... 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.