The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents

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"Just reading these documents brings this great composer to life in a most exciting and vivid way. I love this book!" —Yo-Yo Ma Through hundreds of letters, family papers, anecdotes, and records, the Bach Reader established a new approach to biography by offering original documents in impeccable translations. In The New Bach Reader, Christoph Wolff has incorporated numerous facsimiles and added many newly discovered items, reflecting the current state of scholarship about the composer's life and music. The readings in this volume provide an accurate and vivid picture of Bach's world and of his far-reaching influence.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised & enlarged edition (October 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319563
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319569
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

Customer Reviews

A superb introduction to Bach (and very entertaining)

62 people found this helpful.
 on November 16, 1999
By Littleguys
This is a wonderfully well arranged collection of letters, testimonials, court records and other contemporary documents by and relating to Johann Sebastian Bach. The editors have selected items which paint a picture of a man who knew his own worth, (he argues for, and gets, a higher salary than his predecessors in most of his jobs)didn’t tolerate fools gladly, and who had exactly the same problems church musicians today face.

A must have and must read – contemporary documents and the view of Bach through the centuries

30 people found this helpful.
 on January 25, 2006
By Craig Matteson
This book is essential for anyone wanting to understand the life and work of J. S. Bach. It provides wonderful insights about the man through his own documents and writings by those who knew and worked with him. He comes across as an amazingly hard working genius with a quick temper and absolute focus.

Comprehensive collection

27 people found this helpful.
 on November 18, 2003
By Gontroppo
A wonderful collection of letters by and articles about Bach, both from his own era and afterwards.

What an incredible resource

8 people found this helpful.
 on April 28, 2000
By Craig Murray
I have been studying this book for the last 2 months. The amount of information that is in this book, and not many others, is incredible. Actual letters from JS Bach showing how he feels. Descriptions of performances that were only available from PhD’s in the past are available to you in this publication.

THE SUPREME BACH in his own words and thoughts!

12 people found this helpful.
 on August 9, 2000
By paul frederick west
All worshippers of JS Bach need to acquire this informative and satisfying journal dedicated to the absolutely most profoundly sublime genious in all of music. If having all of Bach’s masterworks in your CD collection wasn’t enough…you need to add this book for further intellectual stimulation because here Bach is presented in his OWN WORDS! Every example of written coorespondence by Bach and his contemporaries concerning him has been preserved and translated from the hand of Bach’s penmanship and presented to the reader. As a result, we can glimpse into another facet of the mind behind the music. Although most of the letters were written to either one offical or another (and therefore embellished with the standard nomenclatures of the time), I was able to detect exasperation, sarcasm, fearlessness, austerity, humor, ridicule and sorrow in much of them. In the vast majority of the wordy, complex style of his coorespondence we begin to see that Bach composed his complaints in much the same vein he composed fugues; lavish phrases, requests and expostulations are intertwined in the most respectful manner to his superiors…and simultaneuosly he projects an attitude that if his needs are not met he will resort to higher means…usually meaning petitioning the King himself (which on one occasion he ultimately did!) His complaints ranged from objectional wages, unruly choirboys, the relegations of authority, and his delinquent son (in which the debtors were now pestoring Bach to compensate). It is true that not many personal references by Bach have come down to us, but there are a few morsels for us to dwell on; his declining a gift from a cousin stating that the tax required was much to high for the parcel itself, he mentions with regret a flask of wine that broke open (accidentally?) while on route in the mail and spilled out, and how not too many people were dying…so unfortunately he wasnt making out too well on funeral music composition. We begin to see that apart from his unsurpassable genious and intellect, he was very much a normal person…even a bit dull. He certainly had a dry sense of humor and had absolutely zero tolerance for people he thought were using him…and for those he thought were not taking him seriously. The is one instance where he got into a street fight at the marketplace, another instance where he was reprimanded for introducing “strange sounds and alterations in the harmonic structure” during mass at the organ (the buddings of his genious). He was interrogated for bringing a “strange maiden” up to the organ loft with him. He even spent some time in jail for being too stubborn when his leave was denied (he was looking for better work and his employers refused to let him go). He was reprimanded for overstaying leave time on another occasion (by like 2 months!) hanging out in Lubeck to see Buxtehude play. He had no qualms whatsoever in disqualifying students from his instruction if they showed any from of recalcitrance or inept musical talent. Buy this book! You can read all about these things and more from the REAL letters! There is plenty of praise and accolades to go along with it, both by his contemporaries and posthumurous composers. Read about Mendelsohn’s debut of the St Matthew’s Passion (100 years after Bach performed it last) written by the tenor who sang Christ’s lines in the score during that performance! Look at the replicated facsimilies of Bach’s letters in his own hand! The book is full of paintings of Bach…in all stages of his career. Read his letters and get some insight into the turmoil and altercations, of the humor and sarcasm of the greatest genious of music this world has ever known. His music is immortal and nothing can even come close; not even the greatest works of Mozart or Beethoven can overshadow the universal sublimity and unsurpassed ecstasy the world can find the the music of the Almighty Johann Sebastian Bach.

A Bach Must Have

One person found this helpful.
 on September 16, 2015
By TheProfessor
I am a bonified Bach scholar and this book is always at my side for quick reference. It is an excellent piece of scholarship by a leading expert; nicely bound, legible, printed on very good paper. It contains many short entries: translations of all period records and writings, newspaper reports and other documents pertaining to Bach’s biography. Excellent index.

Archival reference work, well organized.

One person found this helpful.
 on January 16, 2015
By Joanne E. Langston
Excellently organized through a conspectus that allowed me to scan down a list of all the documents and go then to the ones that were most interesting to me. The conspectus is in the same order as the book, and functions as an archival finding guide. A great reference work, very glad I have it.

Bach Resource

9 people found this helpful.
 on January 3, 2007
By Nancy Bach
Though I’ve only had time to skim through portions of this book, as a Bach descendent, I find it fascinating! The information provided in this book is from actual historical sources, so it not only gives the reader an appreciation for life in Bach’s time, but it actually allows one to learn about Bach on a personal level. It reveals often little known facts, such as that Bach kept his own record of his family roots. In fact, I was able to find information about my own direct ancestors in his own words. Fascinating! I’ve ordered copies for my relatives, as well. I was very pleased with the fact that, though this book was to arrive in “4 to 6 weeks,” it arrived in half that time, and in time for the holidays. Great book for a Bach or for a music lover!

If you like Bach or want research on this for educational or …

 on October 21, 2014
By Saxman
If you like Bach or want research on this for educational or shear enjoyment, I would recommend this, especially for the amount of the book. It has in depth research and gives a wonderful overview of a once in a multi generation genius.

Excellent resource

 on October 12, 2013
By Anny C Bigelow
This is one of the best resources for reading from primary source documents about Bach that there is. There is great detail about Bach here from his contemporaries and even his kids. For anyone who is a Bach junkie, this book is a must have. It is a great book.

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