A close investigation of Bach’s works reveals remarkable transformations.
Eminent musicologist Wolff (Adams University Professor Emeritus/Harvard Univ.; Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791, 2012, etc.) offers an erudite companion to his biography Johann Sebastian Bach (2000), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, with a detailed examination of the development of Bach’s creative process, goals, and achievements. Because Bach left no theoretical writings, Wolff selects from the composer’s prodigious oeuvre—including keyboard workbooks, toccatas, suites, sonatas, concertos, choral works, and oratorios—to focus on elements of musical design, engagement with other repertoires and genres, reassessment of existing conventions, and innovations. Facsimile pages are excerpted from an online library of Bach manuscripts. Bach, writes the author, “competed with himself constantly,” making “judicious revisions to his own works.” His competitive attitude also led him to pay careful attention to the works of other composers, past and contemporary, as he evaluated his own compositions. Also influencing his musical evolution were the demands of his changing professional duties: town organist, court organist and chamber musician, concertmaster, and cantor and music director in Leipzig, where he also directed the Leipzig Collegium Musicum for more than 10 years. As part of his duties in Leipzig, he was required to offer about 60 cantata performances yearly; although these did not have to be his own compositions, Bach added “a considerable repertoire of his own music” to his growing sacred and secular vocal compositions. Throughout his career, Wolff notes, Bach was “a passionate instrumentalist,” acclaimed for his performances on the organ and harpsichord, and he was frequently invited to give guest concerts. His prowess on the keyboard fed directly into his “pathbreaking approaches” to harpsichord and fortepiano. The author identifies Bach’s intense interest in exploring “all facets of the art of polyphony” as singularly characteristic of the composer’s musical language. For a musically sophisticated reader familiar with Bach’s works, as well as musical terminology and technique, Wolff’s analyses have the potential of enriching the listening experience.
An authoritative, lucid chronicle of Bach’s multifaceted musical context.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)