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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

Guest

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

Playlist

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  • Ed75

    The B minor Mass is considered the greatest single piece of music ever written. Does it adhere closely to the structure of the Catholic Mass?

  • Crozet_barista

    Singing Bach’s cantatas and masses is one of the highlights of my personal musical experience!

  • colleenclark

    Bach is the BEST. The B Minor Mass chokes me up – and I’m in no way a religious believer.
    And when I’m not choked up, I’m dancing – and I’m not even going into the instrumental music.

  • Paul Meade

    My introduction too and love of baroque and classical music began 40 + years ago with an introduction to Bach’s repertoire.

    Is there or can there ever be a composer that can compare to Bach in his talent or breadth of accomplishment?

  • MichaelB

    In the summer of 1988 I attended a performance of the St. Matthew Passion by the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner. It was a transporting performance; my chief memory is that as Sir John conducted, the music moved through his body so that he seemed to be dancing at the podium – both leading the performers and embodying the ecstasy of Bach’s music. Many thanks to him for all the wonderful music he has brought us over the years and for sharing his thoughts here today.

  • jefe68

    I spent most of the Holiday season listening to Bach, particularly
    his Christmas Oratorio.

    The other recoding I was listening to a lot wasChris Thile playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A5NMh9QNSI

    • HonestDebate1

      Chris Thile is a giant. I think he is this generation’s Grisman.

  • nkandersen

    The playlist is posted! Thanks for be patient with our delay, Mike.

    nick andersen
    web producer | on point radio

    • Mike Sweeney

      Thank you Nick! Great interview / podcast today on Bach’s music with Sir Eliot.

  • LaurenceGlavin

    I get a little annoyed by the simplistic comments about such-and-such a piece is the greatest piece ever written or so-and-so is the absolutely GREATEST composer ever. If you made a list of a hundred or so upper reaches of most magnificent pieces we humans are fortunate to be able to savor, there would hardly be the gap of a neutrino among the. Is Bach’s “Mass” substantially greater than Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”? James Levine once expressed a preference for the latter! There are individual masterpieces by lesser composers such as Schubert’s “Quintet in C for Strings” that rank with LvB’s own string quartets. The Brahms Violin Concerto and his Second Piano Concerto are greater it seems to me than Mozart’s pieces for solo instruments with orchestral accompaniment , while Mozart’s operas are the very definition of the sublime. And I could go on and on, even including Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Trio” that’s just a soul-searing as anything one could hear!

    • mozartman

      Schubert a lesser composer? He is right there with the best.

      • LaurenceGlavin

        At least in the realm of instrumental and choral composition, J. S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are considered to be in a realm of their own. If Schubert had lived to see his 56th birthday as Beethoven did, he might have joined their company.

        • mozartman

          Sure, masses and other sacred choral music were the strength of Bach. But Schubert’s 600+ Lieders, or songs alone, plus his chamber music qualify him to be named with those masters. They are as beautiful a music that was ever written. Considering his short life, his output is amazing and most music critics place him easily in the top five of most important classical composers.
          Music is very subjective and everybody has different tastes. Happy Listening.

  • HonestDebate1

    Bach was a composer who changed the paradigm with the well tempered clavier. Splitting the differences of tuning for different keys was huge and it changed music forever.

    I am a big fan of his inventions. It took me several months of diligence to master his invention in F major. Then I learned they were written as lessons for children. I am so inadequate.

  • Jolanta1

    Wonderful subject. Bach is my favorite composer. His cello suites are most complex but at the same time so easy to listen to and impossible to get tired with. Mr Ashbrook, I love your programs. Thank you.

  • Margery Goldstein

    I am actually a performing musician myself, and play a lot of Bach’s music, so I wanted to hear the details that Gardiner was discussing. Lectures and discussions about music frequently include audio examples, as words do not describe music well. Lectures and discussions about art history often include examples of the artwork, and the lecturer does not stand in front of the painting so the audience cannot see it. I am glad you enjoy immersing yourself in music with your eyes closed. (It’s nice to know the audience thinks we are giving them a pathway to the divine.) Musicians tend to listen in a different way. P.S.: Starting a response with “Relax” is a little bossy.

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