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am 27. Juli 2000
J. S. Bach would have been astounded by the amount of materialwritten on him since his death 250 years ago. And as the number ofbooks and articles on his life and works passes the 15,000 mark it becomes increasingly difficult to discover from among this morass the truly rewarding and insightful writing on Amazon's Composer of the Millenium. But there is one book that stands out: Laurence Dreyfus's Bach and the Patterns of Invention is a landmark both in the study of Bach's music and in music criticism more generally. This is certainly one of the best books on Bach ever written ... Dreyfus's book accomplishes the dual and seemingly paradoxical goal of removing Bach from his lofty pedestal while at the same time rendering his musical achievements all the more impressive. Dreyfus de-mythologizes Bach, and by humanizing him allows us to grasp in a new way the nature and meaning of his creative acts. The book examines, often in great detail, Bach's mental processes, the problems he posed for himself while composing and the solutions he chose, sometimes from among many options; the possibilities that Bach's musical ideas yielded and the methods he used in arriving at his ultimate choices from among these possibilities are the "patterns of inventions" of Dreyfus's title. Thus Dreyfus's first chapter on Bach's C Major Invention, a piece marvelled at and agonized over by generations of piano students young and old, lays out for our inspection the basic musical unit-the "invention"-Bach devised and then manipulated in order to craft this most engaging of miniatures. Dreyfus's real contribution comes in describing Bach's elegant and often demanding methods of constructing the piece; while elucidating Bach's creativity and the clarity of his thought, Dreyfus points out the repeated flashes of brilliance that make this seemingly disarming Invention the beloved masterpiece that it is. Given the complexity of much of Bach's music it is not surprising that the author's treatment of the subject is often exacting in its demands on the reader. Bach's music is rarely easy, and neither is this book. But like Bach music, it is both challenging and immensely enjoyable. And although a basic knowledge of music theory and the ability to read music is certainly helpful, the insights of the book are also available to all those interested in Bach. The book's welcoming attitude is achieved mainly by Dreyfus's enviable prose-some of the most beautiful and sensitive writing about music of any kind-and partly by the wide range of literary sources and aesthetic themes Dreyfus deals with, as in the final chapter which places Bach's work in the context of important philosophical debates of the early Enlightenment and concludes by relating this dynamic to our own historical perspective. Bach and the Patterns of Invention is a scholarly work- awarded the Best Book of the Year in 1997 by the American Musicological Society-but never a dryly academic one. Like his predecessors in the field of Bach studies, Dreyfus considers Bach a far greater composer than contemporaries such as his friend Telemann. However, Dreyfus elevates Bach not by clinging to the shibboleths of Bach criticism, but rather, by examining in depth the marvelous mechanisms of Bach's creative process and by comparing his unrelenting drive to get the most from his musical material with the less demanding standards of the wider musical culture. Thus while the book is not a biography we gain a much more intimate knowledge of the man behind the works, the artistic personality of the composer at his desk.
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