Gordon Jones - Bach's Choral Music: A Listener's Guide

Published Tuesday 3rd December 2019
Gordon Jones - Bach's Choral Music: A Listener's Guide
Gordon Jones -  Bach's Choral Music: A Listener's Guide

RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
FORMAT: Book General book

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

J.S. Bach - A Listener's Guide To His Choral Music, to give the book its full title, is a brief (160 pages) introduction aimed at the general listener to a genre of music that is mistakenly supposed to be "difficult." While written at an introductory level, there is much that the more experienced listener will find of interest and the author is not afraid to share his opinions: he really does not think much of Glen Gould's approach to Bach's keyboard music, for example. Jones starts with a vivid biographical sketch of Bach's life and times and then tackles the key question "What is a cantata?" before guiding us through fugue, recitative and aria. The author chooses 30 of Bach's many church cantatas that are especially likely to be performed live, and explores them in detail while freely admitting he has had to omit many others equally worthy of note. Studies of the two great oratorios, the 'St John Passion' and the 'St Matthew Passion' follow, together with a detailed analysis of what Bach himself probably thought to be his finest work, the 'Mass in B Minor'. Accompanying the book is a 75-minute CD featuring complete tracks from five of the finest cantatas, as well as several extracts from the two Passions, the Mass and Bach's "Magnificat". All are from the excellent series by Masaaki Suzuki's Bach Collegium Japan on the BIS label, a choice that the author eloquently defends. Jones is aware of other competing series, gives a brief but well-chosen list of recommended books (all easily available from any good library) and websites (all operational as of November 2019) as well as an informative Glossary. The author, Gordon Jones, is a keyboard specialist but is also a singer and was once a tenor lay clerk at Bristol Cathedral. As a guide to what might be considered a daunting subject he is knowledgeable and blessed with excellent communication skills, coming across as genially enthusiastic with a sly sense of humour. If you have always wanted to explore Bach's choral music but were not sure where to start this book will be a great help and the CD is thoroughly recommended. It was published in 2009 but copies are very easy to find on-line.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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