Gardiner's Opening Thoughts on Bach
I recently started reading John Eliot Gardiner's Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven - partly because I want to learn more about Bach, partly because I want to read about something other than music from the 20th century, partly because I've always loved Gardiner's recorded interpretations of Bach, partly because I don't know his vocal/choral music as well as his instrumental and keyboard works, and partly because I'm really interested to see Gardiner's interpretation of Bach as a human, and the conclusions he draws ... so quite a few reasons, actually. I'm only on the second chapter (tech week doesn't allow for much down time), but I am already enjoying it particuarly much of what he wrote in the preface, about how we've dealt with Bach since his death:
A nagging suspicion grows that many writers, overawed and dazzled by Bach, still tacitly assume a direct correlation between his immense genius and his stature as a person ... But why should it be assumed that great music emanates from a great human being? Music may inspire and uplift us, but it does not have to be the manifestation of an inspiring (as opposed to an inspired) individual ... Any God-like image that we superimpost on Bach blinds us to his artistic struggles, and from that point on we fcease to see him as a musical craftsman par excellence.
He also goes on to quote from Peter Williams's The Life of Bach, and looks ahead to how he draws information about Bach's life from his (vocal) music. I'll save some interpretations and reactions to Gardiner's writing until I get further in the book, but I already appreciate his attempts to draw Bach out from the Romantic world concept, which still has a powerful hold over how we view classical music and composers. (For something recent on this idea, read Alex Ross's recent article in The New Yorker about Beethoven, who, much like Bach, still has a power over contemporary composers, performers, and listeners - as much his fault and those who helped to create and maintain his myth.)