Bach’s Musical Universe: The Composer and His Work

Norton. Mar. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9780393050714. $40. MUSIC
For readers wishing to explore the universe that is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), there’s no better guide than scholar Wolff (former director, Bach Archive; Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician). The author trains a sharp eye on the composer’s vast musical legacy, focusing on what he refers to as benchmark works, “all of them without parallel or equivalent,” which “produced a steady stream of transformative musical ideas that were clearly intended to stand as paradigms of his musical art.” Among the pieces featured are The Art of the Fugue, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the Goldberg Variations. Discussions of each composition include historical and musical context and illustrative tables. Helpfully, the volume also offers a chronology, extensive notes, and a concise bibliography.
VERDICT Students, musicians, and serious aficionados of Bach will be the most appreciative audience for this artfully composed work.

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