Christoph Wolff Bach Family The New GroveChristoph Wolff, Walter Emery, Eugene Helm, Ernest Warburton

Bach Family

Papermac, 1980



Bach Family has been written by some eminent musicologists to wide some entries of the famous New Grove Dictionary (I already discussed the limits of these biographies in the post about Handel) and, even if the largest part of the book is dedicated to the most famous Bach, Johann Sebastian, five chapters are devoted to Johann Christoph, Wilhelm Friedemann, Carl Philip Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian, respectively Johann Sebastian’s uncle and sons.

The book opens with an introduction, edited by Christoph Wolff, which summarizes the reasons why one family has generated so many musicians and includes short biographical sketches of the less important members, who find they right places in the genealogical tree, more necessary than ever.

The lives of the outstanding Bachs follow a pattern that primarily provides the exposure of the salient facts of their life, and then the discussion of their works. The wealth of dates and personal data makes the discussion rather pedantic, but often these annotations exhausted the character’s private and domestic life, since few sources are available to us.

The style is dry and concise and there are no digressions. This tends to flatten the biographical events, but – on the other hand – it makes fluent the part devoted to the works and the composition method. Various genres are divided and examined individually, adding influences from predecessors or success with posterity and highlighting the features of each group, especially when they are innovative. In the chapter about C. P. E. Bach is also added a paragraph devoted to his theoretical writings.

Bach Family is intended as a unitary book, beyond the “centrifuges” biographies, as is evident in the introduction and the choice of characters. This is not the story of a single man, but the story of a family with extraordinary virtues which, for a rather long period of time, were apparently inexhaustible.

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