Andrew Gant: The chronicler of Bach, Handel and the history of hymns

Monday 15th April 2019

Tony Cummings quizzed ANDREW GANT about his recent book on Johann Sebastian Bach

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Andrew: It was a bit, although I do have a head start. I've spent most of my working life in church music. Quite a lot of what I was writing about was music that I was already familiar with, but not all.

Tony: Did you have to spend months in the British Museum?

Andrew: I'm very lucky that I live in Oxford. We have wonderful libraries here in the music faculty, and of course the Bodleian - wonderful performances of the music as well. A great deal of source material can be consulted online these days, which is a wonderful resource.

Tony: One of the staggering things about Bach, on top of the complexity of his music, is the amount that he produced. How many pieces did he write?

Andrew: Oh goodness. The standard cataloguing numbers for his work goes to over a thousand. Many of those contain multiple pieces within a number. There is evidence that a great many are lost. The Church Cantatas, for example, written for the cycle of the year. We have two and a half yearly cycles, but it is known from evidence of performances that there are at least as many other yearly cycles which existed and have been lost. It is astonishing. He was a professional, and Baroque composers were like that: there are others that did the same, like Telemann and others.

Tony: Have you heard or read most of Bach's work?

Andrew: I think it would be a very brave person to say that they had heard most, so the honest answer is probably no.

Tony: Would you call Bach the greatest composer of all time?

Andrew: It's a difficult question, that. I don't want to duck the question, but it's difficult to compare Bach with Wagner. Their whole aspiration was completely different. But if you really had to, it's like what Brian Clough said about football managers: 'I might not be the best in the world, but I'm certainly in the top one.' CR

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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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