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Bach and the High Baroque  By  cover art

Bach and the High Baroque

By: Robert Greenberg,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Professor Robert Greenberg Ph.D. University of California Berkeley
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Publisher's Summary

Though unappreciated in his own time, Johann Sebastian Bach has ascended to Olympian heights, the verdict of contemporary audiences long since overruled by succeeding generations of music lovers. But what makes his music great? In this series of 32 lectures, a working composer and musicologist brings his exceptional teaching skills to the task of helping you hear the extraordinary sweep of Bach's music. You'll understand the compositional language that enabled him to compose such extravagant, unbridled music while still maintaining precise control of every aspect - beat, melody, melodic repetition, interaction, and harmony. Whether devoted admirer or casual listener, you'll gain a new appreciation of the composer and a heightened skill at listening to his work.

You begin by learning the musical traditions and composers that inspired Bach, and how he absorbed those influences to become the transcendent composer of the High Baroque, more representative of the period and its aesthetic of emotional extravagance and technical control than any other. And you'll learn how both his German Lutheran heritage and family background - at least 42 relatives professionally involved with music - helped shape him as an artist.

Above all, though, you experience an abundance of music, with Professor Greenberg highlighting his discussions by playing major excerpts from several of Bach's most important works - including the Brandenburg Concerto no. 2, the Goldberg Variations, and the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - and also showing you how to compare Bach with other composers both before and after his time.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©1995 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1995 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Bach and the High Baroque

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Bach Treasure Box Opened by a True Enthusiast

If you could sum up Bach and the High Baroque in three words, what would they be?

Apart from one or two Toccata and Fugues, I really could not "hear" Bach. Professor Robert Greenberg has enabled me hear Bach's music, and has turned me into a Bach enthusiast. Professor Greenberg is a gifted lecturer who imparts both knowledge and enthusiasm for his subject. He is also a charismatic lecturer. I am so glad the Great Courses have been added to Audible. They are not only educational, they make a refreshing change from current fiction of all genres, which for the most part has become predictable and mostly uninteresting.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Johann Sebastian Bach, because of his prodigious talent and productivity. Bach's life is a clear demonstration that genius can be applied to the demands of the workaday life.

Which character – as performed by Professor Robert Greenberg – was your favorite?

Professor Robert Greenberg himself as the lecturer. He combines depth of knowledge with enthusiasm and a polished presentation style. Always interesting.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, but it is way to long, and the subject matter to meaty to be listened to in a single sitting. This is an audio product that I will listen to over and over again.

Any additional comments?

I plan to use my upcoming credits on more lectures by Dr. Greenberg. Fiction has become too boring.

32 people found this helpful

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Changed my life--better than my college courses

Would you listen to Bach and the High Baroque again? Why?

Absolutely. Not only do I get to enjoy my favorite Bach pieces, but I get to learn about Bach, his background, the baroque era and musical styles and theories. And: with the help of modern technology, I get to listen to this superb course while gardening or performing household chores. I listened first to this course over stereo bluetooth headphones or speakers and that inspired me to order cables to run the sound through my Bose systems so I can listen wherever I am. I have already repeated many sections just because I enjoy the music and the professor's discussion so much that I hate to move on and want the course to last as long as possible.

What other book might you compare Bach and the High Baroque to and why?

The obvious comparison would be other books in the The Great Courses series, either the broader survey courses or the specific genre courses (symphony, concert, jazz, etc). There are not that many books that offer both music samples as well as discussions about the music, composer, and the background of both.

What does Professor Robert Greenberg bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His enthusiasm, sense of humor, examples, but most of all, his judicious selection of music samples and detailed discussed of the samples. He is very down to earth and has a very pleasant voice.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I thought I had died and gone to heaven within the first few minutes of listening. My favorite music, favorite composer, great sound, and a friendly, intelligent voice to discuss it all. This is the most worthwhile book credit I ever used.

Any additional comments?

I can't wait to proceed with the Great Courses series.

23 people found this helpful

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Depth and Entertainment

I am only 25% in and I have to write a short review. If you have even a passing interest in Bach, this will magnify your enjoyment of the music! I can tell this is going to be one of my favorite non fiction listens in 5 years of Audible.

16 people found this helpful

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The WordScore Study Guide is now available!

Any additional comments?

