Bach as teenage thug: really?

Posted on: February 10, 2014

In his February 20 New York Review of Books review of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, George Stauffer writes, “Gardiner has devoted his life to the performance of Bach’s vocal works (he has conducted them all), and the biographical gaps he seeks to close in his lengthy study have perplexed Bach scholars for more than two hundred years…. Moving beyond the hagiographies of the past, [Gardiner] presents a fallible Bach…. Hiding behind Bach, creator of the Matthew Passion and B-Minor Mass, Gardiner suggests, is Bach ‘the reformed teenage thug.’ … All this makes for lively reading. But what are we to make of it? It seems to me that for Bach’s formative years and professional positions leading up to his appointment in Leipzig, the music is indeed our best indication of his personality…. The music suggests a prodigy eager to take on the most technically challenging organ music of the time. This does not seem to square with the image of a wild, unruly boy running around Ohrdruf and Lüneburg with hoodlums…. The truth about Bach’s personality probably rests somewhere in the middle. The picture of Bach as humble Lutheran servant of God, model child, and fully mature adult is undoubtedly too saccharine.”

Posted February 10, 2014