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Exploring the World of J.S. Bach: A Traveler's Guide.

Exploring the World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler's Guide. By Robert L. Marshall and Traute M. Marshall. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2016. [xxx, 245 p. ISBN 9780252040313 (cloth), $95; ISBN 9780252081767 (paperback), $29.95; ISBN 9780252098574 (e-book), $26.96.] Maps, photographs, color illustrations, appendix, bibliography, index.

The American Bach Society (ABS) a special publication, Exploring the and the University of Illinois Press World of J. S. Bach: A Traveler's Guide by (UIP) once again collaborate to create Robert L. Marshall and Traute M. Marshall. The need for such a guide arose in 1989 after the collapse of the Socialist government and subsequent reunification of Germany, which prompted a surge in tourism to Bach's homeland and facilitated new discoveries in Bach scholarship and architectural renovations of Bach sites. The new guide simultaneously incorporates these developments and complements the first collaborative special publication of the ABS and UIP (Christoph Wolff and Markus Zepf, The Organs of J. S. Bach: A Handbook, trans. Lynn Edwards Buder [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012]), by blending academic research with tourism information. The result is this academically based travelogue of Bach sites, written in English, that serves both scholars and tourists.

Rarely does one encounter a book whose authors address both the academic community and tourism populace with equal integrity. The Marshalls balance these seemingly disparate groups by focusing on the interest that unites them: the places that circumscribed the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. Working within these physical borders, they break out of literary confines--the book works as a "biography, a reference work, and a tour guide"--in order to create an appropriate intellectual space for their diverse audience (p. x).

Readers will appreciate the clear organization of the book's core material, which is divided into two roughly equal parts. Part 1, "J. S. Bach's Principal Residences," contains eight chapters, each devoted to a town where Bach resided: Eisenach (1685-95), Ohrdruf (1695-1700), Luneburg (1700-1702), Arnstadt (1703-7), Muhlhausen (17078), Weimar (1703, 1708-17), Kothen (1717-23), and Leipzig (1723-50). These chapters are organized chronologically and include accounts of Bach's personal and professional activities in each place. Part 2, "Towns Certainly or Presumably Visited by J. S. Bach," portrays forty-three additional towns that Bach may have had reasons to visit. Here, each entry, ordered alphabetically rather than chronologically, retains two familiar elements from part 1: a description of Bach's professional activities, and landmarks in the town. Part 2, then, increases what we know about Bach and his interactions with places outside of the towns where he resided.

Perusing the pages of part 1, the reader learns about Bach's early "German school" education, his activities as a chorister in Ohrdruf and Luneburg, his extended family in Arnstadt, and his various positions as court and church musician, in which he composed for both secular and sacred occasions. Descriptions of the various musical influences on his developing style permeate the chapter devoted to his Luneburg period (1700-1702). The German, Italian, and French musical attributes that Bach absorbed here while a chorister at the St. Michaeliskloster school, and through his interactions with organist Georg Bohm, would continue to define his compositional style throughout his career as he moved to other locations.

Information about other members of Bach's family and important personages enrich the biographical contents in part 1. In chapter 1, "Eisenach (1685-95)," for example, readers encounter a brief description of Georg Philipp Telemann's activities in Eisenach that alerts them to a stele (erected in 2012) with the inscription, "Here he created the new form of the Protestant church cantata" (p. 5). Travelers to Eisenach to visit the Bach sites might also be on the lookout for this Telemann monument. Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Kothen, figures prominendy in chapter 7, "Kothen (1717-23)," as the "gracious Prince" who employed Bach as Kapellmeister of his court (p. 63). Geographical location becomes a means by which readers learn about the people who inhabited Bach's world.

Information about Bach landmarks, including residences, churches, palaces, schools, town halls, cemeteries, museums, and archives, follows the chapter biographies. Many buildings in Leipzig have been reconstructed in the wake of bombing during World War II; despite the destruction, Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche mercifully survived. These entries also list such events as the still-extant Popperoder Brunnenfest (Popperode Fountain Festival) in Muhlhausen, "a religious feast of thanksgiving for the gift of water," that has been celebrated since 1605 and to which Bach may have contributed music (p. 47). Visitors to Germany may wish to include this festival in their travel itineraries.

