Was J S Bach A ‘Tedious Old Windbag’?


More than 250 years after his death, scholars of JS Bach continue to peel away the layers revealing new information and giving rise to new propositions about the composer whose music is a cornerstone of the western music canon. The fall of the Berlin Wall laid bare to the west a previously undiscovered repository of information about the man about whom so little has been known.

In 2013, Sir John Eliot Gardiner published his treatise on JS Bach, entitled Music in the Castle of Heaven ((Knopf). Gardiner is well placed to present his views and expound his theories about Bach having studied and performed his works extensively. In the same year, Gardiner and his ensemble performed a Bach Marathon at London’s Royal Albert Hall; he undertook the extensive year-long Bach Cantata Pilgrimage tour which is also recorded as a set of 28 CDs.

Admittedly, Music in the Castle of Heaven focuses on the choral works of Bach, which is after all, a genre of which Sir John Eliot Gardiner is master. However, the book has been highly acclaimed by the critics. (The Guardian, The New York Times,The Telegraph, The Washington Post)

Amongst other topics, the book also triggered a debate on whether Bach the man was as inspiring and as brilliant as his music, or whether he was distinctly uninteresting as a person. 

Peter Phillips, founder and conductor of the Tallis Scholars asserts the Bach could at times have been a ‘tedious old windbag’ and explains his views in a recent article in The Spectator.

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