When Audible first listed The Teaching Company Great Courses, many reviewers lamented (or complained) that the Study Guides were not included. I was just grateful to at least have these wonderful college-level courses for audio download through Audible.

Now the Study Guides are included in PDF format, making a great deal even greater! Thanks Audible and The Teaching Company!

13 people found this helpful

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Everything I was looking for, and more

What did you love best about Bach and the High Baroque?

Professor Greenberg's able, lucid explanations of the components of various Bach pieces and why they are so brilliant, actually allowing us to hear the brilliance for ourselves.Also, that I was able to hear so many wonderful pieces of the Baroque era (and some Renaissance pieces for contrast) with an expert to show me their beauty.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Bach and the High Baroque?

1. Hearing Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the most famous piece he wrote--often played in movies, in an unfortunate stereotype, by a villain at a giant pipe organ) and understanding EXACTLY why it is SO thrilling to hear and will last for time immemorial. 2. Listening through the St. Matthew Passion with an expert's guidance--especially the turba choruses ("Let him be crucified!"). I've never had a piece of music--sans video--move me so much.3. Understanding the genius of the Goldberg variations. WOW. So much to learn there. Unending implications and aspects....

Which scene was your favorite?

Gotta be the whole section on the Toccata in D Minor as mentioned above. This was the first time I EVER felt like I understood an indescribably beautiful piece of music as it was meant to be understood. Priceless!!!!

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Oh, boy, I would have loved to! But it took me three weeks, I think.

Any additional comments?

Greenberg is a tremendous professor. That's an understatement. He repeats things just enough times so you don't forget, but not to a discomforting level. He's got a great sense of humor. He's got an easy voice to listen to. He uses words carefully but easily. Awesome guy for this course. He's got 10 or so others in The Great Courses that I look forward to hearing eventually as well.

6 people found this helpful

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Love this series

While I enjoyed these Bach lectures, I didn't like them as much as the Stravinsky and Shostakovich lectures by Greenberg because of a surfeit of Music 101. There were times when I wish he would have said, "Anyone who ever took Music Theory and got a C+ or better can skip to the next lecture." But I guess when you're talking about Bach you can't assume everyone knows how a fugue works or what secondary dominants are or how many strings are on a violin. In spite of all that, Greenberg's presentation of the Goldberg Variations was fabulous, and I will listen to those four lectures again. Greenberg is a charming lecturer, and you want to invite him over for beers and small talk about Bartók.

6 people found this helpful

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A brilliant course

Oh Bach! How have I been able to live without your music until now. Thanks to prof. Greenberg for his informative, passionate and moving explanations of Bach's work. Just like Bach's music itself, this course is a timeless performance.

4 people found this helpful

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Very entertaining and informative

Not sure "performance" is a correct description. This was an excellent course. I've done Teaching Company courses in the past, and the audiobook format is a winner. Professor Greenberg is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and just plain fun. I highly recommend this course if you are interested in the subject.

3 people found this helpful

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Understanding Bach

Is there anyone else out there who like me has always appreciated Bach's music? I consider Bach one of the absolutely best classical composers (alongside Beethoven), and his music has always inspired me and provided great satisfaction.

If you have that background, this is really something for you. The courses are insprining and the narrator is enthusiastic about his topic, and he knows it very well. I advise you to listen one course at the time, then listen to some Bach music in between and then go on to the next course. If you try to take in all at the same time, it will be too much.

One thing that bugs me, however, is that professor Greenberg does not know how to pronounce Bach's name, at least not to a listener who like me speaks German. His consistent incorrect (=American) pronounciation ("Bock") could lead to the wrong conclusion that the good professor does not know what he is talking about. But he does and he is good at it, even though his German is deplorable (his Italian and French are possibly worse). A little language exercise: try to figure out who the composers "Wiwolde" and "Cooperand" are? (That is the way these baroque composers names are pronounced in this book).

So a really good course is tainted by bad language. However, if you can live with that, don't hesitate to buy this.

2 people found this helpful

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The Bach-Meister

I don’t play an instrument. I can’t read music. And, frankly, some of the technical discussion here went by me like the details of rigging and navigation in an Aubrey/Maturin novel.

