Reinventing Bach, by Paul Elie

February 5, 2013

Elie (The Life You Save May Be Your Own) has the ability to weave together many small stories to narrate a big story. In Reinventing Bach, he tells the story of how Johann Sebastian Bach became in the minds of many people the greatest composer ever. The story Elie tells is less about Bach himself than about the reception and advancement of his music in the 20th century. Bach was nearly forgotten by his immediate musical descendants. He had a brief revival in the 19th century, thanks to the composer Felix Mendelssohn. In the 20th century the polymath Albert Schweit­zer, cellist Pablo Casals, conductor Leo­pold Sto­kow­ski, pianist Glenn Gould and, later, cellist Yo-Yo Ma all had a role in elevating Bach’s status. More than anything, it was the invention of the gram­ophone and subsequent audio devices that gave Bach’s work the recognition it de­served. Elie’s narrative is like a well-crafted oratorio.