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Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  575 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
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 stai
Hardcover, 672 pages
Published October 29th 2013 by Knopf
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It's slightly after the Christmas season (some traditions excepted), but this is a fine sample of Gardiner's own conducting. Shout for joy and exult!

Here is a stimulating new look at the life and works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Our author has the benefit of not just a musical education with Nadia Boulanger, but a lifetime of practical experience in conducting Bach, even the marathon feat of an international tour of all of Bach's sacred cantatas (almost 200
Philippe Malzieu
Oct 13, 2014 Philippe Malzieu rated it it was amazing
Still a book about Bach, the musician of the musicians, the boss. Why one moreover and what news? The author. John-Eliot Gardiner. An institution. The English chief was the student (and also the heir) of Nadia Boulanger. He was one of the heroes of the baroque revolution.This movement began in Holland and Germany at the end of the Seventies. The goal was to play again the Baroque music with more close to the authenticity: instrument of time, diapason with 451 herz, cord in bowel..Gustav ...more
Feb 20, 2016 ΑνναΦ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saggi, biografie, musica


È stato davvero interessante leggere questo saggio, incentrato sulla produzione sacra di Bach, che dà poco spazio alla stretta biografia e solo nella misura in cui inquadra l'artista, uomo talvolta servile con i potenti (la sua vita dipendeva dalle loro grazie e commissioni, come biasimarlo), irascibile, in disputa per i compensi, stakanovista (per anni compose una Cantata a settimana lavorando senza sosta) intimamente religioso. La musica di Bach è incentrata su vita – morte – Dio e il suo fine
Dec 21, 2013 Azabu rated it liked it
John Eliot Gardiner explores the man behind the music in this ambitious, definitive biography of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) the great (arguably greatest ever) composer. Gardiner, a protégé of Nadia Boulanger and a seasoned conductor, grew up in a musical family that was entrusted with the Elias Gottlob Haussmann portrait of Bach during World War 2. At a critical moment in his career, he realized that, ‘I would first need to study and to learn to perform the music of Bach’. Consequently, ...more
Aug 04, 2014 Barbara rated it it was amazing

The book offers musical insights into Bach's sacred music, and also into his time and place. We are presented with the results of a lot of fascinating (and on-going) research.

I love the cantatas, passions, masses... and have them all. I took helpful notes on what to listen out for in those cantatas I'm not familiar with. The Passions and the B Minor Mass are treated towards the end and I gave up at the end of the Kyrie. Reading about the B Minor Mass is a task for another time.

