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Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach
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Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach [Format Kindle]

John Eliot Gardiner
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Under the Cantor’s Gaze

In the autumn of 1936 a thirty-year-old music teacher from Bad Warmbrunn in Lower Silesia suddenly appeared in a Dorset village with two items in his luggage: a guitar and a portrait in oils of Bach. Like old Veit Bach, the founder of the clan, escaping from Eastern Europe as a religious refugee almost four centuries earlier, Walter Jenke had left Germany just as Jews were being banned from holding professional posts. He settled and found work in North Dorset, married an English girl and, with war imminent, looked for a safe home for his painting. His great-grandfather had purchased a portrait of Bach in a curiosity shop sometime in the 1820s for next to nothing. Doubtless he did not know at the time that this was – ​and still is – ​by far the most important Bach portrait in existence. Had Jenke left it with his mother in Bad Warmbrunn, it would almost certainly not have survived the bombardment or the evacuation of Germans from Silesia in the face of the advancing Red Army.

I grew up under the Cantor’s gaze. The celebrated Haussmann portrait of Bach1 had been given to my parents for safekeeping for the duration of the war, and it took pride of place on the first-floor landing of the old mill in Dorset where I was born. Every night on my way to bed I tried to avoid its forbidding stare. I was doubly fortunate as a child in that I grew up on a farm and into a music-minded family where it was considered perfectly normal to sing – ​on a tractor or horseback (my father), at table (the whole family sang grace at mealtimes) or at weekend gatherings, outlets for my parents’ love of vocal music. All through the war years they and a few local friends convened every Sunday morning to sing William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices. As children my brother, sister and I grew up getting to know a grand miscellany of unaccompanied choral music – ​from Josquin to Palestrina, Tallis to Purcell, Monteverdi to Schütz, and, eventually, Bach. Compared to the earlier polyphony, Bach’s motets, we found, were a lot more difficult technically – ​those long, long phrases with nowhere to breathe – ​but I remember loving the interplay of voices, with so much going on at once, and that pulsating rhythm underneath keeping everything afloat. By the time I was twelve I knew the treble parts of most of Bach’s six motets more or less by heart. They became part of the primary matter in my head (along with folksongs, ribald poems in Dorset dialect and heaven knows what else, stored in my memory) and have never left me.

Then, during my teens, I came to know some of his instrumental music: the Brandenburg Concertos, the violin sonatas and concertos (with which, as a distinctly average fiddle-player, I often struggled – ​and usually lost – ​between the ages of nine and eighteen, at which stage I switched to the viola), some of the keyboard pieces and several cantata arias for alto, of which my mother was very fond. Even now I cannot hear arias such as ‘Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott’ (‘The Lord be praised’) or ‘Von der Welt verlang ich nichts’ (‘I ask nothing of the world’) without a lump in my throat, remembering her voice floating across the courtyard from the mill-room. But my early apprenticeship in Bach, the nurturing of a lifelong engagement with his music and a longing to understand the stern Cantor at the top of the stairs, I owe to four remarkable teachers – ​three women and one man – ​who helped to determine the kind of musician I was to become.

The man was Wilfred Brown, the great English tenor, who visited my school when I was fourteen, singing both the Evangelist and the tenor arias in a performance of Bach’s John Passion. I was so captivated that, unpardonable in a principal second violin, at one point I stopped playing altogether and just gawped. As an interpreter of Bach’s Evangelist, Bill Brown was nonpareil. His singing was characterised by an extraordinary subtlety of inflection and word-painting, and by a pathos that was inseparable from his own Quaker beliefs and the humility they brought, something I recognised from my mother’s Quaker upbringing. Later on he offered to give me singing lessons from the time I was sixteen until I was twenty-two, sometimes travelling to Cambridge to do so and always refusing a fee.

Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav and amanuensis to Benjamin Britten, was a regular visitor to my parents’ home and sometimes led their choral weekends and gave singing lessons to me and my sister. She, I suppose more than any other musician I had encountered at that early stage, stressed the importance of dance in Baroque music. This was so clearly visible in her own interpretation and her way of conducting Bach that someone once filmed her just from the waist downwards while conducting the B minor Mass. To this day, thanks to Imo, I feel that the worst interpretative sin (committed with painful regularity even now) is to plod in Bach; denying or resisting the rhythmical elasticity and buoyancy of his music ensures that its spirit shoots out of the door. In speaking touchingly of her father, she stressed the indispensability of music, that it was a part of life that ‘can’t be done without’.

