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J. S. Bach
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  • 2 maps
  • Page extent: 418 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.81 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 780.92 B
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: ML410.B1 W7122 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Bach, Johann Sebastian,--1685-1750
    • Composers--Germany--Biography

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521870740)

Peter Williams approaches afresh the life and music of arguably the most studied of all composers, interpreting both Bach's life by deconstructing his original obituary in the light of more recent information and his music by evaluating his priorities and irrepressible creative energy. How, even though belonging to musical families on both his parents' sides, did he come to possess so bewitching a sense of rhythm and melody and a mastery of harmony that established nothing less than a norm in Western culture? In considering that the works of a composer are his biography, the book's title A Life in Music means both a life spent making music and one revealed in the music as we know it. A distinguished scholar and performer, Williams re-examines Bach's life as an orphan and family man, as an extraordinarily gifted composer and player and as an ambitious artist who never suffered fools gladly.

• Deconstructs Bach's original obituary and his music to explore his career and personal life • Contains factual and critical content giving both a chronology and an evaluation of Bach's life and work • Rounded discussion from the perspective of an author who is both a scholar and performer


1. Early years, 1685–1703; 2. First appointments, 1703–8; 3. Weimar, 1708–17; 4. Cöthen, 1717–23; 5. Leipzig, the first years; 6. Leipzig, the middle years; 7. Leipzig, the final years; 8. Observations, descriptions, criticisms; Epilogue; Postscript.


'Peter Williams is a master of putting question marks where they belong. He is wise enough to admit that definite answers are rarely possible. Nevertheless, guided by the 1754 Obituary, he gives splendid food for thought with his penetrating insights and truly erudite suggestions.' Gustav Leonhardt

Review of the hardback: '… its freshness of approach and practical knowledge of the music are enthralling.' The Herald

'… it is in this combination of musicology, common-sense psychology and an almost Shakespearean sense of drama that I find Williams at his best.' Newsletter of the American Bach Society

Review of the hardback: '… Williams is a writer both erudite and compelling … this is a biography unafraid to raise awkward questions and make a gallant attempt to answer them … William's study, a substantial read, fills an important place in English language Bach literature.' BBC Music Magazine

Review of the hardback: 'Peter Williams' observations in this … well-written volume add an imaginative and fresh dimension that will keep the 'little grey cells' charged … [This] volume could be a useful 'precursor' and we are the beneficiaries as a result.' The Journal of the London Bach Society

Review of the hardback: 'Williams's book is dense and challenging … a rewarding read, certain to enthral equally any lover of Bach's music and admirer of the techniques of forensic enquiry.' Musical Times

'… a biography that inspires engagement …' Choir and Organ

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