Bach biographies

Edited: November 17, 2018, 11:01 PM · I bought Hildesheimer's Mozart this year (I'll read it next year), and I'd like a good biography of Bach, but I have no idea what's available or how it is rated.
What do you recommend?

Incidentally, I have the German edition of the Hildesheimer, so if anyone knows of a German Bach biography that hasn't been translated into English, that would be fine.

Replies (12)

Edited: November 17, 2018, 8:06 AM · There is Christoph Wolff, 'The Learned Musician,' a big well-researhed biography, and John Eliot Gardiner "Music in the Castle of Heaven'. Gardiner, of course, is the conductor who performed a lot if not all of Bach's Cantatas.

Of Hildesheimer I would say it is a hugely informative and amusing book, but it is rather slanted towards the "irreverent Mozart". Biographies are often a product of their era . Hildesheimer's clearly makes Mozart into a child of the Sixties.

There is also Robert Gutman's 'Mozart A Cultural Biography.'

November 17, 2018, 8:27 AM · "Hildesheimer's clearly makes Mozart into a child of the Sixties."
Interesting, as I very much utterly, totally loathe, hate and despise the movie Amadeus!
November 17, 2018, 8:54 AM · I have the 1945 edition of "Mozart" by Bernhard Paumgartner, which, in the course of 550 pages, goes into Mozart's life in great detail, including a comprehensive listing of all his works.
November 17, 2018, 9:51 AM · I'm happy to read other Mozart suggestions, but I am really interested in Bach, thanks.
November 17, 2018, 10:11 AM · "I very much utterly, totally loathe, hate and despise the movie Amadeus!"

the movie was very much inspired by Hildesheimer.

But it is a very good book.

November 17, 2018, 10:39 AM · I may as well go on record as saying I think Goedel, Escher, Bach is a somewhat grotesque and over-rated book. (lol!)
November 17, 2018, 12:28 PM · I really enjoyed Albert Schweitzer's book. Oldie but goodie!
November 17, 2018, 1:42 PM · Everyone gotta have the Bach Reader. Know your primary sources :)
November 17, 2018, 3:01 PM · I’ve read Wolff and enjoyed it. I haven’t read Gardiner yet but plan on it.
November 17, 2018, 6:36 PM · I think it was Sir Hubert Parry's that I read in my youth.
November 17, 2018, 6:57 PM · I have never found a good general Bach biography that I liked. I'd strongly recommend Gardiner's book but be aware that it is focused on the cantatas to the exclusion of almost everything else, with hardly a mention of the music for violin.

Hildesheimer's Mozart book IMHO is far and away the best book I have ever read about any composer. The movie "Amadeus" (and the play by Peter Shaffer it is based on) may be influenced by it but everything that is in there has long been known and has not been introduced to the world by Hildesheimer. Furthermore the play/movie (I have seen both as it happens) isn't really about Mozart. It is about Salieri: His problem (in the play, not necessarily in real life) is that here he is, a perfectly competent composer and successful teacher and yet totally--and lastly unexplainably--overshadowed by Mozart.

November 17, 2018, 8:10 PM · I second the suggestion of Wolff's bio of Bach. An excellent book. For Mozart or Beethoven, I suggest Maynard Solomon's bios.


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