“Reinventing Bach” by Paul Elie

George Ives was the father of the eminent American composer Charles Ives. The seeds of Charles Ives’ experimental tendencies were planted by his father, a curious mind in his own right. One story in particular has Ives the senior organizing two marching bands far away from each other. Playing music in different keys, he then had the two bands march towards a center, creating all sorts of harmonious dissonances.

One could call George Ives an inventor in the rhetorical sense, presenting an idea (dissonance achieved by two different keys) and taking it towards further development (two marching bands).

Invention has its roots in a composer whose chorales George Ives copied in his early studies: Johann Sebastian Bach.

This volume is an invention on the inventions on the inventions of Bach. Put in another way, Elie presents the idea of others developing on the ideas of Bach in relation to technological and historical milestones.

The task is akin to Ives’ marching band experiment: at one end is the sober, generous, god-fearing Bach and the opposite pole is a motley crew of 20th century musicians and thinkers: from Glenn Gould and Walter Benjamin to Pablo Casals and Walt Disney. And what sound and fury as the bands march towards each other! Bach and modernity weave together in an unprecedentedly astounding and confounding counterpoint.

At the helm of such an invention, our author is like George Ives, poetically enthusiastic in an undertaking that is beautifully unlike any biography.


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