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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Jan 6, 2022

To kick off Season 6 of “Notes on Bach,” we hear from musicologist and BBC radio host Dr. Hannah French about how conductor Sir Henry Wood, long associated with the BBC Proms, shaped Bach reception in twentieth-century England. Her book, Sir Henry Wood, Champion of J.S. Bach, was recently published by Boydell and Brewer. For more, check out “Henry and Seb,” Dr. French’s podcast miniseries on the book. 

Image above: Wood’s final conducting score of J.S. Bach, Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor: For Orchestra, orch. Henry J. Wood [Klenovsky] (London: Oxford University Press, 1934), p. 39. Property of Dr. Hannah French.   



Jul 1, 2021

Rose Musical Authorship book

Bach Society Houston is grateful to the American Bach Society for sponsoring this episode.

In our final episode of the season, we hear from Dr. Stephen Rose, Professor of Music at Royal Holloway University of London, about his recent book, Musical Authorship from Schütz to Bach (soon available in paperback). Dr. Rose joins us to discuss how people in early modern Lutheran Germany thought about musical creativity, authorship, and ownership in economic, cultural, theological, and philosophical terms.



May 27, 2021

Goodman Cultivated by Hand Cover

On June 6, 2021, Bach Society Houston will present a concert called “Music in the Americas at the Time of Bach," which can be streamed online. The concert’s theme—“eighteenth-century music” outside the European geographical context and repertoire typically implied by the term—might raise questions for BSH audiences. Our episode today will explore some of those questions with Dr. Glenda Goodman, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Cultivated By Hand: Amateur Musicians in the Early American Republic (Oxford University Press). Dr. Goodman joins us to discuss how her book—and concerts like the one I just mentioned—can help us consider, and then expand, some of our assumptions, definitions, and labels around European-derived music during Bach's lifetime and in the generation or two following him.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Image from an 18th-century American music notebook at Dr. Goodman’s website

“Notes on Bach” episodes with Dr. Andrew Talle about his book Beyond Bach and the Anna Magdalena notebooks

Vast Early America episode of the history podcast “Ben Franklin’s World,” featuring Dr. Karin Wulf and other scholars

Dr. Candace Bailey, Unbinding Gentility: Women Making Music in the Nineteenth-Century South (University of Illinois Press)

May 3, 2021

This episode is generously sponsored by the American Bach Society (ABS), which supports the study, performance, and appreciation of the music of J.S. Bach in the U.S. and Canada. The ABS produces publications and a video lecture-concert series, sponsors conferences, and offers research grants and prizes. Information on membership, open to all, is available here.

This month we hear from Dr. Christina Fuhrmann about the history, mission, activities, personnel, and holdings of the Riemenschneider Bach Institute (RBI) at Baldwin-Wallace University, which recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The RBI houses rare sources related to J. S. Bach, his family, and contemporaries; historical reference materials; scores; recordings; and sources related to other noted figures in Western classical music. The Institute also sponsors conferences and performances, supports and collaborates with scholars at many career stages, and publishes musical editions and research. Dr. Fuhrmann is editor of the journal BACH, the RBI's important English-language journal, and gives us an inside look at the workings of a key site for Bach studies in the United States.

In our conversation, Dr. Fuhrmann references some virtual exhibits that indicate the breadth of the RBI's holdings:

1) RBI librarian Paul Cary’s virtual exhibit on the manuscript copy of the Well-Tempered Clavier, in the hand of Bach’s student H. N. Gerber, and

2) Dr. Fuhrmann's class’s virtual exhibit on Classical and Romantic era items at the RBI.



Mar 25, 2021

In this episode, Dr. Bettina Varwig of Cambridge University joins us to discuss a wide range of Bach-related topics, starting with Cantata BWV 131 (Aus der Tiefen rufe ich), which Bach Society Houston will present in a streamed Passiontide concert later this month (March 2021). We also hear about Dr. Varwig's recent research into how Bach’s Leipzig congregants listened to his cantatas in ways that differ from the “attentive listening” model now associated with Western classical music culture. The conversation concludes with a preview of the essay collection Rethinking Bach, which Dr. Varwig is currently editing for Oxford University Press.

