Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Johann Sebastian Bach and the art of Baroque Music

Johann Sebastian Bach and the art of Baroque Music

Donna Getzinger, Daniel Felsenfeld
For ages 12 and up
Morgan Reynolds, 2004   ISBN: 978-1931798228

From a very early age Johann Sebastian Bach showed great musical promise. He came from a long line of professional musicians but he soon proved that he went beyond the skills of his father and brothers first in playing the violin and then in the harpsichord and organ. Later when he began to compose music many musicians used to complain that Bach’s music was too hard to play and yet Bach himself never had any difficulty playing it.

Bach lived in Germany in a time when music was something which was not on the whole listened too for pleasure but performed as an accompaniment to religious services in a church. To listen to music for pleasure was thought to be sinful by many of the more sober protestant Germans and the more light-hearted baroque style popular in France and Italy was slow in coming to Germany and being accepted there. It was Bach who heard some of this music, composed by Antonio Vivaldi and others, and who was so enthralled by it that he too began to write music in this style.

For the most part Bach had to struggle to find people who would accept his music and his methods and often had to change jobs seeking a new patron to support him and his ever growing family. Perhaps one of the most famous incidents of recognition that he received in his lifetime was when he went to play for the king who was employing his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Sebastian expected to be asked to play as he often was but instead the king played, and he played a piece he himself had composed. He then asked Bach to play the same piece. This Bach did with wonderful variations and nuances that left the audience "in awe" of the master musician.

This excellent biography is full of such anecdotes from the life of this extraordinary musician and composer. We learn how hard it was for Sebastian to find work that suited him and how he often took on work that he was not excited by for the sake of his family. We are also given a lot of information about the history of music, the history of the times and further background material which helps us understand what Bach’s world was like.