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


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