Letting Bach dance was one lesson well learnt; the other was how to make him ‘sing’. This sounds so obvious and so much easier than it is in practice. Not all of Bach’s melodies are singer-friendly or melodious in the way that, say, Purcell’s or Schubert’s are. Often angular, the phrase-lengths uncomfortably long, peppered with little curlicue flourishes and ornaments, they require a lot of purpose, underpinned by iron breath-control, before they can truly sing. And that applies not just to the vocal lines, but to the instrumental ones as well. This I learnt from my violin teacher, Sybil Eaton, a pupil of the celebrated Greek violinist and musicologist Minos Dounias. Sybil certainly ‘sang’ when she played the fiddle, but, through her inspirational teaching and sheer love of Bach, she was also able to help her pupils to take melodic wing, whether we were playing concertos, solo partitas or obbligato parts to arias from the Passions or the cantatas.

The person who crystallised all these ideas for me was Nadia Boulanger, justly recognised as the most celebrated teacher of composition in the twentieth century. When she accepted me as a student in Paris in 1967, she had just turned eighty and was partially blind, but with all her other faculties in tip-top order. Her way of teaching harmony was founded on Bach’s chorales, which she regarded as models of how to establish a beautiful polyphony – ​with each voice being accorded equal importance while still playing a different role in the four-way conversation, now advancing, now retreating: contrapuntally conceived harmony, in other words. She insisted that the freedom to express yourself in music, whether as a composer, conductor or performer, demanded obedience to certain laws and the possession of unassailable technical skills. One of her favourite sayings was ‘Talent [by which I think she meant technique] without genius is not worth much; but genius without talent is worth nothing whatsoever.’

Confined for two years to an unvarying diet of harmony and counterpoint exercises and solfège (the particularly nasty but effective French system of ear-training), I metaphorically kicked and scratched like a cornered animal. On at least one occasion, from sheer frustration, Hindemith’s Elementary Training for Musicians ended up in the gutter – ​thrown out of the window of my bed-sit in the 4th arrondissement. But I owe her a colossal debt. She had a way of challenging every preconception as well as a knack of exposing one’s shortcomings, technical or otherwise, quite mercilessly. She saw something in me that I did not even see in myself. It was only after I had left the boulangerie that I realised that what had seemed like torture at the time was actually an act of kindness, equipping me to avoid certain professional embarrassments in the future. And, despite her severity, she was extraordinarily generous, even bequeathing to me her unique collection of transcriptions of Renaissance and Baroque music (from Monteverdi to Rameau), including scores and parts of her favourite Bach cantatas, all meticulously annotated – some of my most treasured possessions.

How was I to translate this painfully acquired theory and ear-training into actual sound when standing in front of a choir and orchestra? Luckily by this stage (1967–​8), while I was a student in Paris and Fontainebleau, from time to time I had access to an ‘instrument’ in London – ​the Monteverdi Choir. It had all started back in 1964 when I was in my third year at Cambridge. My tutor, the social anthropologist Edmund Leach, authorised me to take a year off from the History tripos to sieve through the possible directions my life might take and, crucially, to find out whether I really had it in me to become a full-time musician. Ostensibly I was there to read Classical Arabic and medieval Spanish; in practice the task I set myself was to perform Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, a work that, although I had first heard it as a child, was still very little known and had never before been performed in Cambridge. Despite the dual handicap of my relative inexperience as a conductor and my little formal musical training up to that point, I had set my heart on conducting one of the most challenging works in the choral repertoire. I spent the best part of that year studying the original part-books on microfilm and, with the encouragement of the Professor of Music, Thurston Dart, preparing a new performing edition. I also ended up doing everything involved in planning a public performance in King’s College C...

Revue de presse

“[I]t is hard to imagine what the English maestro John Eliot Gardiner. . . might do to surpass Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven in its commitment, scope and comprehensiveness. . . . [He] has done a masterly, monumental job of taking the measure of Bach the man and the musician.”
      –The New York Times
“With Bach we seek the elusive man hiding, perhaps, under the dense, spectacular music. . . .As eloquent a writer as he is a musician, Gardiner brings to his study the invaluable perspective of the practitioner. . . . One of the stars of the revolution over the past 50 years that has brought period instruments into the mainstream of early-music performance. . . . [Gardiner’s] depth of knowledge permeates his writing.”
      –The New York Times Book Review

“Mr. Gardiner writes in the refreshing voice of a man who has studied and performed Bach's music for decades. . . . Like his conducting, the author's writing is lively, argumentative and passionate. He believes deeply in Bach's music and wants to understand each aspect of its construction. . . . Bach's music is one of mankind's greatest achievements, and his genius touches upon matters eternal and profound. His choral music is less well-known than it should be—especially the cantatas, which Gardiner lauds as "gripping musical works of exceptional worth." Spurred by Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, many listeners will discover them for the first time. In performance and now in print, Mr. Gardiner is Bach's most eloquent champion…”
      –The Wall Street Journal