Read more about Dr. Varwig here.

Instrumentation, text and translation(s), and additional resources for BWV 131 can be found here and here

Stream Bach Society Houston's Passiontide Vespers performance of BWV 131 and other works on March 28, 2021, at their webpage or Facebook page.

Audio example used in episode is from an archived Bach Society Houston performance of BWV 131.




Feb 17, 2021

Cover of OUP Bach biography

In this month's episode, we hear from noted scholar and harpsichordist Dr. David Schulenberg of Wagner College. He joins us to discuss his new biography of Bach, recently published by Oxford University Press. We'll hear about the process of researching and writing this kind of book--including challenges and surprises--as well as why we need an updated biography of this formidable subject.

We also draw on aspects of Dr. Schulenberg's new biography to discuss J.S. Bach's Violin Sonatas and Partitas, which Bach Society Houston will perform in Spring 2021. Listeners will hear about the historical context and notable stylistic features of these six works, aspects of which Dr. Schulenberg helps us hear by playing excerpts of his own harpsichord transcriptions.

For more about Dr. Schulenberg, including recordings and scholarship, visit here. For Bach Society Houston's upcoming concerts, including Bach's complete solo violin works which you can stream beginning in late February, visit here.

Nov 30, 2020

Earlier in November, Bach Society Houston performed works from the two Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks; you can watch the concert here. These notebooks, which originated in 1722 and 1725, respectively, were owned by Anna Magdalena Bach, J.S. Bach’s second wife. These two manuscript collections contain keyboard and vocal works of varying levels of complexity, composed by multiple people and entered into the notebooks by different scribes, including Anna Magdalena herself. In our own time, some of the more elementary pieces in the books are still well-known as teaching pieces for piano students. The notebooks are one of the few surviving sources related to Anna Magdalena Bach, who has been the subject of research, conjecture, devotion and fiction across centuries and continents. With us to talk about Anna Magdalena's musical and domestic life, her Notebooks and other sources related to her, and how we know what we think we know about her is Dr. Andrew Talle. Dr. Talle is Associate Professor of Musicology at Northwestern University and a scholar of music and society in eighteenth-century Germany. He is author of the book Beyond Bach: Music and Everyday Life in the Eighteenth Century. Stay tuned at the end of the interview to hear more about his new research into popular music in the Leipzig of Bach's time.

Apr 30, 2020

To finish Season 4, we hear from Dr. Erin Lambert, Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She joins us to talk about her book, Singing the Resurrection: Body, Community, and Belief in Reformation Europe, published by Oxford University Press. Our conversation covers how the Reformation fragmented late medieval belief about the body, resurrection, and community into a kaleidoscope of differing confessional notions which then found expression in song. We also talk about Erin’s research process and where her book fits with, and how it interrogates, existing Reformation historiography.

Singing the Resurrection Book

Mar 14, 2020

This month, we're diving into the world of Jewish salon culture in late-18th- and early-19th-century Berlin, a setting where women such as Sara Levy shaped the transmission and reception of Bach family music. Our guest on this episode is early music scholar and performer Dr. Rebecca Cypess, who joins us to discuss new research about Sara Levy in the book Sara Levy's World along with two related recordings by the Raritan Players: In Sara Levy's Salon and Sisters, Face to Face: The Bach Legacy in Women's Hands. Together, these projects provide new perspectives on the complicated musical and cultural agency of a notable upper-class Jewish woman in Enlightenment Germany.

Jan 17, 2020

If you can identify the sound of the harpsichord but know very little about its history and performance practice, this is the episode for you. Join us as Mark Kroll, internationally-known harpsichordist, noted scholar, and Emeritus Professor of Music at Boston University, tells us about a comprehensive new book on the harpsichord, the Cambridge Companion to the Harpsichord. Kroll edited the collection, which includes essays covering various national/geographical harpsichord traditions, key composers for the instrument, and 20th-century harpsichord music. Houston listeners who plan on attending Bach Society Houston's upcoming concert of Bach's Concertos, which includes the harpsichord showpiece Brandenburg No. 5, will be especially interested in this episode. 

