George B. Stauffer is Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts and Distinguished Professor of Music History at Rutgers. His publications include Bach: The Mass in B Minor—The Great Catholic Mass. (December 2018)
Listening to Bach: The Mass in B Minor and the Christmas Oratorio
by Daniel R. Melamed
Around 1730 Johann Sebastian Bach began to recycle his earlier works in a major way. He was in his mid-forties at the time, and he had composed hundreds of masterful keyboard, instrumental, and vocal pieces. Bach was at the peak of his creative powers. Yet for some reason, instead of sitting down and writing original music, he turned increasingly to old compositions, pulling them off the shelf and using their contents as the basis for new works.
One of the most interesting discoveries in Bach research recently is a series of text booklets for the composer’s sacred vocal works. Surfacing little by little in St. Petersburg since the 1970s, the booklets were printed during Bach’s years in Leipzig, where he served as cantor of the St. Thomas …
The classical music world has been saturated lately with stories about the impending demise of the orchestra and the repertory it plays. Dwindling audiences and rising costs have forced American orchestras to cut personnel, shorten concert seasons, and even cross over to the “dark side” and play popular works unthinkable …
Moving beyond the hagiographies of the past, John Eliot Gardiner presents a fallible Bach, a musical genius who on the one hand is deeply committed to illuminating and expanding Luther’s teachings through his sacred vocal works, but on the other hand is a rebellious and resentful musician, harboring a lifelong grudge against authority—a personality disorder stemming from a youth spent among ruffians and abusive teachers. Hiding behind Bach, creator of the Matthew Passion and B-Minor Mass, Gardiner suggests, is Bach “the reformed teenage thug.”