Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach by John Eliot Gardiner - review by Gulliver Ralston

Gulliver Ralston

Passion Plays

Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 629pp £30 order from our bookshop

Sir John Eliot Gardiner does Bach on a big scale. His cantata pilgrimage began on Christmas Day 1999. In one year he performed all 198 of the surviving sacred cantatas in 50 cities, releasing them in 27 volumes of live recordings on his own label, Soli Deo Gloria. This is testament to his energy and his enthusiasm for the work of a composer whose music has sustained him artistically, spiritually and financially for much of his life. Music in the Castle of Heaven is about Bach, but it is also an account of what it is to be an ambitious conductor. Gardiner is fully aware that showmanship and scholarship can go hand in hand and that when they do, it sells.

Gardiner has a gift for telling stories, both his own and Bach’s. He weaves his discovery of the composer into the tapestry of his own life and the key moments of drama in 20th-century history. He lived part of his childhood under the watchful gaze of Haussmann’s portrait of the

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