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The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents Hardcover – April, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


Just reading these documents brings this great composer to life in a most exciting and vivid way. I love this book! -- Yo-Yo Ma --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Christoph Wolff, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is the Adams University Professor at Harvard University and one of the world’s foremost experts on Bach and Mozart. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 551 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; Revised edition (April 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393045587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393045581
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #409,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

CHRISTOPH WOLFF is Adams University Research Professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA and Visiting Professor at the Juilliard School in New York. Born and educated in Germany, he studied organ and historical keyboard instruments, musicology and art history at the Universities of Berlin, Erlangen, and Freiburg, taking a performance diploma in 1963 and the Dr. Phil. in 1966. He taught the history of music at Erlangen, Toronto, Columbia, and Princeton Universities before joining the Harvard faculty in 1976. At Harvard he served as Chair of the Music Department (1980-88, 90-91), Acting Director of the University Library (1991-92), and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1992-2000). He currently serves as Director of the Bach-Archiv in Leipzig and President of the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales.

Recipient of the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association in London (1978), the Humboldt Research Award (1996), an honorary professorship at the University of Freiburg, and several honorary degrees, he is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften. He has been awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, honorary membership by the American Musicological Society, the American Bach Society, and the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg.

He was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in biography for "Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician" (New York, 2000), which won the Otto Kinkeldey Award of the American Musicological Society for the best musicological book published in 2000.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Littleguys on November 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully well arranged collection of letters, testimonials, court records and other contemporary documents by and relating to Johann Sebastian Bach. The editors have selected items which paint a picture of a man who knew his own worth, (he argues for, and gets, a higher salary than his predecessors in most of his jobs)didn't tolerate fools gladly, and who had exactly the same problems church musicians today face.
Incidentally, it made me laugh frequently. Some of his testimonials for former students show him damning with faint praise. His argument over who should appoint school prefects leaves you wondering who was lying. And his begging letters to his employers are masterpieces of not-very-obsequious charm.
A great book to dip in and out of, and a resource every musician should own.
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Format: Paperback
This book is essential for anyone wanting to understand the life and work of J. S. Bach. It provides wonderful insights about the man through his own documents and writings by those who knew and worked with him. He comes across as an amazingly hard working genius with a quick temper and absolute focus.

The book is organized according to the various aspects of Bach's life. We get a portrait of him "in outline" using various anecdotes. Then we get a section about his life from his own writings. The next section contains biographical and genealogical information about Bach and his family. The sections on Bach as viewed by his contemporaries, in Forkel's biography, in the second half of the 18th century, and in the Romantic era are all quite interesting. Given how much Bach has meant to the world (more than in life!), it is not surprising that we cannot understand him without understanding his changing reputation over the past centuries.

This new edition has more than two hundred pages of additional information than the earlier editions and makes the book that much richer an experience.

I repeat, this is a must have and a must read for any lover of music. Why be limited to what other people tell you about this composer when you can find out for yourself from contemporary documents?
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Gontroppo on November 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
A wonderful collection of letters by and articles about Bach, both from his own era and afterwards.
Some of his letters have even been set to music! Amazon also has available Peter Schickele's [a k a PDQ Bach] "1712 Overture and other Musical Assaults" which includes his parody on Copland's Lincoln Portrait, in which, instead of reciting The Gettysburg Address, he reads 2 of Bach's many letters complaining about his lack of money.
These are among the best known of Bach's letters, and are a fairly good indication of the general tone of many of his letters.
In one letter he complains to a relative that the cask of wine he had sent was half empty by the time it arrived, and that he had had to pay so many taxes as it passed through various districts of Germany that receiving it was rather expensive!
He concludes by saying something like "Please don't send me any more gifts ... I can't afford it!"
In the second letter, he writes warmly of his very musical family, but also whinges about his pay being less than he expected. He says that he had been promised a certain amount of money per funeral, but unfortunately the winter was so mild very few people died!
Highly recommended for lovers of Bach.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Craig Murray on April 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have been studying this book for the last 2 months. The amount of information that is in this book, and not many others, is incredible. Actual letters from JS Bach showing how he feels. Descriptions of performances that were only available from PhD's in the past are available to you in this publication.
On the subject of J.S. Bach, this is one of the best resources I have found.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By paul frederick west on August 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
All worshippers of JS Bach need to acquire this informative and satisfying journal dedicated to the absolutely most profoundly sublime genious in all of music. If having all of Bach's masterworks in your CD collection wasn't need to add this book for further intellectual stimulation because here Bach is presented in his OWN WORDS! Every example of written coorespondence by Bach and his contemporaries concerning him has been preserved and translated from the hand of Bach's penmanship and presented to the reader. As a result, we can glimpse into another facet of the mind behind the music. Although most of the letters were written to either one offical or another (and therefore embellished with the standard nomenclatures of the time), I was able to detect exasperation, sarcasm, fearlessness, austerity, humor, ridicule and sorrow in much of them. In the vast majority of the wordy, complex style of his coorespondence we begin to see that Bach composed his complaints in much the same vein he composed fugues; lavish phrases, requests and expostulations are intertwined in the most respectful manner to his superiors...and simultaneuosly he projects an attitude that if his needs are not met he will resort to higher means...usually meaning petitioning the King himself (which on one occasion he ultimately did!) His complaints ranged from objectional wages, unruly choirboys, the relegations of authority, and his delinquent son (in which the debtors were now pestoring Bach to compensate).Read more ›
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