I thought that Joh
Dan Glover
Feb 24, 2016 Dan Glover rated it really liked it
Well, its taken me a very long time to read this book and its not a fault of the book. This is part biography of Bach, part biography of his music and the imagination that birthed it, and part evocative description of Bach's sacred music itself. There is much to commend here. Gardiner is one of the foremost experts on Bach today, and not because he has read nearly everything there is to read about Bach, although he has probably done so judging from the footnotes and endnotes (the former are all ...more
Mar 27, 2016 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, biography
While Bach has been part of my life since childhood, I haven't thought for more than a moment about him as opposed to his music since hearing a tape called "Mr Bach Comes to Call" when I was eight or nine. (But I heard that tape a lot. I could still recite bits of it, no question.) Gardiner's main interpretive scheme is that Bach, the man, is inferrable from Bach, the composer. Even leaving aside the intentional fallacy, which is sort of inevitable in a book that's both biography and criticism, ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Natuurlijk gaat er niets boven Bachs muziek beluisteren, thuis, maar nog liever in de concertzaal. Deze jarenlange passie heb ik gaandeweg uitgebreid met musicologische literatuur, maar wat dirigent John Eliot Gardiner als praktisch uitvoerder en onderzoeker te vertellen heeft (over Bach's vocale werken: zijn cantates, passies, motetten en missen) is zoveel boeiender. In 2000 maakte hij met zijn 'Monteverdi Choir en Orchestra' een 'Bach-Pilgrimage': een immense logistieke onderneming waarbij ...more
Jul 29, 2016 John rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
During the last year, as the result of our decision to purchase symphony tickets and the need in my classroom to have quiet background music as students read, I’ve been listening to a lot more classical music. I’ve always listened some--off and on--but recently it’s been a lot, and Bach has always been my favorite. I decided to read a biography of the great composer and was excited to read the endorsements of the recent bio--John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. This seemed ...more
Josh Brown
Dec 27, 2014 Josh Brown rated it really liked it
This book did a really good job avoiding common issues I have with books about music: that is, it actually talked about the music, instead of avoiding the subject with biographical speculation that leaves you feeling cheated or like the author didn't really understand it in the first place. Gardener has clearly spent a lot of time both thinking about and performing Bach's entire vocal music catalog, and it shows. There was s biographical aspect to this book, but the line between biography and ...more
May 23, 2015 JQAdams rated it it was ok
Much to my surprise, given my interest in the subject and the widespread acclaim, large portions of this were a total slog. Having gone in knowing Bach's instrumental works somewhat better than his choral pieces, I was intrigued by getting the perspective of a choral conductor. Sadly, I found the author to be pretty grating in his discussion of music -- not just the random speculation about what Bach "must have felt" as he wrote pieces (passages of music clearly show Bach wrestling with his ...more
Jim Hale
May 24, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book cannot be praised highly enough. Not being a musician, I was intimidated to plunge in, but Gardiner proves to be as fine a writer as a conductor. He does provide detail of Bach's sacred music, but was always accessible to this semi-redneck Texan. It's important to note the title - "Music in the Castle of Heaven" - it is a study of Bach's church music, and Gardiner's analysis is superb. I'd go as far to say that the conductor has left the world with an important historical document with ...more
Nancy Moffett
Aug 14, 2015 Nancy Moffett rated it liked it
So interesting in a boring way! I loved the detailed exposition of the cantatas, but there were too many details about Bach's employers and speculations about his psychology. I object to the condescending way John Elliot describes Bach's spiritual life. Why does he assume that a man of Bach's genius is incapable of having a genuine relationship with God? Still, I learned a lot about the cantatas and hope to reread portions of this as a resource
Feb 22, 2014 Ian rated it really liked it
Some really interesting insights into Bach's work and life. Occasionally felt like the same point was being made multiple times, but the interweaving of his life story and the musicology was great, and made me go and listen to a few pieces of Bach I didn't know.
Timothy Munro
Jan 25, 2014 Timothy Munro rated it really liked it
Vivid, enlightening, occasionally provocative bio in which Bach's vocal music comes to dramatic life in Gardiner's evocative (and occasionally clumsy) prose. Justified or not, I feel closer to both Bach the man and Bach the composer...
Ron Mentzer
Apr 23, 2014 Ron Mentzer rated it liked it
What an amazing book. Gardiner's book provides insight into the forces that shaped Bach and his music. The middle section is rather technical and almost requires you to read them while listening to the works discussed. It was worth them time that it took to carefully read this work.
Jim Becker
Jan 12, 2016 Jim Becker rated it it was amazing
Gardiner not only gives a history of Bach, but also gives a detailed "walk-through" of 3 Bach masterpieces. Very thorough and gives the reader an insight to Bach's genius.
Apr 30, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
Interesting, at times a little too much extrapolating beyond our evidence, but wow it made me miss singing all those things!
Nov 27, 2016 Yooperprof rated it liked it
Four months to read this book! Some brilliant things here, but also very frustrating. Gardiner strongly believes that Bach's religious music, specifically the prodigious cantata cycles, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, and the B minor Mass, are at the absolute center of Bach's accomplishment and identity. Fine, but he neglects Bach's stupendous "abstract" music, and really fails to address how those not attached to Bach's Lutheran variant of Christianity - how those who may not be ...more
C. Michael
Apr 15, 2014 C. Michael rated it it was amazing
Bach: Music In The Castle Of Heaven
John Eliot Gardiner
672 Pages
ISBN: # :0375415297

There are a dozen reasons why Bach: Music In The Castle Of Heaven is an important addition to the J.S. Bach bibliography, several being associated with its author, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Gardiner is the dean of the college of Bach Choral specialists, a college containing names like Joshua Rifkin, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Philippe Herreweghe, Ton Koopman, Masaaki Suzuki, and Helmuth Rilling. What sepa
Nov 29, 2015 Lynn rated it it was amazing
I've been a musician basically my whole life, if not always or recently in practice, at least then in spirit. I've never not known or loved great music, as I was born into it.

I looked forward to reading John Eliot Gardiner's biography Bach: Music from the Castle of Heaven for a couple of years, since I first heard of it. It's taken this long for it to percolate its way up to the top of my reading list.