“It never happens often enough, but now and then, a subject gets the book it deserves. So it is with John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, a biography so thoughtful, well-researched, and beautifully written that it should satisfy both the well-informed enthusiast and readers simply seeking to become better acquainted with a musical giant.”
      –The Daily Beast

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven is an inspiring book. . . . [it] is a superb, timely, thought-provoking, authoritative and extremely useful and readable book. It should find its way onto any serious music-lover’s shelves. From there it must often and regularly be taken off and read.”
“[I]t is Gardiner’s experience as a conductor that informs so much of this book. Not only does he explain the harmonic, contrapuntal and polyphonic underpinnings of Bach’s music. . . he also comments on these scores from practical experience, having spent countless hours working out instrumental balances and sonorities, textures and dynamics, in concert halls and churches alike.”
      –The Washington Post

“Gardiner presents a nuanced account of the constellation of personal, musical, religious, and cultural forces that shaped Bach’s astonishing body of compositions. He writes with the care of a scholar, the knowledge of an expert musician, and the passion of a believer (in Bach if nothing else).”
      –The Christian Science Monitor

“An erudite work resting on prodigious research and experience and deep affection and admiration.”

“Typical John Eliot to combine so much erudition with even more passion and enthusiasm. It made me want to rush and listen to all the pieces whether familiar or unfamiliar. A treasure chest.” 
      –Simon Rattle, principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven is a unique portrait of one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time by one of the greatest musical geniuses of our own age. John Eliot Gardiner uses his extraordinary immersion in Bach’s music to illuminate Bach the man more brilliantly than in any previous work, and has created his own deeply moving work of art.” 
      –Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire
“A superb achievement, scholarly, lively, controversial and judicious. Like all great biographies of creative artists it builds a bridge from the past to the present and brings the work to new life.”
      –Ian Bostridge
“John Eliot Gardiner’s book is, apart from anything else, a tremendous feat of narrative: he has the rare gift of always putting the camera in the right place. He tells this long and richly involved story in a way that makes everything clear, and sets the life and the music in a historical perspective where every detail is relevant and every comment illuminating. Simply as a biography this is splendid, but the fact that it comes with such a wealth of musical understanding and experience makes it invaluable. I learned an enormous amount, and I know I'll return to it again and again.”
      –Philip Pullman

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2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 un titre bien choisi 7 novembre 2013
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Voilà un des tous premiers chefs d'orchestre de l'époque actuelle qui mêle les différentes strates de sa vie de musicien avec celle du génie qu'il sert comme peu : remarquable d'intelligence, de sensibilité et d'originalité
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A life with Bach :-) 20 juillet 2014
Par Villrips
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s life with Bach is summed up in his magisterial ‘Music in the Castle of Heaven’ a summation of a lifetime’s engagement with one of the greatest creative artists the human race has ever produced. Great book !
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A visit to the foundations of heaven 17 mai 2014
Par cherami
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Anyone who likes Bach, and what serious person does not, will find this riveting - so much so that one needs Bach's cantatas to hand to listen to what JEG is writing about. A small effort that is repaid tenfold.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 étoiles sur 5  107 commentaires
188 internautes sur 196 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Report from the Field 1 novembre 2013
Par Bach Lover - Publié sur Amazon.com
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This is, and I am sure it will continue to be, one of the most interesting, well researched and valuable of books written on J.S. Bach and his times to date. I began it the day it arrived and have barely put it down. That is saying a lot as I have been buying and listening to and reading about Bach for the past 50+ years.
Just a quarter of the way into its more than 600 pages, I can report that this book should prove to be invaluable to anyone interested in Bach, the Baroque, and the musicians of that era and before. It is Gardiner's clear and compelling writing, the depth of his research, and his emphasis on Bach's life that is so very compelling. Who was Bach? Why was he that way? And how did his life shape his music? Answering these questions are the objectives of the book. He does it better than anyone I have read. There is much new information discovered only in the last decade or more.
I will revise this review when I've finished reading, but I wanted to send a dispatch that in the first four chapters, this is proving to be a wonderful and instructive read. And a last note: the footnotes are terrific.
48 internautes sur 52 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great biography that provides a bit different, more human side, of the musical maestro... 28 novembre 2013
Par Denis Vukosav - Publié sur Amazon.com
"Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" by John Eliot Gardiner is well-written biography about one of the greatest composers of all time, whose works are an indispensable part of the world's musical heritage.

John Eliot Gardiner is considered one of the composer's greatest living interpreters who grew up in a family that was entrusted keeping the Bach's portrait made by Bach the Elias Gottlob Haussmann during WW II.
Due to interest in the music that was very important in his family, Gardiner has been studying Bach life and works, making him the perfect person to write this kind of biography book.
Also he very early realized that he needs to study and learn performing Bach's music which is why he became a great interpreter of author's pieces performing them ever since.

Gardiner starts his story with Bach's birth in 1685, his orphanage days when he was 9 years old, start of living with his eldest brother, and beginning of his composer career when he was teenager. Author's opinion is that Bach can thank for his success not only obvious great natural talent but also to the living with his older brother who taught him many difficult life lessons.
The story continues with Bach being awarded the position at the Neukirche in Arnstadt when he was only 18 and soon followed Thomas cantorate in Leipzig...

In his book Gardiner also speaks about the organization of Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, very important cultural and musical event that took place in 2000 for the occasion of the anniversary of 250 years of the Maestro's death.
That was very important event due to the first-time performance of Bach's newly found materials that were owned by the communist DDR and therefore unfamiliar to the world public.

"Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven" is an excellent book that can be recommended to all lovers of classical music, especially Bach's fans for the providing a bit different, more human side, of the musical maestro, a book that despite the comprehensiveness, it is easy and interesting to read until last of its pages.
66 internautes sur 75 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 An outstanding revelation of Bach's choral works for those who know music. 28 novembre 2013
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
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I really like this book, although I probably won't finish it. I have about 50 of Gardiner's cantata recordings and other works but I am not a musician and don't read music. The book is a wonderful synthesis of historical information on Bach and Gardiner's intuitions derived from his intimate knowledge of the music, especially the choral works. But I can't "hear" the music when Gardiner describes it, and I can't read he notes he shows.

This book cries out for a total multimedia treatment. When JEG mentions a phrase or musical element, I'd like to be able to click and hear it. I've been to one of his lecture concerts and to several of Helmut Rilling's and that's whee I really learn. I'm really sorry the book can't quite give me that.

All that said, I really like this book. I recommend it to anyone who's willing to deal with the issues.
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 John Eliot in the Castle of Heaven 9 janvier 2014
Par Johannes Climacus - Publié sur Amazon.com
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I do not mean to derogate from Sir John Eliot Gardiner's status as one of the great luminaries of the podium in our age--to say nothing of his status as a pioneer and perfecter of period performance practice--but in the end the capstone of his career might well turn out to have been in the medium of prose rather than musical performance! This is, quite simply, the most fascinating, engrossing, erudite and stunningly written work on the Leipzig Cantor available. Too bad it focuses primarily on his sacred music (I would love to have Gardiner's obiter dicta on many of the keyboard, chamber and orchestral works treated only tangentially here); but within that limited scope, Gardiner has achieved something quite remarkable: a work of musical historiography that manages to combine rigorous scholarship with philosophical acumen and literary flair. As a philosopher with a keen interest in the interface between aesthetics and religion, I particularly appreciated Gardiner's thorough understanding of the exigencies of church music within the Lutheran tradition, and his situating of tht tradition within the larger framework of Church history, scriptural exegesis and Christian spirituality. His effort to discern Bach's character and aspirations from his church music rather than principally from the documentary evidence (which is relaitvely meager) fixes the reader's (and listener's) attention where it must always begin and end--namely, with the scores themselves, as performed and heard. His charting of Bach's creative development, through the seasons and struggles of his career calls our attention anew to the status of the sacred music--particularly the Cantatas--as a kind of spiritual journal recounting the consolations and desolations of a fragile, fallible genius who also happened to be something of a mystic. For Gardiner, in the end, Bach's sacred-musical testament amounts to the bravest and most brilliant of stands against the depredations of our human condition at its most terrifying--and *for* the transcendence to the rapture of creativity fitfully but effectually points.

I cannot recommend this work highly enough. Its pages will afford a fresh encounter with the composer, even if you have been studying his works and his commentators (as I have) for nearly a lifetime. But even more tellingly perhaps, you will encounter John Eliot Gardiner in a new way--as an accomplished writer and winsomely humane scholar.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Highly recommended to Bach lovers 8 janvier 2014
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Gardiner's reputation as a musician needs no comment, but as an historian he competes with the best in this book. His attention to detail, historical analysis, and measured conclusions from incomplete fact set this book apart from biographies of adulation. for readers who want to delve beneath his extensive analysis he provided copious footnotes with further analysis.
To understand Bach Gardiner presents an excellent cultural history of the 17th and 18th centuries as well as a superb musical history of the other 'class of 1685' musicians and those who proceeded them. He has a wonderful grasp of the evolution of historical phenomena--how one person is both unique but part of a tradition.
This is a dense, multilayered and erudite work and highly recommended to serious readers.
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