Charles Francis wrote (November 12, 2001):
Bach - An Extraordinary Life
written by Davitt Moroney Paperback 122p. £6.95 ISBN 1-86096-190-8
review by Tatty Theo of The Brook Street Band
A quick glance at the contents and index confirms that this is going to be an extraordinary read. In the index under Bach the first entry is beer, rapidly establishing the highly individual approach that Moroney takes, wanting his readers to see Bach in 'a very human light'.
The book's five chapters (dealing in chronological order with sections of Bach's life) are interspersed with four sections respectively dealing with Bach's appetite, his love for beer and wine, pipe-smoking and works dedicated to his friends.
Bach is an extremely difficult man to write about. His position as one of the greatest composers of Western music is secure, and there is no shortage of books about his genius, usually thoroughly listing, describing and analysing many of his great musical works. Footnotes and scholarly opinions abound. How refreshing then with Moroney's Bach - an extraordinary life to learn that one of the musical themes of the Goldberg Variations is none other than a popular song which translates as 'Cabbage and beetroot have driven me away; if my mother had cooked meat, I would have stayed longer'.
Bach's sense of humour shines through. Here is a man lovingly portrayed by Moroney (aided by valuable source material), subject to the same hopes and fears as the rest of us throughout his complex life: bereavement, relationships, career prospects, job dissatisfaction, financial worries, prison, children (and their misdemeanours), illness, discriminationÉ On being appointed Cantor of Leipzig in 1723, one of his interviewers summed up 'since the best man can not be obtained, mediocre ones will have to be accepted', wryly referring to the fact that Bach would not teach Latin, part
of the job description.
Bach - an extraordinary life strikes the perfect balance between the events of Bach's life and his music. His compositions are all briefly mentioned, complete with BWV catalogue numbers and footnotes. These are well away from the main body of the text, thus enabling further reading and research if required. None of this interrupts Moroney's prose, which unusually for musical biography makes gripping reading, much like a good novel.
This book will open your eyes to a side of Bach with which you might not be familiar - a determined, sometimes stubborn, competitive, humorous man, but above all a human-being.