Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Reinventing Bach” as Want to Read:
Reinventing Bach
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Reinventing Bach

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  182 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
The story of a revolution in classical 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
Paperback, 512 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 18th 2012)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
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
Roger Brunyate
Bach on Record
Our lives are half-lives, our experience mediated, and so diminished, by technology. So we are told by our age's best and brightest […] of the struggle to stay afloat in the sea of artifice, the polluted data-stream.

To this conviction, the recorded music of Bach is contrary testimony. It defies the argument that experience mediated by technology is a diminished thing.
About 35 ago, after largely ignoring him, I discovered Bach as a personal source of intellectual fascination and s
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This 500-page volume is structured around a well-informed and empathetic biography of Bach, intercut with lively accounts of five pioneering performers who made famous Bach recordings: Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski, Glenn Gould and Yo-Yo Ma. Linking them through their love of Bach is intriguing, even if in other respects they are slightly strange bedfellows. Elie interweaves their stories, cutting-and-pasting them into a vivid mosaic, though his sudden juxtapositions can be ...more
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
Jan 04, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tossed-aside
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
Jeff Crompton
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Mcnaughton
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable book, a little disjointed, but the style suits the content

Three quotes

From Glenn Gould (p 218)
"Bach was first and last, an architect, a constructor of sound, and what makes him so inestimably valuable to us is that he was beyond a doubt the greatest architect of sound who ever lived"

From Pablo Casals (p 102)
" (In music) the work of preparation ruled by discipline should finally disappear, so that the elegance and freshness of the form should strike us as being spontaneous"

From Alber
Judy Frabotta
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is THE book for contemporary Bach lovers. Very engaging style and I love the juxtaposition of biographical context from Bach's life and biographical context from some of his greatest interpreters. A real delight. I read it slowly, often to sound track's I could find on-line. And I could definitely wring more pleasure out of this book by doing it once again, even slower.
Kurt Gottschalk
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, kindle
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
David Rubin
Sep 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Feb 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unclassified
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
Jane Walker
Sep 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Josh Brown
Jul 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My two-part review/discussion is here and here.
Charlotte Stevenson
And the recognition that the dead continue to speak and that the sounds they make, amplified right, are a kind of music.
Soo Bin Kwon
Too lengthy, but a nice introduction to the lives of Bach and musicians influenced by him
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2012
My profile of Paul Elie:
Jan 09, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
DBG for Feb. Bach-annalia in counterpoint. Enjoyed appreciating it.
Janet Daniels
Oct 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Paul Childs
Jul 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Margaret Foote
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 09, 2016 rated it liked it
a very long essay - sometimes very good
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven
  • The Romantic Generation
  • The Cello Suites
  • A History of Opera
  • Stranger Magic: Charmed States & The Arabian Nights
  • The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824
  • Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
  • Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev
  • Noise: a Human History of Sound and Listening
  • Black Music
  • The Complex: Mapping America's Military-Industrial-Technological-Entertainment-Academic-Media-Corporate Matrix
  • When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison
  • Molto Agitato : the Mayhem behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Testimony: The Memoirs
  • Mozart: A Cultural Biography
  • Seven Touches of Music: A Mosaic Novel
  • The Secret Hunters
  • Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece
“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
More quotes…