A well-stocked public library in our area makes it easy for us to locate books that are no longer in print. One of these jewels is Bach by Imogen Holst, part of The Great Composers series published in 1966 by Crowell.
Obviously written by an author who loved her subject, from the biography we learn where and how Johann Sebastian Bach lived, the people he worked for, and the incredible trials he faced. But even more interesting is the introduction to his works provided by piano arrangements of his music scattered throughout the book. Through these snippets, we begin to understand what he was trying to do through his music, his command of the fugues, the development of his cantatas, and how individual pieces came into being. The final pages include “Last Chorus” from the St. Matthew Passion arranged for piano.
The culmination of Bach’s work as a church musician were his St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion. Often he wrote on manuscripts, “With the help of Jesus,” or “To God alone be the glory,” acknowledging that his gift of music was from God. The St. Matthew Passion is considered one of the richest and noblest sacred works in existence. It is the creation of a mind intimately familiar and profoundly moved by the gospel text. It is indeed one of civilization’s incomparable masterpieces, and yet it was produced in a tense atmosphere of unfriendliness.
The Gift of Music: Great Composers and Their Influence by Jane Stuart Smith and Betty Carlson
Many libraries still have Bach in circulation, but it is also available through used book outlets. This highly recommended introduction to the classical composer is worth the trouble of locating.
The Great Imogen Holst Machine
A brief biography of the author.
Johann Sebastian Bach: A Unit Study
Our own unit featuring the composer.