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Bach: A Musical Biography


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Table of Contents

Part I. Life and Works: 1. Early years, 1685–1703: background, family, studies; 2. First appointments, 1703–1708: a young musician's activities and early works; 3. Weimar, 1708–1717: the gifted player at a ducal court; 4. Cöthen, 1717–1723: other opportunities for the maturing composer; 5. Leipzig, the first years: a cantor's life, his duties, cantatas, Passions, publications; 6. Leipzig, the middle years: other activities; 7. Leipzig, the final years: a concentration on the language of music; Part II. Observations on the Life and Works: 8. What was said, what can be inferred; 9. An epilogue.

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Peter Williams revisits Bach's biography through the lens of his music, revealing the development of the composer's interests and priorities.

About the Author

Peter Williams (1937–2016) held the first Chair in Performance Practice in Britain at the University of Edinburgh, where he was first Director of the Russell Collection of Harpsichords and latterly Dean of Music. He was also the first Arts and Sciences Distinguished Chair at Duke University, North Carolina. His first book on Bach was for the BBC in 1970. After then, he focused chiefly on music for the organ (with the three-volume Organ Music of J. S. Bach, Cambridge, 1980–84); on music for the harpsichord (with Art of Fugue, 1986, and Bach: The Goldberg Variations, Cambridge, 2001); and on music for ensemble (with Musical Offering, 1986). In more recent years, he focused on biography, with The Life of Bach (Cambridge, 2003) and J. S. Bach: A Life in Music (Cambridge, 2007).


'A big read, stimulatingly rigorous, and an excellent follow-up from Williams's concise Life of Bach (2004).' Five stars, BBC Music Magazine

'The joy of this […] book is the human touch that underlines the title, a musical biography … Not only a fascinating read but brings a great composer and his art brilliantly to life.' Ken Walton, The Scotsman

'… the reader must be prepared to put in the hours to find these things. The going is not always easy, and the mixture of forensically researched and ingeniously practical considerations on which Williams bases his speculations are many and various, with many a tangent taken along the way. No doubt it is inevitable that a mind so crammed with Bachian detail should wander off the point from time to time, but the sheer accumulation of meticulously considered observations eventually makes its mark, leaving one in renewed wonder at this astonishing composer's compulsive intellectual drive, rumbling life-force and superhuman ability to move listeners with the sheer power of organised musical notes.' Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone

'Bach: A Musical Biography represents an important addition to Bach scholarship, and is a vital possession for the serious Bach enthusiast.' John Robert Brown, Classical Music

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