John Christian Bach: Mozart's Friend and Mentor.
Because of Johann Christian Bach's compositional versatility and position as a bridge between early and late eighteenth-century musical styles, the appearance of a new biography is attractive. The translation of Heinz Gartner's biography into English by Reinhard Pauly further increases one's anticipation of it. Gartner devotes chapters to Bach's major places of residence: Leipzig, Berlin, Italy, and London; a separate chapter covers his visits to Mannheim. Though unstated, Gartner's goal appears to be the portrayal of the cultural context of Bach's life and relationships without discussion of his music.
In response to significant recent research, Stephen Roe supported a new biography of J. C. Bach as early as 1982 ("J. C. Bach, 1735-1782: Towards a New Biography," Musical Times 123 : 2326). One expects that Gartner's work might have supplanted H. C. Robbins Landon's 1967 revision of Charles Sanford Terry's biography, John Christian Bach (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), but this is not the case. It is disappointing that inadequate research, documentation, and organization of material seriously undermine the book's value to the scholarly community. The title itself erroneously suggests that Bach's primary contribution consists of his role as a teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The dearth of primary sources limits Gartner's contribution of new insights, and he much too frequently resorts to speculation about connections between Bach and contemporaneous events. The valuable hunches contained in numerous statements such as "Quite likely" (p. 33), "may indeed have occurred" (p. 119), and "must have been" (p. 284) might have instead become interesting questions for primary research. The bibliography and preface show that secondary materials are drawn principally from work completed between the turn of the century and the 1960s, which ignores much of the significant scholarship of the last two or three decades. Citations by scholars such as Howard Brofsky, Delores Keahey, Richard Maunder, Roe, Susanne Staral, and others are missing. From this weakened bibliographic foundation, Gartner is unable to provide reliable comments. For example, the author's remarks (on pp. 186-87) about copyright in the eighteenth-century and Bach's impact on that issue remain incomplete (see the article by David Hunter, "Music Copyright in Britain to 1800," Music and Letters 67 : 269-82). Furthermore, the five years between the original's publication and appearance in translation have been time enough for revision incorporating recent research. In the 1989 original, Gartner suggests that the year of the first performance of Lucio Silla occurred in 1774 (p. 306). But Paul Corneilson found in 1992 that Count Andreas von Riaucour in his reports (1769-78) dates the premiere as 5 November 1775 ("Opera at Mannheim, 1770-1778" [Ph.D. dies., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1992], 114-20).
With respect to documentation, it is astounding to find that many, perhaps half, of the quotations throughout the book appear without footnotes. One of the major sources for Padre Martini's letters (Anne Schnoebelen, Padre Martini's Collection of Letters in the Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale in Bologna [New York: Pendragon Press, 19791) receives neither a footnote in chapter 3 nor a place in the bibliography. Additionally, many statements that need documentation are left without it.
The organization of the narrative often lacks a logical flow. Gartner recurrently omits the reason for the inclusion of a particular story and, more important, seldom offers clear evidence for its possible influence on Bach. This is especially critical in the chapters on his Leipzig and Berlin years. For example, the effect of the controversy between Johann Adolf Scheibe and J. S. Bach (pp. 20-25) on the musical development of the then two-year-old J. C. Bach is not satisfactorily explained. Connective links that clearly place the reader in the proper chronological framework are frequently missing. This is particularly disturbing in chapter 3 when the reader is trying to ascertain when Bach began his studies in Italy (pp. 109-15). At the beginning, the author omits discussing the dating problem. The helpful "Chronology". found at the end of the book (pp. 381-90) is no substitute.
Even though much of the material is quite interesting, this book, decidedly derivative and written in a simple style, does not contain the scholarly depth and thoroughness required of a work from which scholars and serious students can profit.
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|Author:||Powers, Doris B.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1996|
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