Notes on Bach

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





All Episodes
Now displaying: Page 1
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






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

Dec 12, 2016

Guest: Dr. Markus Rathey, Assoc. Prof. of Music, Yale University


 This month's "Notes on Bach" episode features Dr. Rathey discussing Bach’s Advent music in its liturgical and historical context, focusing on Advent pieces mentioned in his latest book. Aimed at general audiences, Bach’s Major Vocal Works: Music, Drama, and Liturgy provides musical interpretation drawn from historical and liturgical contexts of some of Bach’s most well-known works. To order go to We also briefly mention his newer book on the Christmas Oratorio, available from Oxford University Press at

Special note to listeners: Markus and I agreed prior to recording that I would use the Anglicized/Americanized pronunciation of his surname, instead of the German pronunciation, to help listeners who might search online for more information on his books to be able to spell his name accurately. 

Nov 9, 2016

November: “Death and J.S. Bach”

As we pass Halloween and All Saints Day and move into the waning of the church year and the calendar year, we’ll hear from Dr. Stephen Crist, Associate Professor of Music at Emory University and Immediate Past President of the American Bach Society, about the many ways that experiences with death saturated the personal life and shaped the professional endeavors of J.S. Bach, perhaps even impacting how we interpret some of his music. View Dr. Crist's bio at

Oct 14, 2016

This October marks the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a historical event so broad and sweeping in its implications that when assessing it in hindsight, we often find it hard to discern historical fact from popular fiction. Listen as Dr. Joseph Herl, Professor of Music at Concordia University, discusses the sometimes-surprising history of Lutheran worship in the two centuries following the Reformation. In the pilot episode of Notes on Bach, he discusses popular misconceptions addressed in his book Worship Wars: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict