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Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life In Pictures And Documents Hardcover – August 1, 2005
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"...like so many of their recordings, this book bears the mark of Hänssler's excellence!" -- American Record Guide, May 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Hans Conrad Fischer is an internationally recognized biographer and filmmaker, as well as a radio, television, and theater producer. His films about Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, and Bach have garnered international acclaim and awards, and they have been followed by popular biographies such as this.
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Fischer insists that to understand Bach you must move beyond mere technical or intellectual analysis and grasp the centrality of Bach's deeply held (Lutheran) Christian faith. His organizing theme is that, in Bach's own words, the composer's lifelong goal was a "regulated sacred music to God's honor." His life was centered around the daily prayers, life, and worship of the local church. Indeed, writes Fischer, Bach "completely subordinated himself to the liturgy." At the top of many of his compositions Bach wrote the letters "JJ" (Jesu juva, Jesus help), and at the end, of course, the three letters "SDG" (Soli Deo Gloria, for the glory of God alone).
The subtitle of this book is important. Perhaps a full third of the book includes gorgeous plates of autographed manuscripts, engravings of churches and towns, period portraits of people close to Bach, along with important primary documents. For example, it is common knowledge that Bach came from a long line of family musicians; Fischer includes the entire Origin of the Musical Bach Family in which Bach documented what he knew about his 53 ancestors back to the sixteenth century and Vitus Bach, a baker in Hungary. Or again, it is fun to read the city council of Leipzig's Contract of Employment as the Cantor of St. Thomas's (where Bach spent 27 years). Among the 14 enumerated points: "That I will make music in the two major city churches as well as I can" (#2), and, "That I will not leave town without the Mayor's permission" (#13). For about $1300 you might purchase Hänssler Classic's 172 CDs of the Edition Bachakademie (the complete works of Bach). Or buy this book and enjoy the delightful CD that comes with it, A Musical Journey Through the Life of Johann Sebastian Bach, which includes 17 extracts from the Hänssler edition.
The CD itself is a wonderful collection of seventeen pieces, ranging from just a little over a minute to nearly ten minutes, excerpts or complete renderings of Bach compositions. These include a generous sampling of organ pieces such as the Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, harpsichord pieces including The Art of the Fugue, and pieces for other instruments and combinations. Included also are portions of the Brandenberg Concertos, the St. Matthew Passion and the Mass in B-Minor, arguably his best piece (and argued by some as the best music ever written).
Bach's work was primarily liturgical and religious in nature. At the conclusion of a great many of his manuscripts, he inscribed the letters SDG, which stand for Soli Deo Gloria, for God's glory alone. Bach was employed as a church organist in Germany, having come from a distinguished musical family (in fact, figuring out which Bach is which can sometimes be a struggle even for scholars). Living a few generational after the Reformation, Bach brought the fullness of the theological impulses together with the richness of the Baroque tradition of music, then in full flower, together in a magnificent form.
This book gives insight into the spiritual and historical forces that helped shape Bach and his music. It has a lavish presentation style, with full-colour portraits of people and places of significance in generous number throughout the text. There are photographs of some of the great organs of the time, too. It is a uniquely fortunate work of fate that J.S. Bach's career should coincide with that of the Silbermann family's ascendancy in organ building, for they reached heights in craftsmanship rarely reached even today.
Bach was a man of strong passions - such is obvious from his music, but also is demonstrated in various aspects of his life apart from music. He was more than once called before church councils to answer for his behaviour, and was involved in physical brawls that required police and court interventions. Bach was very opinionated, to the point of exasperation of those around him, but often got his way.
This book introduces in a very inviting manner. Author Hans Conrad Fischer writes in a lively, interesting fashion for beginners and experienced music fans alike. This book makes a wonderful introduction to Bach, a good refresher for Bach, and is especially good for exploring the historical and spiritual contexts that surround Bach's music.