BACH, UN­MASKED

A new bi­og­ra­phy of the great com­poser fleshes out the man with re­veal­ing de­tails of his early life, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - FEATURE -

Last month he cel­e­brated the 50th an­niver­sary of his first per­for­mances at the chapel of King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge, of the Mon­teverdi Ves­pers — he gave a re­peat per­for­mance at King’s to mark the mile­stone — in which he tried to over­come the pre­vail­ing “po­lite, beau­ti­fully blended” English cho­ral sound for some­thing more emo­tion­ally im­me­di­ate. “That per­for­mance was prob­a­bly very im­per­fect but it was en­cour­ag­ing enough for me to de­cide that I wanted to study mu­sic full-time,” he says of the 1964 per­for­mance.

With his Mon­teverdi Choir Gar­diner brought sim­i­larly fresh in­sights to Bach’s cho­ral master­pieces, bring­ing ex­u­ber­ant dance rhythms to the B mi­nor Mass and the great Pas­sions, along with drama and con­tem­pla­tion. In 2000, the 250th an­niver­sary of Bach’s death, he took the choir on a Bach pil­grim­age around Europe and the US, per­form­ing the can­tatas on the days they were in­tended in the church cal­en­dar.

Gar­diner — who grew up with the fa­mous 1746 Hauss­mann por­trait of Bach, which was on loan to the Gar­diners for safe­keep­ing — has writ­ten a highly read­able ac­count of the com­poser that re­veals his deep re­la­tion­ship to the mu­sic. Have his in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Bach changed with the new in­sights into the com­poser? Gar­diner says the work of in­ter­pre­ta­tion is never fin­ished. “Not con­sciously; who’s to say?” he says. “There are so many dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to Bach that are pos­si­ble and le­git­i­mate,” he says, adding mu­si­col­ogy and per­for­mance qual­ity have leapt ahead since he started such work a half-century ago.

“Mu­si­cal per­for­mance should not be a car­bon copy or a replica of what you did the day be­fore. It will al­ways evolve, depend­ing on the time of day, the place, the acous­tics, the per­son­nel in­volved, all sorts of fac­tors that have a deep im­pact on the way the mu­sic emerges.”

A statue of the

enig­matic com­poser; John Eliot Gar­diner,

be­low; an un­dated por­trait

of Bach, right

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