Master Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner On Bach

Master conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner on the earthly and heavenly Johann Sebastian Bach.

Conductor, scholar, and famed interpreter of Baroque music  Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Matthias Baus).

Conductor, scholar, and famed interpreter of Baroque music Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Matthias Baus).

The great Johann Sebastian Bach was a tough, cantankerous man who made the most sublime, transporting music.  A composer who would draw his sword on a wayward bassoonist, then convey, says my guest today, the voice of God.  Or, as master conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner also puts it, the astounding full scale and scope of what it is to be human. This hour On Point:  the music of Bach, the man who was Bach, through the mind of maestro Sir John Eliot Gardiner.

— Tom Ashbrook


Sir John Eliot Gardiner, international conductor, scholar, and famed interpreter of Baroque music. Author of “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.” Founder of the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloist and the Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New Yorker: The Book of Bach — “Gardiner, the vital English maestro who has animated repertory from Monteverdi to Percy Grainger, undertook the project of performing and recording all of Bach’s sacred cantatas a decade ago. Beginning on Christmas Day, 1999, and ending on the last day of 2000, he travelled with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists to more than fifty churches in Europe and America, including hallowed places where Bach worked.”

The Wall Street Journal:  Book Review: ‘Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven’ by John Eliot Gardiner — “‘Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven’  is an unusual book—part biography, part exegesis of Bach’s choral masterpieces (the cantatas, masses, oratorios and passions). Mr. Gardiner organizes it in 14 loosely related chapters, or ‘spokes’ of the wheel that is Bach’s life and music. In a chapter on Bach’s contemporaries Handel, Scarlatti and Telemann, Mr. Gardiner charts Bach’s path away from opera and toward sacred music—a decision that considerably limited his fame as a composer during his lifetime. Elsewhere, Mr. Gardiner gives a fascinating account of the prevailing decorum during church services, concluding that the gossiping, late arrivals and red-carpet-like entrances during the music must have been enormously frustrating to the composer.”

The Daily Beast: John Eliot Gardiner Discusses His Monumental Bach Biography — “Gardiner is the first to admit that reading a book about Bach’s life and times, even one with an insider’s awareness of the music’s particular difficulties (‘those long, long phrases with nowhere to breathe’), does not explain the mysterious beauty of the music itself: ‘Analysis of musical structure has its uses,” he writes in his preface, “but it gets you only part of the way.’ But if you read Gardiner, then listen to—or better yet, try to sing or play—the pieces he’s writing about, then you can’t help learning a lot.”

Read An Excerpt Of “Bach: Music In the Castle of Heaven” by Sir John Eliot Gardiner


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Nov 25, 2015
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Pulitzer Prize winning Iowa writer Marilynne Robinson, arrives to the State Library of Iowa in the Ola Babcock Miller Building, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

On the day before Thanksgiving, we talk with Marilynne Robinson – one of America’s greatest authors, thinkers, moralists — about fear and hope in a hard, frightening time.

Nov 25, 2015
Three of baker Renee McLeoud's delicious pies, on display in the WBUR studios. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Bring your appetite! We’re gathering around the radio table with three chefs and new Thanksgiving recipes.

Nov 24, 2015
An archival image of a McKinley - Hobart Presidential Campaign Poster from 1896. (Public Domain / WikiCommons)

Republican political strategist Karl Rove is thinking about the McKinley 1896 campaign and the GOP field right now. Karl Rove is with us.

Nov 24, 2015
This photo made from the footage taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site Monday, Nov. 23, 2015 shows fuel tanks  hit during the attack of Russian warplanes in Syria. Russian warplanes on Monday attacked oil extraction, transport and refinement facilities in areas controlled by Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service)

ISIS, Inc. The terrorist organization is raking in billions –from oil, grain, antiquities, and taxes. We look at how to break the ISIS bank. Plus, Turkey downs a Russian plane. We’ll have the latest.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Fresh Ideas For Your Thanksgiving: Recipes
Wednesday, Nov 25, 2015

Did our Thanksgiving 2016 episode make you hungry? Good news — we’ve got recipes right here.

More »
1 Comment
Karl Rove Still Won’t Get Involved In The 2016 G.O.P. Primary
Tuesday, Nov 24, 2015

Karl Rove may say he’s not endorsing or getting involved in the 2016 G.O.P. presidential primary, but that won’t stop from offering advice on how to beat Republican front runner Donald Trump.

More »
Roger Cohen And Barry Posen On ISIS
Monday, Nov 23, 2015

A brief, but illustrative exchange between Barry Posen and Roger Cohen during our conversation on ISIS today.

More »