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Recommended books for further information about J S Bach

If you're looking for a single book on Bach...

J S Bach (Oxford Composer Companion)
Edited by Malcolm Boyd
Oxford University Press (2003), paperback 652pp (January 30, 2003)
ISBN: 0198606206

Definitive compendium of information on Bach, organised in dictionary style with thematic features. Includes a map of Bach's Germany, a Bach family tree, Schmieder's complete work list (BWV numbers). Hardback edition also available.

    Also to consider...

    Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
    By Christoph Wolff
    Oxford University Press (2002), paperback 620pp
    ISBN: 0199248842

    Wolff is the world's leading scholar on J S Bach. Edinburgh University's Dr John Kitchen said of Prof Wolff's Bach biography: 'Eminently readable, at times even colloquial. His comprehensive knowledge of the source materials equips him admirably to write such a book... all sorts of interesting details emerge.' Hardback edition also available.

      For fans of historical detail:

      The New Bach Reader: Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents
      Edited by David Theodor Hans, Arthur Mendel, Hans T. David, Christoph Wolff
      W W Norton & Co Ltd (1999), paperback 610pp
      ISBN: 0393319563

      This comprehensive volume gathers together Bach's letters, reports, testimonials, complaints, thank-you notes, together with performance and payment inventories, town council proceedings, court and archival records, organ specifications, and 18th century accounts of Bach and his works. The book also includes a complete translation of the first published biography of Bach, by J N Forkel, a timeline, a detailed genealogy, obituaries, and music manuscripts, including working drafts. Hardback edition also available.

      Read what others have said..

      Matthew Pritchard
      For those interested in reading some close-up analyses of Bach's music, I'd recommend Lawrence Dreyfus's "Bach and the Patterns of Invention". The first chapter in particular contains a superb discussion of the first Two-Part Invention: only a short and apparently simple keyboard piece, but Dreyfus demonstrates just how rigorously Bach exploits every contrapuntal possibility latent in his theme - and if he could do that within such a small format, you can imagine the astonishing architectural imagination that lies behind the longer fugues... Some chapters are admittedly more for musicologists/music theorists than the general reader, but alongside his musical knowledge Dreyfus also displays a humane appreciation of Bach's personality. Definitely worth a look.

      Mark Audus, Nottingham
      Let's not forget... Douglas R Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Penguin, new 20th anniversary edition, 2000). A bit of a mind-bender if, like me, you're hopeless at Maths, but makes the sort of tantalising connections that I'm sure JSB would've loved!

      Dr Anil Sahal, Sheffield
      I'm recommending Johann Sebastian Bach-His life in Pictures and Documents by Hans Conrad Fischer (pub Hanssler). I picked this up at the Bach Archive in Leipzig when I was attending the Neuroscience and Music II Conference this summer-it is available here in the UK. It is easy to read despite being filled to the brim with fascinating information, has lots of interesting images of places, people and documents who were key to Bach during his life. I particularly like it's total lack of stuffy pomposity and personal opinion-it's just the historical facts in context. Highly recommended!

      Chris Rogers, Billinghay, Lincolnshire
      Christoph Wolff's book is excellent for a comprehensive picture of Bach's character, life, and how his Christian views shaped his music. It also presents him as a man of his times, not as the "musical god" that the modern mind likes to label its heroes. He was a musical perfectionist, a deep biblical scholar, and a human-being with faults like us all. The book is not an easy read, but an accurate one that gives a full picture of Bach (and his extended family) in historical context.

      Prof Sir Havey Crichton - Cotswolds- England
      J.S.Bach by Albert Schweitzer Vol 1 and Vol 2. A real old fashioned in depth look in Bach and his works from a big time old Dr.of Theoology and Medical Dr. and all else after his name.. Real OLD school scolarship and well written.MASS of detail. I would recommened along side the more apporachable and more modern books for those who really want a in depth look in Bach and a longer read!! Great stuff.

      D.A. Taylor; Cape Town
      Durr's "Bach Cantatas" (OUP) translated by Richard Jones (2005). The price is high, but this scholarly book, if you are prepared to begin an exploration of the church and secular cantatas from CD, provides the key to the door of the Secret Garden on which music lovers and the world at large are now beginning to knock in numbers. Hitherto comparatively neglected, this life-enhancing body of work lies at the heart (in every sense) of Bach. It is so huge, and the BWV numbers so many and random, that a guide and systematic approach are essential if adventurousness is to avoid being overwhelmed (see also www.bach-cantatas.com).

      Caroline Agarwala, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.
      The most fascinating book I have read for ages about Bach and his time is James Gaines' Evening in the Palace of Reason, which deals with Bach & Frederick the Great, and how their lives eventually crossed. It is so compelling I had to read it all over again when I had finished it, and have given it as a present to several friends. The extraodinary details about Frederick's life, and the author's interpretation of Bach's reason for writing A musical Offering make it quite unique. Please read it if you haven't already!

      Mark Audus, Nottingham
      Bach By Malcolm Boyd Oxford University Press (first pub: J.M. Dent, 1983, 2nd edition 1990, reprinted by OUP 1995) (The Master Musicians series) ISBN: 0198164661 (OUP 1995 edition) Along with Wolff's more recent and weightier study, probably the best single-volume biography of Bach in English (and a measure of its value is that it's also been translated into German). An accessible but informed life-and-works study, the late Malcolm Boyd's deep love and knowledge of the subject shine through on every page. Includes an invaluable time-line in the appendices.

      Bill Edmonds, Brampton, Norfolk
      If you want to read up on Bach this Christmas but have to fit it in around the usual distractions I recommend "Evening in the Palace of Enlightenement" by James Gaines. It's in convenient chunks, so you can put it down and pick it up easily in between courses and rows, and it explores Bach's work in the context of what was happening in his life and times. You also get to learn a lot about Fred the Great of Prussia whose attitude to his children may give you ideas for dealing with your own over the holiday!

      Andrew Ashdown, Cranfield
      Of the 2 recommended books above the Wolff is infinitely superior (a) as a good read and (b) more balanced - the OUP book is too heavily weighted on the (undeniably important) cantata repertory which, let's face it, is already covered in the notes provided with most recordings

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