From Publishers Weekly
Surprisingly little is known about the domestic and professional life of the man many consider the greatest composer who ever lived, and even this monumental study by a German musicologist has to fall back on a great deal of supposition of the kind all too familiar from some Shakespearean biographies. If it is scant on personal details, it is brilliantly all-encompassing on the music and on the place of Bach in the musical pantheon, both in his own time and in the present. Geck devotes at least two-thirds of his book to an exhaustive examination of Bach's technique and accomplishment in all his major works, and their impact on the listener. This analysis is not overwhelmingly technical and can be readily appreciated by an educated enthusiast. In a final section called "Horizons," in which Geck meditates on Bach's art, religion and philosophy as displayed in the music, he offers some remarkable insights. Bach's "overwhelming density" in places can inspire "shock and awe," as well as "laughter over the infinity of creation, and tears at one's own insignificance." For Bach, he says, "every work of music has to be conceived as a perfect likeness of divine creation." (Dec.)
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*Starred Review* More than a century ago, Albert Schweitzer indicted Bach biographers for a fixation on the composer's technical mastery, contending that such a focus blinded them to his poetic genius. In 2000 a perceptive German musicologist finally published a life study so perceptive and capacious that even Schweitzer would have applauded, and now a gifted translator has made that award-winning biography accessible to English-speaking readers. Writing for both the scholar and the general reader, Geck delivers a portrait of Bach--as man and as musician--more carefully nuanced and complete than those of any of his predecessors. In his portrait of the young Bach, for instance, Geck teases from a mere handful of documents clues as to how a self-taught organ-tuner won exceptional privileges from Arnstadt authorities. And in probing the repeated metamorphoses in Bach's artistic styles, Geck shows how Bach's rare creative talent fused devotion to tradition with experimental daring. The same analytical sophistication reveals how Bach's music reflects a Christian faith inspired by Lutheran mysticism and Pietist devotion. But even as he unveils the origins of Bach's sublime spirituality, Geck reminds readers of the rooted humanity of a boon companion who relished a mug of hard cider. Ordinary lovers of music will join specialists in praising this book. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved