A concentrated study of Johann Sebastian Bach’s creative output and greatest pieces, capturing the essence of his art.
Throughout his life, renowned and prolific composer Johann Sebastian Bach articulated his views as a composer in purely musical terms; he was notoriously reluctant to write about his life and work. Instead, he methodically organized certain pieces into carefully designed collections. These benchmark works, all of them without parallel or equivalent, produced a steady stream of transformative ideas that stand as paradigms of Bach’s musical art.
In this companion volume to his Pulitzer Prize–finalist biography, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, leading Bach scholar Christoph Wolff takes his cue from his famous subject. Wolff delves deeply into the composer’s own rich selection of collected music, cutting across conventional boundaries of era, genre, and instrument. Emerging from a complex and massive oeuvre, Bach’s Musical Universe is a focused discussion of a meaningful selection of compositions—from the famous Well-Tempered Clavier, violin and cello solos, and Brandenburg Concertos to the St. Matthew Passion, Art of Fugue, and B-minor Mass.
Unlike any study undertaken before, this book details Bach’s creative process across the various instrumental and vocal genres. This array of compositions illustrates the depth and variety at the essence of the composer’s musical art, as well as his unique approach to composition as a process of imaginative research into the innate potential of his chosen material. Tracing Bach’s evolution as a composer, Wolff compellingly illuminates the ideals and legacy of this giant of classical music in a new, refreshing light for everyone, from the amateur to the virtuoso.
About the Author
Christoph Wolff is Adams University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, where he taught from 1976 to 2012. A former director of the Bach Archive in Leipzig, Germany, he is the author of numerous works of music history including Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, and Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788–1791, winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. Wolff lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Bach’s Musical Universe is an exhilarating tour de force of erudition. The product of a lifetime of reflection, it is imaginatively conceived: comprehensive and abundantly detailed yet admirably coherent and clear, permeated throughout by keen, illuminating insights—a splendid achievement, indispensable for anyone fascinated by Bach.
— Robert L. Marshall, Sachar Professor of Music Emeritus, Brandeis University
Bach’s portrait, painted by Haussmann in 1748 and aptly described by Christoph Wolff as ‘the composer’s business card,’ is the subject of the vivid and visual prologue of Wolff’s newest oeuvre, Bach’s Musical Universe. Wolff, with his customary erudition, thoughtfully colored with deep affection, writes of the benchmark works that Bach himself chose for his musical legacy—a brilliant summing-up!
— William Christie, founding director of Les Arts Florissants
Nobody writes about Bach with more authority, knowledge, and passion than does Christoph Wolff. This book—a great gift to all music lovers—is remarkable for showing how the largely self-taught composer set himself on a clear path to attain musical perfection.
— Angela Hewitt, concert pianist
Many of the finest musical minds have devoted themselves to Bach scholarship, none as comprehensively as Christoph Wolff. In his new book, he bears down on the music itself, following it wherever it leads, from the smallest secrecies to the largest designs.
— John Harbison, principal guest conductor of Emmanuel Music, Boston, and institute professor at MIT
Having left no autobiography and hardly any letters, Johann Sebastian Bach has revealed himself only in his works. After Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, Christoph Wolff has now given us completely new insight to Bach’s work, in the light of composing procedure and his personal and social background. Through this thoughtful book, Bach comes even closer to us.
— Masaaki Suzuki, music director of Bach Collegium Japan