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Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (Christoph Wolff)


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The Learned Musician is an apt subtitle for this intellectual biography which duly assesses the career of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) with the scholarly rigor one would expect from a Harvard professor. Opening with a 1737 attack by a critic who labeled Bach a pedant who spoiled the natural beauty of his creations with "an excess of art", Christoph Wolff cogently compares the German composer to English scientist Isaac Newton. While Wolff conscientiously covers the basics of Bach's life, including his two marriages and the musical achievements of his gifted family, the author's primary focus is on his performing (Bach was an unrivaled organist) and composing. Wolff carefully analyzes Bach's innovations in harmony and counterpoint, placing them in the context of European musical and social history. Serious music lovers will relish the deeper understanding it conveys of a genius who transformed Western music.