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Reinventing Bach

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  139 ratings  ·  25 reviews
The story of a revolution in music and technology, told through a century of recordings of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach
In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach’s music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that musi
ebook, 512 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Andrew Schirmer
"My patience is now at its end," Bach, late in life, told a fellow Leipziger, one Johann Georg Martius, in a note sent from the Thomaskirche.

Mine reached its termination point somewhere near page two hundred of this bloated, overwritten, over-researched mess of a book.

The time for new approaches was at hand. George Orwell, finishing a novel that year, called it 1984, and with the Bachlike transposition of the 4 and the 8 of the current year he made the point (darkly)...

"Bachlike transposition
Reinventing Bach is an extremely fluid and enjoyable read. Elie does his readers the greatest service of reminding us that while Bach is frequently the gateway composer for people's classical music experience, he was anything but common--a radical innovator in composition, performance and in the refining and inventing of musical instruments. Elie then uses this portrait of Bach as a framework over which he lays out the innovations in performance, instrumentation and recording of Bach in the mode ...more
Jeff Crompton
Elie's sprawling book is about Bach and his music, but also about the periodic rediscovery, renewal, and reinvention of his music over the years. Besides Bach himself, Elie's main "characters" are Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski, and Glenn Gould. Each one of these figures brought Bach into his time and his world, largely through recordings. (I have long been fascinated by the difference between music and recorded music; Elie understands the dichotomy clearly.)

One of the chapte
I had been very intrigued by he premise of this book, but when I got it from the library, its size dismayed me. As a person with rheumatoid arthritis who also is spending a lot of time flat on her back because of a pinched nerve, big heavy books are a problem. But it was on the margin, and it was the last library book I had, so I dove in. It was like diving into molasses. The preface was so repetitious and plodding, besides having many passages so florid that it seemed like a parody, I nearly ga ...more
This book is not grabbing me and some of the writing seems trite, cute and pretentious so far. Less than 50 pages into it, though.
I finally gave up on it. I wanted to hear about Bach. The firs section was obsessed with Schweitzer, and while it was interesting for a few pages, I failed to see the importance and significance of him. Elie's style seemed overly florid and a little too reverential, IMO. But the book has good reviews. I just was not interested enough to wade through it to find out. I
David Rubin
More than a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, Mr. Elie gives us mini-biographies of his twentieth-century performers and musical interpreters. He brings Bach thorough the multiple revolutions (as in "change") in sound technology during the past decades and how well the music has survived and even thrived.

We get biographies of Leopold Stokowski, Glenn Gould, Pablo Casals, and many more. Youtube is great to hear many of the performances mentioned. You will find yourself downloading MP3 files of
Kurt Gottschalk
All told, this is a really great book. Unfortunately, since I read the final part last, I'm left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Essentially what Paul Elie has written is an account of Bach in the 20th Century. He provides a fair bit of biography of J.S. himself but since there's not much new to report there, he uses junctures in Bach's career as jumping-off points to discuss Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould, as well as a particularly fascinating account of the working rela
Anything but dry, this is the story of recorded music and how it has changed the way music is perceived as well as an entertaining bio of Bach. Warning, it can be an expensive read. I found myself adding many CDs to my collection.

I was delighted when Elise mentioned Pink Floyd early on. This is not a book locked into the past. He gives us an idea of the environment when a Bach piece was created, and contrasts that with the recorded history of the work.

Chapters about Bach are interspersed with p
Bookworks Albuquerque
I'm completely absorbed in this book. When I first began reading, I knew I would love it. In the introduction, the author relates a moment at the Musical Instrument Museum in Berlin, when he stood in solemn awe contemplating one of Bach's own instruments, a cembalo (harpsichord), keys worn smooth and yellow by Bach himself, but the strings missing. The instrument is now permanently silent, the music now only a memory, a myth, for we'll never truly know how the instrument sounded to Bach's ears. ...more
After glancing through multiple reviews of Reinventing Bach, I downloaded a sample and headed to the gym. It took only a few minutes of reading on the treadmill to conclude that the book was going to provide an intelligent, interesting, absorbing experience. Fast forward an hour or so.....I’m in the car on my way home with Satellite Radio tuned to Symphony Hall. What’s playing? Bach’s 1st violin concerto transcribed for guitar. A composer born in 1685 who wrote this wonderful piece of music arou ...more
Chris Aylott
Two-thirds of this book works. The biography of Bach is good, especially for someone like me who doesn't know as much as he should about the man or his music. The history of how Bach has been performed and recorded over the last century is fascinating. Elie traces the ways in which different recording technology changed the experience of playing and listening to Bach.