Dec 6, 2019

People often hear the pipe organ more in December than in other months, thanks to the profusion of Christmas-centered church services and concerts. Here to give us a "crash course" on this mighty instrument--its anatomy and its history in various geographical regions--is noted U.S. organ consultant, restorer, and builder John Bishop, owner of John Bishop Organ Consultation. He is also the Executive Director of the Organ Clearing House, whose mission is to "rehome" unused or unwanted organs. Additionally, John writes a monthly column for the organ journal The Diapason 

Other organ resources, including videos of historic organs that John selected for us: 

Gwendolyn Toth plays Scheidemann on the 1457 organ at Rysum
Visit to the oldest organ in Holland, Oosthuizen, 1521
Considered the oldest organ in the world, Sion Switzerland, 1390. This one is especially charming because Guy Bovet playing the music of Haydn (1730-1809). The organ is nearly 400 years older than the music.

Vox Humana, a web magazine of current organ research/trends



Nov 13, 2019

This month, we hear from Dr. Tanya Kevorkian, Associate Professor of History at Millersville University. She joins us to discuss her research into sacred and secular musical life in Baroque Germany and helps us understand Bach's place in the complex social hierarchies that ordered early modern Germany. Our wide-ranging conversation covers two of Dr. Kevorkian's books: Baroque Piety: Religion, Society, and Music in Leipzig, 1650-1750 and Weddings, Rumbles, and Tower Guards: Music and Urban Life in Baroque Germanyforthcoming in 2021 from the University of Virginia Press


Sep 30, 2019

Book cover, J.S. Bach in Australia

To kick off our 2019-2020 Notes on Bach season, we hear from Dr. Samantha Owens, Professor of Musicology at Victoria University Wellington. She joins us to discuss a recent collection of essays that she co-edited, J.S. Bach in Australia: Studies in Reception and Performance, available from Lyrebird Press/University of Melbourne in paperback or as an e-book

In the episode, we talk about how European colonists and immigrants spread Bach's music to Australia. We hear about some of the people and institutions who helped create a uniquely Australian Bach culture, along with challenges they faced in mounting performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and B Minor Mass in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Dr. Owens also tells us about the current robust early music scene in Australia, including organizations such as the Australian Bach Society and the Orchestra of the Antipodes. If you've never thought much about Bach performance and reception outside of a European geographical context, this episode is for you!

May 1, 2019

In our final episode for Spring 2019, we have a wide-ranging conversation with Dr. Daniel R. Melamed, Professor of Musicology at Indiana University, about his latest book, Listening to Bach: The Mass in B Minor and the Christmas Oratorio

Click here to hear a previous Notes on Bach interview with Dr. Melamed about his book Hearing Bach’s Passions.


Mar 11, 2019

This month we’ll be hearing about Bach’s so-called Calov Bible, a rare surviving example of the composer’s once-robust theological library and, for many scholars, a window into Bach’s life and work. Joining us to discuss the Calov Bible is Dr. Robin Leaver, one of the first scholars to extensively explore Bach’s copy of what is really a three-volume German theological commentary built largely on Martin Luther’s writings. Dr. Leaver is author of numerous books and articles about Bach, theology, and Lutheranism. He is Emeritus Professor at Westminster Choir College and, until recently, Visiting Professor at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

More Resources:

Click here to read about, or order, the Calov Bible Commentary facsimile published last year.

Read more about Dr. Leaver’s book J.S. Bach and Scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary.

For an accessible and recent example of how one noted Bach scholar has used the Calov Bible to interpret aspects of Bach’s biography, read this New York Times article by Michael Marissen.

For more about Dr. Leaver’s background and academic career, check out this 2017 interview.

For more images from the original volumes, visit the webpage of Concordia Seminary, where the Calov Bible has resided since the 1930s. (Image of title page of Bach's Calov Bible Commentary, below, courtesy of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.)

Feb 27, 2019

On this month’s episode, we hear from Dr. Mary Oleskiewicz, Professor of Music at the University of Massachussetts-Boston and prize-winning scholar and flute performer of eighteenth-century music. She joins us to talk about Bach’s musical sons and recent research on them that appears in the new volume of essays she edited, J.S. Bach and His Sons. We also hear about her own essay in the book, a research project that reconstructs data about the keyboard instruments and music rooms in the palaces of Frederick the Great, yielding new perspectives on the Prussian king’s musical relationships with members of the Bach family.

