Notes on Bach

Monthly conversations with scholars about the life, times, legacy, and music of J.S. Bach. Sponsored by Bach Society Houston.
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Notes on Bach



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Now displaying: 2017
Dec 11, 2017

In this month's episode, we hear from Dr. John Butt, Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow and Director of Edinburgh's Dunedin Consort, about his recorded reconstruction of the 1723 Christmas Day Vespers Service in J.S. Bach's Leipzig. Join us to learn more about the Lutheran Vespers tradition, how Lutherans observed the Advent season and Christmas feast days in 18th-century Germany, and the process of researching and reconstructing an entire church service from several hundred years ago. The album is available from Linn Records in both MP3 and compact disc formats; note that the Linn Records website also includes some free downloadable tracks *not* included on the compact disc. 

Nov 8, 2017

This month, “Notes on Bach” detours off the straight-and-narrow path of music scholarship for a fascinating conversation with New York Times bestselling author Lauren Belfer. Join us to hear Belfer discuss her recent thriller, And After the Fire, about a fictional missing Bach cantata with a very troubling libretto. In the episode, you’ll hear about Belfer’s intensive research process, her evolving relationship with the music of Bach, and her thoughts about some of the novel’s major historical and cultural themes. And After the Fire won a 2016 National Jewish Book Award; Belfer’s other books have received positive reviews in media outlets such as the New Yorker and NPR’s Fresh Air.

 For more information about the historical people, places, and events in And After the Fire, including the author’s Spotify playlist of music mentioned in the book, visit






Mar 29, 2017

This month, Dr. Richard Viladesau, Professor of Theology at Fordham University, helps us understand Baroque Lutheran Passion settings in a broader artistic and cultural context. In this episode, Dr. Viladesau discusses his book book The Pathos of the Cross, which examines how the Passion story was represented in Baroque theology, art, and music, in both Catholic and Protestant contexts. Fans of Bach’s Passions will enjoy hearing about the much larger historical and theological traditions in which these and similar pieces were composed and heard.

Mar 10, 2017

In J.S. Bach's time, Lutherans marked Good Friday--which falls in mid-April this year--with musical settings of the Passion, the story of Jesus's trial and crucifixion drawn from the New Testament gospels. Musical retellings of the Passion are still common in much of the world during Holy Week; as part of this tradition, Bach Society Houston will perform Bach's St. John Passion in April 2017. On this month's episode, Dr. Daniel R. Melamed (click name for bio), Professor of Musicology at Indiana University, joins us to discuss his book Hearing Bach’s Passions (click title to order), focusing especially on St. John. Melamed's book aims to help non-academics better understand the many complicated historical and musical dimensions surrounding the performance and reception of Bach’s Passions. It was recently released by Oxford University Press in an updated paperback edition. 

Jan 28, 2017

Guest: Dr. Ruth Tatlow, Independent Scholar (Sweden): co-founder of Bach Network UK, designer and founder of the open-access journal Understanding Bach, and frequent visiting researcher at the Leipzig Bach Archive.  

 Every year in January, many people attribute deep importance to the notion of a fresh start, triggered by the first day of the first month of a new year—an example of how some cultures still impute psychological significance to numbers. It’s a good time to think about the role that numbers can play in human society, a topic that certainly occupied the scientific, artistic, and theological minds of J.S. Bach’s time. Hear Dr. Tatlow discuss these themes in her book, Bach’s Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance, recently released in paperback. In January 2017, the book was given a prestigious CHOICE award by the American Libraries Association.

 To order the book, visit