In Reinventing Bach, his remarkable second book, Paul Elie tells the electrifying story of how musicians of genius have made Bach’s music new in our time, at once restoring Bach as a universally revered composer and revolutionizing the ways that music figures into our lives.
As a musician in eighteenth-century Germany, Bach was on the technological frontier—restoring organs, inventing instruments, and perfecting the tuning system still in use today. Two centuries later, pioneering musicians began to take advantage of breakthroughs in audio recording to make Bach’s music the sound of modern transcendence. The sainted organist Albert Schweitzer used wax-cylinder recordings to broadcast Bach’s organ works beyond the churches. Pablo Casals, cutting 78s at Abbey Road Studios, made Bach’s cello suites existentialism for the living room; Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, with Fantasia, made Bach the sound of children’s playtime and Hollywood grandeur alike. Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations opened and closed the LP era and made Bach the byword for postwar cool; and Yo-Yo Ma has brought Bach into the digital present, where computers and smartphones put the sound of Bach all around us. In this book we see these musicians and dozens of others searching, experimenting, and collaborating with one another in the service of Bach, who emerges as the very image of the spiritualized, technically savvy artist
Reinventing Bach is a gorgeously written story of music, invention, and human passion—and a story with special relevance in our time, for it shows that great things can happen when high art meets new technology.
About Paul Elie
Paul Elie, for many years a senior editor with FSG, is now a senior fellow with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. His first book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, received the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle award finalist in 2003. He lives in New York City.
Elie, a former senior editor with FSG and now a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, tells a polyphonic tale, weaving throughout his narrative a history of the recording industry and brisk biographies of Bach and the 20th-century performers who first recorded his work for mass audiences, including Albert Schweitzer, Leopold Stokowski, Pablo Casals and Glenn Gould. The author begins with a snapshot of Bach’s pervasive presence today, then takes us back to 1935 and Schweitzer’s recordings of Bach’s organ works on wax cylinders. Throughout the text, Elie moves us forward in the history of technology—from 78s to LPs to tapes to CDs to MP3s, showing how Bach managed to remain relevant. We also follow the careers of his principals; Elie’s treatment of the talented and troubled Gould is especially sensitive and enlightening. Occasionally, the author enters the narrative for a personal connection, perhaps nowhere more affectingly than in his account of the time he danced in the rain on the Tanglewood grass while Yo-Yo Ma played a Bach cello suite. Elie also tells us how other cultural figures have employed the music and the man—e.g., Douglas Hofstadter’s 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach, the 1968 album Switched-On Bach and the use of Bach in films and on TV. – Kirkus Reviews
Review: ‘Reinventing Bach’ by Paul Elie casts a wide net
The Chicago Tribune Book Review – September 30, 2012 (Excerpt)
Halfway through reading Paul Elie’s “Reinventing Bach,” I suddenly got dizzy. An earthquake? All-purpose angst? Or could it be that Bach was working as an agent of transcendence on me as he did on this sincere author?
The basic pillars of this study are sturdy. Elie looks at how a composer influenced the outer and inner lives of four key 20th century Bachians — Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski and Glenn Gould — and how they then not only contributed to making Bach central to the modern musical experience but also radicalized it.
Elie doesn’t stop there. He weaves Bach’s biography into theirs. And into that he further weaves his own fervent reactions. He excitedly traipses through central Germany following Bach’s footsteps. And he sets this all against a century of vertiginous world events and pop culture and the advent of recording. Who wouldn’t get a little woozy? [Read the full article...]
Bach Is Still Revving Up Engine of Musical Innovation - ‘Reinventing Bach,’ by Paul Elie
The New York Times Book Review – October 7, 2012 (Excerpt)
Paul Elie begins his intriguingly titled “Reinventing Bach” with a charming anecdote that seems, at first, a neat frame for his argument. He recalls visiting a museum of historic musical instruments in Berlin, where he was very moved to see the harpsichord that belonged to Bach.
Looking at the frail instrument built in 1740, with all its strings missing, Mr. Elie writes of how amazing it is to think that the discolored keys “were worn down by Bach himself.” Yet there is a gap for him in the experience, which becomes clear when he overhears people at the museum excitedly crowding around the synthesizer used by Pink Floyd on “Wish You Were Here.”
That synthesizer is “the real thing: the actual instrument played on an album I have heard a hundred times,” Mr. Elie writes. Bach’s harpsichord seems disconnected from Bach’s music. The composer “owned it, but its sound is conjectural.” [Read the full article...]
QUEEN OF MISFORTUNE A Lady Jane Grey Novel by Peter Carroll
A Love Story of Shakespearean Dimension!
Queen Of Misfortune is the fictional story of Lady Jane Grey as told by her beloved tutor, John Aylmer. At the time of her execution a stranger is recorded to have assisted her when, blind folded, she lost her way upon the scaffold. Was it the same strange who was also recorded to have visited her when she was imprisoned in the Tower? Little is known of this unfortunate girl who was beheaded for treason in the 16th Century. She was only 16. She is omitted from the list of monarchs but was actually queen for nine days. Author Peter Carroll, in his novel, follows John Aylmer’s close relationship with Jane as her tutor and later, as she grows up, her lover. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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