Be that as it may, what I got out of these lectures far outweighs the stuff I missed. Professor Greenberg gives us a comprehensive understanding of the entire cultural sea change we call the Baroque, with special emphasis on the man whose music exemplifies that period. So, I understand what Baroque music evolved from, that Bach was the lucky inheritor of a newly established, rationalized, soon-to-be universal musical notation system, of new, highly perfected instruments, of a Lutheran theology that informed his music and gave that music a stage, both in and out of church. And much, much more. I even know how to pronounce Dietrich Buxtehude’s last name.

On top of that, Professor Greenberg is a joy to listen to. His intense love for his subject doesn’t preclude playfulness and humor – I got my title from one of his quips. Yeah, he’s a self-confessed secular humanist, but unlike many secular humanists, it doesn’t stand in the way of his appreciation of religious art. And his outline of the Reformation is about the best brief, even-handed explanation of that concatenation of theology, intellectual ferment, nascent nationalism, and power politics as I’ve ever come across.

1 person found this helpful

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  • StuartGreg
  • 11-13-18

Exceptional series of lectures!

Surely one of the problems with having a series of lectures which centre around my most favourite of all composers, J.S. Bach, lies in being able to judiciously select only a very small number of pieces from his vast output in such a way as is skillful enough to allow thorough expansive illumination of each of the most vital aspects of the composer's multifaceted art......Prof Greenberg succeeds in doing this over all of the 32 chapters contained in this series. Even as an avid fan of Bach's of over twenty years (although admittedly a musical layman in most respects), I learned so many new things from every single lecture.....Most surprising of all for me perhaps (speaking as one who is intimately familiar with a great deal of Bach's cantatas and other sacred works) was the Professor's emphasis on how much opera was a genre that influenced Bach's style; this point is repeatedly reiterated, not just during the lectures surrounding the St Matthew Passion where the fact would seem most obvious, but throughout practically all the other lectures also......I defy most people to once again claim that Bach "cannot be dramatic" after having listened to all of these lectures.

My only reservation about this presentation is that occasionally the delivery extends beyond being one emanating from the perspective of an obviously deeply admiring (even at times awestruck) narrator and begins to spill over into an over-abundance of effusive (in places almost cloying) displays of enthusiasm, with slightly jarring uses of humour and levity and flights of fancy from the narrator's own imagination which sometimes serve to add little in the way of useful information, and which (at least from the perspective of this humble reviewer) did begin to grate in places.

All in all, though, this is a deeply rewarding set.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Maddy
  • 08-21-18

Fascinating

As someone with a love of Bach and baroque music but no musical training, this was a revelation although it was hard to follow at times - but I didn't use the accompanying PDF which would have it more comprehensible and memorable I'm sure. That I can't remember so much is a comment on my memory and the amount of information, not on the delivery. Prof Greenberg's chummy delivery and American pronunciation grated at times - but I listened from beginning to end, was held throughout and could listen again - despite the irritations. Excellent.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Fleurie
  • 04-26-17

Like listening to Woody Allen on Bach!

Fantastic, scintillating listen-such fun! Every lecture packed with treasures. Highly entertaining; favourite Audible purchase ever!

3 people found this helpful

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  • emrys
  • 09-20-19

First Class.

What can I say ? These lectures have been truly inspiring.They have transformed, for me, the Baroque in a way that has been exciting and informative. As a result I have bought many CD's of the works studied - unusual for me.
As for the narrator, I wish I had enjoyed him as a tutor at university - I am sure my knowledge of music would have been far more profound. He has made the subject of the Baroque LIVE in a way I have never experienced hitherto.

Truly one of the best series of lectures I have ever experienced.

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  • Rob Sedgwick
  • 09-04-18

Odd Balance

Robert Greenberg spends about 8 lectures setting the scene before he plays anything by Bach. From what I remember Bach hardly gets a mention in lectures 2-5! He then rushes through Bach's early life and spends ages on the St Massion Passion and Goldberg Variations. I actually thought he covered Bach better (and more briefly) in "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music".

Even the title is a bit confusing. The course is about Bach, who happened to live in the High Baroque. But everyone else who gets a mention is incidental to Bach's story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Muzak
  • 11-07-22

Deep dive into Bach and Baroque music.

