... immensely moving ... With gorgeous prose and granular inspection, Kennicott has created a subtle and profound portrait of love, loss and the human condition ... Bach takes up much real estate in this memoir and Kennicott spares no detail, providing fascinating insight into Bach as boy, husband, father, master organist, teacher and, of course, composer ... The beauty of this memoir is not only in the compassion Kennicott ultimately finds for his mother and himself. It’s also in his need to unearth the seed of his mother’s nature, and how he might then finally release her hold, even after death. And in the way the Goldbergs became his vehicle to explore such a difficult rite of passage. In the end, it is about his very process of inquiry ... we are enriched by Kennicott’s ability to face, head-on, personal and creative hardship as he seeks what is important for us all. Through Bach, Kennicott discovers his own ability to love.
... full of arresting insights about the way music permeates our lives, as well as heartbreaking reflections on the wounds a parent can inflict on a child ... without gainsaying his mother’s transgressions, Mr. Kennicott confronts her memory in a spirit of generosity ... The Goldberg Variations end by repeating the aria with which they begin: a simple song of exquisite loveliness. In this book’s context of time and loss, the aria is almost unbearably poignant, an emblem of the author’s return to his own past and his mother’s memory. Although the notes are the same both times, there is an ineffable change hearing them again at the end of the variations, as though one had been on a journey that encompassed life itself.
Kennicott's descriptions will resonate with any aspiring musician ... Kennicott provides insight into many classical pieces and artists but focuses on Bach ... Kennicott plumbs Bach the composer, architect of the Goldberg Variations' brilliant symmetry, grounded in fractals and written with mathematical precision. Over the course of the book, Kennicott meticulously deconstructs the variations, but cannot answer the central mystery — why this piece moves us — because no one can. What can be said is that players and listeners alike experience this piece not as a set of cold calculations, but as soul-wrenching art ... Like all serious thinkers, Kennicott raises more questions than he can answer, both about music and about his family ... Given the wounds his mother inflicted, Kennicott's account is gracious, even loving. He takes pains to empathize with her, putting her furies in a context personal to her. His musical journey provides balance and balm and depth, in concert with struggle ... a thought-provoking and accomplished memoir.
... engrossing ... soaring descriptions of Bach’s music ... offers deep and pleasurable ruminations on how our obsessions—musical and artistic—can contribute to an inner life that is both satisfying and difficult to share ... it is Kennicott’s intimate insights into the towering music of Bach, and to the way music speaks to all our lives as we approach our inevitable deaths, that make this book an unforgettable triumph.
... an approachable, uniquely thoughtful rumination on a range of musical topics, from the unrelenting demands of musical practice and performance to the mysterious and fraught dynamic between parent and child, from the delicate art of pedagogy to Bach’s place in the firmament of classical composers—its brightest star, arguably, manifest from almost anywhere. Recommended for anyone with an ear for classical music and an interest in biography.
... uneven ... Kennicott is unabashedly honest ... Kennicott does not skimp on details, causing the narrative to feel more like a scholarly thesis devoted to the composer than an account of his own personal experiences, which tend to take a distant backseat and disappear ... While the memoir elements get lost here, aficionados of music theory and Bach will take delight in this raw and cultured narrative.