Elie also tries some music criticism. He should have stuck to the history. His criticism is dull, overblown, and fortunately easy
David R.
Is Bach dead? Not in Elie's mind. In this fascinating book he tells the story of J.S. Bach: on one hand the original composer and his turbulent, cutting-edge life. And on the other, how modern musicians (and non-musicians) have built on the Bach legacy with new cutting-edge technology from the first recordings (by Schweitzer, Casals, and others) through advances in electronics to the modern day. And it seems every one is involved. We meet Gould, Ma, Bernstein, and even the Beatles, as they contr ...more
Charlotte Stevenson
And the recognition that the dead continue to speak and that the sounds they make, amplified right, are a kind of music.
Jane Walker
This is the story of Bach himself interwoven with the stories of those who, in the modern era, have performed and recorded his music. Elie describes the music itself in poetic terms, and shows us people like Schweitzer, Casals and Glenn Gould sharing their love of it. In a way it's a history of the recording industry, from cylinder to MP3, but it's also about how the way we hear Bach, the environment in which we hear it, shapes our experience, and how Bach's music can be reshaped or re-imagined ...more
Josh Brown
My two-part review/discussion is here and here.
While it did take me a little more than a year to read this, I thought it fascinating and compelling. I'm not a musician or a particularly adept listener, but I've always loved Bach, and Elie's point-of-view taught me to listen to Bach, and most music, differently. It also made me buy a lot of music, which was a nice bonus. You can't have enough different recordings of the Goldberg Variations ...
Somewhat interesting, I read about half of it.
Jim Willse
Wonderful account of how certain technologies and certain artists -- Pablo Casals, Glenn Gould, Albert Schweitzer and Leopold Stokowski among them -- intersected to produce big moments in recorded music, and "reinvent" the music of Bach in the process. Heavy on the life of Bach, but those parts can be skipped if you already know the story. Provocative and intriguing.
Patrick Walsh
I was given this book as a birthday gift. I am not qualified to comment on the scholarship or on Paul Elie's understanding of Bach's lasting impact, but I found the book to be engaging, enlightening, and stimulating. The next time I sing a Bach cantata with our church choir I will do so with a very different perspective.
I loved this book but it's not for everyone. I liked the way he mixed the history of Bach in with performers of the past 100+ years who played his works. Also the history of technologies that went along with it. The details were fascinating. It inspired me to get some more recordings from the library
Soo Bin Kwon
Too lengthy, but a nice introduction to the lives of Bach and musicians influenced by him
Paul Childs
Excellent book, over 400 pages of insight across music, literature, religion, faith and art built around one sentence 'The music of Bach is manifestly a source of transcendence'. Highly recommended.
Janet Daniels
This is a challenging book to read because of the sheer volume of information. But, I love the author's perspective on Bach. I highly recommend reading this book while listening to Bach!
Margaret Foote
Overall, I enjoyed this book -- a unique approach to exploring the music of Bach through the various audio technology from the earliest years to the the present.
Michael Rodino
Michael Rodino marked it as to-read
Oct 12, 2015
Margretta Seashore
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Oct 05, 2015
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“And what is the problem? It is the old problem of the anxious searcher - the mythic in the interior castle, the poet-pilgrim in a dark wood not sure how to proceed. Which way is the right way?” 3 likes
“BACH! A colossal syllable, one which makes composers tremble, brings performers to their knees, beatifies the Bach-lover, and apparently bores the daylights out of everyone else,” 0 likes
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