Resources mentioned in the show include the web companion to Dr. Oleskiewicz’s research in the essay collection and her recording of 18th-century flute music at Frederick’s summer palace, Sanssouci. For more about Mary’s recordings and research, visit her website.


Dec 18, 2018

This month, we hear from noted Bach scholar and Artistic Director of Bachfest Leipzig, Michael Maul. Join us for a wide-ranging conversation about Maul's book, Bach's Famous Choir, now available in English. We talk about where Bach fit into the eight-century history of the St. Thomas School and how Maul's book helps us understand Bach's time in Leipzig in new ways.

Image result for bach's famous choir

Oct 30, 2018

This month, Dr. Andrew Talle, Associate Professor of Musicology at Northwestern University, tells us about his new book Beyond Bach: Music and Everyday Life in the Eighteenth Century. A former Gilman Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University, Talle’s research focuses on musical culture at the time of J.S. Bach.

Join us to hear about everyday music-making in 18th-century Germany, including the social power of keyboard culture, how gender and class determined musical opportunities, serious vs. frivolous music, and what "regular folks" thought about the music of J.S. Bach--if they thought about it at all! 

Oct 9, 2018

To kick off Season 3 of "Notes on Bach," Dr. Jeff Sposato joins us to discuss his new book Leipzig After Bach: Church and Concert Life in a German City. Listeners will hear about Leipzig's musical life in the century after Bach's death as well as Sposato’s reconstruction of the 1817 mass at Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Reformation. Bach Society Houston will perform the reconstruction later this month. Sposato is a Fulbright scholar who has published books and articles on nineteenth-century European music and culture. Sposato is Professor of Musicology and Director of Graduate Studies at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston.

Apr 18, 2018

Join us this month as we hear from Robert and Traute Marshall, co-authors of a new book about Bach Country called Exploring the World of J.S. Bach: A Traveler's Guide. Whether you're planning a trip to Germany or just dreaming about one, you'll enjoy hearing about the Marshalls' many trips to Germany, Bach's relationships with cities such as Leipzig and Dresden, and--as always--the ever-evolving nature of Bach studies. Robert Marshall, a prominent Bach scholar, is Sachar Professor Emeritus of Music at Brandeis University, and Traute Marshall is a translator and author of a guidebook to New England art museums. Exploring the World of J.S. Bach: A Traveler's Guide is available as a paperback, hardcover, or e-book from the University of Illinois Press or Amazon. Listeners, please let Notes on Bach how we're doing by taking our brief survey, and make sure to tune back in this fall for Season 3 of Notes on Bach

Mar 9, 2018

The annual approach to Passion season and Holy Week affords a timely opportunity to consider how the theological context of 18th-century Lutheranism informs Bach's music. This month, we hear from one of the world's foremost Bach scholars who works on this topic: Dr. Michael Marissen, Daniel Underhill Professor Emeritus of Music at Swarthmore College. Michael is a popular public speaker and author of numerous scholarly books and articles along with pieces for the New York Times (click here for a more recent Times article on Bach's Calov Bible) and Huffington Post. Our wide-ranging conversation covers his recent book, Bach and God (published in 2016 by Oxford University Press), the evolving nature of Bach studies, the relationship between early Lutheranism and Judaism, and the tricky (but intellectually necessary) process of attempting to interpret Bach's music relative to the Lutheran theological tradition that he inherited and in which he composed. 

Jan 22, 2018

In this month's episode, we hear from Dr. Matthew Dirst, Professor of Music at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music and founder and Artistic Director of Ars Lyrica Houston, a Grammy-nominated early music ensemble. Matthew gives us a crash course in 18th-century keyboard culture and some insight into his recent role as editor of Bach and the Organ, a collection of essays published by the University of Illinois Press. You'll also hear about Matthew's latest research project, a reconstruction of BWV 1052 and 1053--which most listeners think of as harpsichord concertos--for organ. Look for Matthew's album of these reconstructed organ concertos to come out on Loft Recordings later in 2018.

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






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