Gardiner comes to the subject as qualified as a person can be. He grew up on a farm (in Dorsett
Sep 12, 2016 Nick rated it it was amazing
Gardiner concentrates on the vocal works of Bach: the cantatas, passions, and motets. If you are not already a fan of Bach and his vocal music in particular, this book is not for you. As a biographer Gardiner is focused on how events translate into these works. Bach's time in the service of a nobleman in Cothen is barely mentioned, because in that time he only wrote instrumental works. Other accounts of Bach's life indicate that he may have been quite happy in Cothen, until the court tastes ...more
Aug 31, 2016 Adysnewbox rated it really liked it
I picked this book up from the library on a whim, and because I was in the mood for a challenge. "Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" is DEFINITELY not light reading, but it was a very rewarding read nonetheless. It was not the straight biography I expected it to be: in truth, the personal life of J.S. Bach is not well known, due to the man's lack of journal writing/personal correspondence. John Eliot Gardiner, who is both historian AND renowned classical music conductor, has undertaken to ...more
Jack Hrkach
Dec 07, 2015 Jack Hrkach rated it really liked it
Two things I regret not having done in my life (turning 69 in January, gulp) - never learning (i.e. being fluent in) a foreign language, and never learning to play a musical instrument. Reading JEG's great book on Bach acted as a look into both those lacks, as the language of music, as I learned only too well as I looked up musical terms on every other page it seems (fortunately I read this on a Kindle - makes it easy - is foreign as foreign to me as are the practicals of actually blowing into, ...more
Larry Hostetler
Jul 01, 2015 Larry Hostetler rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Not the book for the casual classical musical enthusiast, this book goes into great detail on the massive oeuvre of Bach's choral music. In some ways the 558 pages of text were insufficient to cover everything, but John Eliot Gardiner provides a marvelous survey of Bach's life and music.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, more so by actually listening to performances on YouTube as I read about each piece. There were times when reading stopped as I enjoyed the music just described and times when the music
Barry Mitchell
Apr 09, 2014 Barry Mitchell rated it really liked it
I have taken five months to read this book. It is a biography like no other that I have read. Gardiner's vast and intimate knowledge of Bach's music allows him to explore deeply into the nature of the composer that a recitation of historical fact could not. I found myself with book in one hand and YouTube access in the other, so that as I read, I could find the music being revealed on the page and also hear it. The musical vocabulary (even with the help of an on-board glossary) can be daunting ...more
Andrew Marr
Apr 30, 2014 Andrew Marr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
This is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. Mind you, JS Bach has been an important part of my life since I was a boy chorister and I sang the chorale line of the opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion with the Detroit Symphony.

I see this book more as an examination of the vocal works than a biography but the musical analysis has a strong emphasis on how Bach's character affected his music and how his music affected his character. Gardiner makes it clear that Bach didn
Oct 16, 2014 A. rated it it was ok
Review: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Elliot Gardner

This lengthy book is chiefly a testament to the author’s erudition. It comprises lengthy analyses of some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s major works along with educated guesses to surround known facts about the life of JSB.
Five hundred fifty plus pages later, I am still unsure of the book’s intended audience. I knew the meaning of the word “enharmonic” before I read the book, and that particular word is not included in the glossary. Gardi
Jean Poulos
The author is a well known Conductor in England. He is the founder of the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists. In some ways this book is an autobiography of Gardiner and his search for information to understand Bach, wrapped in a biography of Bach.

Gardiner tells of the difficulties Bach had with his employers throughout his career and his recurrent refusal to accept authority. He tells of Bach’s life as an orphan and his problems with schools. Gardiner book is dense with fact and f
Don Dugdale
Aug 20, 2014 Don Dugdale rated it really liked it
This one is hard to give a star rating to. It's most suited to music scholars and professional performers, given the style, references, use of the German language, and general level of erudition. I am not in that category and still learned a huge amount from the book, and yes, it was a tough grind. I'm no stranger to Bach, playing and singing the music for the last 55 years or so under some fairly decent conductors. But here you have Gardiner, musical scholar and performer par excellence, ...more
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Sir John Eliot Gardiner is an English conductor.
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“His naivety was of the sort that Descartes no doubt had in mind when he concluded that the study of history, like travel, while harmless enough as a form of entertainment – one composed of ‘memorable events’ which might conceivably ‘elevate the mind’ or ‘help to form the judgement’ – was hardly an occupation for anyone seriously concerned with increasing knowledge.” 1 likes
“Elsewhere, in schools where teachers had come under the influence of the Moravian reformer Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670), shafts of sunlight were theoretically able to penetrate. The Klosterschule in Ohrdruf (previously a monastic school) to which Bach moved from Eisenach after his parents’ death and attended for four and a half years, is alleged to have been just such a place, famous in the district for having adopted Comenius’s curricular reforms. His method stressed the importance of cultivating a favourable environment for learning, of encouraging pleasure as well as moral instruction through study, and of helping pupils to learn progressively from concrete examples, stage by stage – from a knowledge of things (including songs and pictures) rather than through words alone.” 1 likes
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