Chapters 1, 2, 5, and 6 contain information about "Additional Sites" in the areas described, including Wartburg Castle near Eisenach, where Martin Luther created the first German translation of the New Testament. A concentration camp was erected near Ohrdruf during World War II. Weimar contains many other points of interest for musicians, artists, and writers alike. The Liszt-Haus (Liszt Museum) is there, along with museums dedicated to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. These supplementary entries alert readers to opportunities to visit these important cultural heritage sites in the region.

Should travelers wish to explore areas outside of the principal eight towns where Bach lived most of his life, they should consult part 2, "Towns Certainly or Presumably Visited by J. S. Bach." Bach traveled to these places for mostly professional reasons. In Altenburg, he tested the Trost organ at the Schlosskirche in September 1739 and may have played it during a service. He journeyed to Berlin in 1719 to pick up a Mietke harpsichord purchased by Prince Leopold and transport it to Kothen; during the 1740s, he returned to Berlin to visit his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who served Frederick II, King of Prussia. On a more personal level, we learn that Bach noted in his family genealogy, titled "Origin of the Musical Bach Family," that his great-great-grandfather Veit Bach immigrated from Hungary to Wechmar, which Bach likely visited (p. 190). Through these entries, the Marshalls expand our understanding of Bach the traveler.

Where the authors include towns with a presumable connection to Bach, they detail the extent to which this extrapolation is plausible. For instance, Bach "almost certainly passed through the town of Rotha ... and possibly overnighted there" (p. 102). He had a "tenuous" connection with Bad Berka (p. 103). And finally, "although a visit by Bach to Freiberg is not documented," they write, "he easily could have traveled there" (p. 135). The authors explain that these well-reasoned "conjectures, based on long-standing local tradition, while risky, are not necessarily wrong" (p. x). Informed speculation, carefully used, lends an element of narrative and entertainment value to these entries, even if the evidence that Bach himself visited these towns is scarce or unsubstantiated. They are the kind of stories that one might find in a travel guidebook, prompting expeditions to nearby cities.

Academic scholarship undergirds the text. The Marshalls list pertinent sources at the end of each chapter and further interact with their sources by utilizing in-text citations (e.g., see pp. 44, 66, 106-7). The bibliography, substantial at nine and a half pages, represents the best in Bach scholarship, including works by those authorities we would expect to find in a monograph on Bach.

The authors include other resources that enhance the book by expanding its intellectual boundaries. A plethora of beautiful color photographs, artworks, and maps depict the places that Bach knew. Unfortunately, only four historic maps are included. Present-day maps, while useful, would most likely become outdated far too quickly. Also subject to expiration are the Web site links that direct the reader to online resources. For example, the link (p. xxvi) to Wikipedia's German-only article containing a "richly illustrated description of Leipzig's city gates and their function, history, and architecture" (, while accessible in December 2017, no longer exists (this information is available at [accessed 25 February 2018]). The functioning links add an extra dimension to the reader's involvement with the core text; analog and digital materials work synchronously to create a multimedia experience.

Some readers might quite naturally expect to find descriptions of Bach organs together with the buildings in which they reside, since the instrument and the architecture form an interconnected pair. The authors, however, intentionally omitted these and refer readers instead to The Organs of f. S. Bach: A Handbook, where they are thoroughly treated.

A couple of helpful items in the front matter bear mentioning because they support the book's function as biography, reference, and tour guidebook. The introduction, in particular, orients readers to several important facets of life in Bach's time: state and town organization in Germany, musical life, and travel. An appendix summarizes Bach's travels, complete with a list of "Presumed Way Stations" (pp. 212-14). These elements anchor us in Bach's world by providing the familial, geographical, political, and cultural contexts connected to the buildings and places that Bach knew.

For the academic, student, or aficionado who might not be able to travel to Germany, this resource provides an excellent gateway into the geopolitical world where Bach lived, produced music as performer and director, and composed. For those who visit these Bach sites, the book makes the perfect travel companion. It is succinct yet overflowing with information, and the durable construction of the paperback book, with its glossy cover and pages, will help it weather transport through Thuringia and Saxony. Finally, travelers who wish to remember their own adventures through these regions will find this volume to be a remarkable souvenir.


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Author:Carini, Jaime
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2018
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