Elie, Paul Reinventing Bach

ISBN 13: 9781908526397

Reinventing Bach

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Johann Sebastian Bach organist, composer, master of sacred music was also a pioneer on the technological frontier: working in Germany in the early eighteenth century, he invented new instruments and carried out experiments in tuning, the effects of which are still with us today. Two centuries later, five forward-looking musicians also utilized technology, and the music of Bach, to further their own virtuosity, reinventing the composer for their times and ours.

On 18 December, 1935, Albert Schweitzer famously recorded Bach s organ works on wax cylinders at All Hallows in London and forever liberated the music from beyond the domain of the church. A year later, Catalan cellist Pablo Casals cut 78s at Abbey Road Studios and turned Bach s cello suites into regular listening in many middle-class sitting rooms. When Walt Disney teamed up with conductor Leopold Stokowski to make the film Fantasia, Bach was suddenly accessible to children and his music at the heart of one of the most commercial films ever made; a film that the eight-year-old Canadian pianist Glenn Gould hated every minute of . But it was Gould s two controversial recordings of the esoteric The Goldberg Variations, first in 1955 and then just before his death in 1981 (signaling the opening and closing of the LP age) that made his name and further reinvented Bach who then became a byword for postwar cool . Today, of course, Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital age, with his ads for Apple products.

In Reinventing Bach, Paul Elie weaves together these two narratives into a spell binding and polyphonic account of our greatest composer s life and work and how it drove the audio revolution of the past century and how that very revolution bought Bach many new listeners. As the story moves across a century through film, rock music, the Walkman, the CD and the iPod we see dozens of gifted musicians search, experiment and collaborate with one another in the service of a composer who emerged as the prototype of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist.

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Praise for "Reinventing Bach"

"This intelligent, wide-ranging book brings Bach's eternal music into conjunction with the forces of history. Paul Elie makes us realize how even great music, if it is to last over time, must change in order to stay the same." --Wendy Lesser

"By juxtaposing the LP and the iPod, Elie reminds us of how technology has democratized and universalized Bach . . . Elie has many strengths and strands: detailed and beautifully described moments of listening, engagingly narrated summaries of scholarship, alert attention to telling facts, and a loving knowledge of many different kinds of music, including Robert Johnson and Led Zeppelin. There's plenty of audiophile information--wax cylinder, recording, mono, stereo, different kinds of tape, 78s, long-playing records, CD's, iPods--and a lot on the placement of microphones. Wearing his learning lightly (with wonderful endnotes as a ground), Elie is polyphonic and contrapuntal . . . Elie's book is held together by chain of voices following one other as they make an entrance, step back, overlap, and enter again to reveal a new aspect against the changing conversation: Schweitzer to Casals to Stokowski to Gould to Ma. Other voices too move in and out, filling out the progressions: Tureck, Schoenberg, Einstein, Jobs, even the musically fantastic Mickey Mouse. The voice hovering over all is Elie's own, modest, serious, attuned to the whole . . . It is a pleasure to read such a serious and inventive book on Bach, and that's saying something." --Alexandra Mullen

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The story of how one composer precipitated two revolutions in music and technology.

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