounds that capture in an inexplicable way the joys and suffering we encounter in our earthly lives, helping us to access the motional core of human experience." This is wonderfully refined and erudite writing, and it is sustained throughout the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary achievement 16 Jan 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Anybody who is aware of Sir John Eliot Gardiner will know of the Bach 'Cantata Pilgrimage' of 2000. It's impossible to read this wonderful book without being conscious of the impact of that year and of how deeply the cantatas and the spirit permeating them affected the author. I've read many descriptions of music written by knowledgeable musicians, but Sir JEG's accounts of Bach's church music are remarkable. They are the best insight I have ever come across into the force which drives a great musician and here I refer to JEG as well as to JSB. Not in any way a forbidding, dusty, wordy tome, this is a joyous book, bursting with enthusiasm and experience. It is also funny, passionate, astonishingly erudite and, if you want to roll up your sleeves and get really involved with probably the greatest music ever written, this is for you. Not a book to be picked up casually, it is a thorough and quite rigorous education and as befits a good education, some of it is great fun while parts are quite tough and demanding. Apart from the fine writing and musicianship, the memorable thing is that Bach and his music are seen in the context of Lutheranism, the Thirty Years' War, of stifling social and small-town mores and of many other factors which I, for one, had not considered. I'll be starting it again soon - some of the footnotes are worth a week's research on their own! I always snigger in my stuffy English way at the Americans' casual use of the word, but this superb book really is AWESOME!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Music from the inside 4 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It's a fluent read and informative. Gardiner is a fine musician but not an historian so the book is most interesting when he's talking about the music from the point of view of an experienced performer; a lot of the background has been cobbled together from other sources. But I've enjoyed reading it. Anyone who spends their life dedicated to and immersed in the greatest music ever written is worth listening to!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and assiduously researched.. 23 Jan 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I could not put the book down - which meant that I have spent most of the last week bent over it. I am giving it four stars rather than five, as I found myself running two intense threads of concentration: the main text and then the footnotes.... the footnotes could have constituted a book in themselves!

It is a tremendous read and informs and reminds one of the vast complexity of the provenance of Baroque European thought: wars, famines, ecclesiastical power and the shadow of paganism. It is a triumph in its expansiveness. I felt at every stage it deserved a pause and a lengthy conversation after each chapter.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Music in the Castle of Heaven - Amazon review

At the risk of being superficial, there are three kinds of book. The first you never finish because they're patent rubbish. The second is the kind you need to read again a couple of weeks, months or years later because, no matter how good they seemed at the time, you realise they had made no lasting impression on you. You also want to reread the third kind, but this time because one reading was manifestly insufficient to explore all their marvellous riches. In my view, "Music in the Castle of Heaven" definitely falls into the last category.

I'll start negatively. Two problems occurred to me as I was reading it. One is that it is full of the most erudite scholarship, but Gardiner appears not to be an academic of any kind. I can't find any articles by him in any scholarly journal, as opposed to ephemeral ones like "Gramophone" - and then only discussing his own recordings. Academic scholarship is a discipline acquired through years of intensive training in the minutiae of finding, using and referencing primary and secondary source material, usually involving the acquisition of some pieces of stiff paper with impressive-sounding letters on them. Does Gardiner know what he's doing, or is he actually at sea when pronouncing with such apparent confidence on a forbiddingly wide variety of topics including the Thuringian principalities in the aftermath of the Thirty Years' War and the state of education in Lutheran Germany in general and in Leipzig in particular, with throwaway references to an eclectic assortment of resources, including both the latest scholarship and primary sources by Bach himself and his contemporaries? My worst quibble in this respect is his short list of abbreviations for his main sources.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine book, but paperback edition print size very small.
This is of course a wonderful book.
BUT: Beware the paperback edition with its miniscule print. Read more
Published 19 hours ago by Mr P A ASHTON
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
My brother was very happy with this gift and found it extremely interesting
Published 7 days ago by mrs m j wills
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book, informative
Bought as a present and it's much appreciated by him.
Published 15 days ago by Ravman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very complete
Published 23 days ago by elizabeth lutz
5.0 out of 5 stars What he (Kersten) said
I'm posting this only to add my five stars. Everything I might want to say is in the review of Mr. A. N. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Steve in Munich
3.0 out of 5 stars probably the best part of it
Not quite sure what the intended market is. The book has some interesting facts about Bach's early life, probably the best part of it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. Mincham
5.0 out of 5 stars master piece
Excellent work on Bach. This is the point of view not only of a scholar but also the view point of a performer. Great insights into the mip
Published 1 month ago by Tony Whatmough
5.0 out of 5 stars This is brilliant biographical writing
This is a magnificent biography of Johann Sebastian Bach and his music. Renowned conductor and interpreter of Bach's music John Eliot Gardiner gives fascinating historical,... Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. V. Clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value.
Surely the definitive work on J.S.Bach, both from the biographical and the musical aspects, whilst acknowledging the earlier books on this unique genius.
Published 5 months ago by Mr. J. F. Dewey
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding
As a performer John Eliot Gardiner gives a unique insight into the works of J S Bach. The main emphasis is on the choral music. An absorbing read.
Published 6 months ago by Keith Barton
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