Having heard numerous lectures by Prof Greenberg, this is possibly the best so far. Over 31 hours of knowledge and love for music have been poured into this series by the author. By putting Bach’s music in context and through rigorous analysis, we start to get a grasp its depth and profundity. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  • Tatiana Svetlova
  • 10-17-22

Highly recommended

What a fantastic course and I loved all the musical analysis and detailed historical background. Animated, not a dull moment and truly erudite rendition of the material

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  • John
  • 11-26-21

Inspired and inspiring

This is teaching at its absolute best - to the point where I wish I could go back in time and major in Music.

Several things lift this into the sublime... (i) Apart from Greenberg's obvious breadth and depth of knowledge, he has a thoroughly infectious passion for Bach's music that can't help but transmit itself. (ii) He's a natural teacher with a knack for getting to the core of things in a few pithy sentences, combined with a brilliant sense of humour (iii) The musical examples embedded in the book.

As a Bach (and classical music) newbie, the whole package is an exhilarating trip which leaves me listening with a dumb grin on my face.

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  • Henry Rumble-De-Bump
  • 01-02-21

Highly informative and accessible

Really easy to follow. All explainations clear. Now have much deeper understanding of Bach's music.

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  • D. Oneill
  • 11-26-20

Don't hesitate ...

Add this to you Audible library and prepare to be enchanted, amazed and moved at the glory of Bach's music, the challenges that he overcame to write it, the incredible intellectual and emotional skills he employed to compose it, the playful and profound patterns and messages he concealed within in, and the historical jeopardy faced by his manuscripts to reach us today. Sadly, not all of his music survived. Bach was mortal but his music is not. This course celebrates his life and reserves the mourning for the music that has been lost. Overall, the course is uplifting. Even though I already enjoyed the music of Bach and was aware of many aspects of its ingenuity, this course has changed the way that I listen to it.

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  • jude_s
  • 04-17-19

This book Bachs up the right tree

This is narrated by Professor Robert Greenberg, an American teacher, composer and academic whose passion for classical music is deserving of a cult following. He provides a deep insight into JSB the man, who hated teaching Latin during his time as Kappellmeister to the extent that he paid someone to get out of it, who spent time in jail because of a work dispute and who was hugely Lutheran but wrote a raunchy cantata about a father's struggle with his rebelious and coffee-obsessed teenage daughter.

I learnt lots about Bach's music, including the amazing St Matthew Passion and of course the Goldberg Variations (which I listened to while en route in the air). I also loved Professor Greenberg's dissection of his Fugue in C minor. This is a great introduction to Bach. It humanises the mind beneath the wig and explores the historical, religious and societal forces that converged to produce the music and the man.

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  • Karen
  • 04-27-14

Entertaining and informative

Where does Bach and the High Baroque rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I choose this as I have little music knowledge and wanted to understand more about Bach music. I was surprised about how much I enjoyed these lectures. They were basic enough for me to understand only loosing me a couple of times, they gave me great insight into now only Bach and his music, but the era in which he worked. The lecturer Robert Greenberg was passionate and knowledgeable, surprising funny and was able to convey some of the complex musical issues in a way I could understand and follow. I would recommend this to other listeners. Karen

2 people found this helpful

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  • Reuben Schwarz
  • 07-06-18

fantastic music course

fascinating insight into Bach's life and music. highlight was the Goldberg variations discussion. so much going on I wasn't aware of.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Dirk Bertels
  • 09-02-17

Great analysis of Bach's music

Any additional comments?

Prof. Greenberg is a great performer himself - passionate and knowledgeable. He does an extensive analysis on a narrow but vital selection of Bach's music. Not being keen on opera and recitative, he managed to warm me to it in the St Mathew Passion, and not being keen on the harpsichord, I was relieved his extensive talk on the Goldberg Variations used the piano.
However, I was dismayed at his lack of acknowledgement to the performers. His referring to the amazing performer of these Goldberg Variations for example, deserved more than 'the pianist...'!

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  • SW TUBBS
  • 10-28-22

Impressive

Perhaps a little too much time was spent on the Passion but otherwise, the professor's depth of knowledge in analysing Bach's music and his influences was impressive.

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  • Ohad Rein
  • 06-12-22

Long but worth it!

Prof. Greenberg is the star of classical music story telling. He delivers the lectures in a spotless, humorous and fascinating manner. I didn't want these lectures to end!