A new ABS concert season is nearly upon us. Are you ready? With a focus on the music of Bach and Handel, ABS will present multiple opportunities in 2015-16 to explore the musical richness and beauty achieved by these masters. Few get to experience each of J.S. Bach’s three oratorios in live performance, but ABS will present this trio of exuberant works during the same season (“Christmas Oratorio” on December 12; “Easter Oratorio” and “Ascension Oratorio” in April 2016)! Another great oratorio, by Bach’s contemporary George Frideric Handel, will be performed in Grace Cathedral on three evenings in December (Messiah, December 16-18). There will also be cantatas and works for violin by Bach in January, a wonderful Handel program featuring his great choral ode, Alexander’s Feast, in February, an organ recital by Jonathan Dimmock to celebrate Bach’s Birthday in March, and Easter and Feast of the Ascension works by Buxtehude and Kuhnau to complement the Bach oratorios for those occasions in April.
With so much great music to come, we compiled a list of new, recent, and recommended resources for you to enjoy before the season gets rolling. If you have Bach or Handel books that you would like to recommend, please let us know on Facebook or on Twitter.
Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner. This was on the list two years ago when it was first released, but this impressive book is now available in paperback for under $20. It is a fascinating look at the life and work of J.S. Bach with a decided emphasis on the sacred vocal works; his cantatas, passions, and masses. While Maestro Gardiner’s close connection with the music of Bach as a performer comes across, the scholarship and readability of this book are really what make it so rewarding. Highly recommended!
George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends by Ellen T. Harris. This 2014 book examines the composer through a trail of documents from his lifetime including his will, letters, diaries, and other sources left by his intimates. The author’s focus on Handel’s private life and her synthesis of the details found in the existing primary sources provide a bold approach to relating his biography. Also recommended (and much harder to find) is Handel: A Documentary Biography by Otto Erich Deutsch. From 1955, this book is an invaluable resource for any Handelian as it provides contemporary newspaper reviews and criticism, extracts from letters, a chronological arrangement, and a useful index. Long out of print, this book should be reissued, but until then it must be tracked down in used book stores or at online sites like Abebooks (I found mine at the San Francisco Public Library books sale at Fort Mason Center).
The Modern Castrato by Patricia Howard. A new study about the famous castrati singers with an emphasis on superstar opera singer Gaetano Guadagni. A favorite artist of Handel, the composer rewrote parts of Messiah to feature Guadagni’s singular abilities. The famous castrato went on to create roles in many important operatic works including Gluck’s revolutationary Orfeo ed Euridice.
John Dryden: The Major Works edited by Keith Walker. The poetry, plays, and essays of John Dryden are no longer part of the core English curriculum in schools, but they continue to be a rich and rewarding body of work. For several decades now, Dryden has been hiding in plain site; the time is ripe for a new biography of England’s highly accomplished man of letters. Before attending ABS’s February presentations of Handel’s setting of the Dryden ode Alexander’s Feast, it is worth reading the original poem. While you’re at it, why not dive a little further into the man’s writings? Like the works of Alexander Pope, Dryden’s razor-sharp wit and elegant style reward those who seeks him out.
OTHER NEW (ISH) BOOKS
Capturing Music: The Story of Notation by Thomas Forrest Kelly. For those who are curious about musical innovation, Mr. Kelly’s book is an erudite exploration of this most basic element of the musical art: the system for transferring an aural phenomena into a permanent and visual one so that it might be reproduced and “heard” by later generations.
Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. This is a classic work by the author of The Man Who Mistook his Wife For a Hat and Awakenings who will long be remembered for his writings about the human mind. Sacks had a gift for examining a specific subject with strange, humorous, or eccentric examples that often lead to a deeper understanding of broad, underlying truth. Like biologist Stephen Jay Gould, Sacks is both enlightening and fun to read. In light of his recent passing (August 2015), there is no better time to revisit this work about music and the mind by the great Oliver Sacks.
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