The original versions of the essays brought together in this volume were written over a period of some thirty years. They draw on a diverse arsenal of interpretive approaches ranging from text criticism to style criticism, from Freudian analysis to Schenkerian analysis, from Harold Bloom, Theodor Adorno, and Edward Said to Maynard Solomon, Charles Rosen, and Peter Shaffer. All these approaches, or strat-egies, are deployed in the service of a single objective: the desire to gain a deeper understanding of two of the greatest composers in history—a deeper understanding of them not only as supremely gifted creators but also as fellow human beings.
Since there was no hard separation between life and work in the lives of these towering figures, there is none in these essays. Those primarily concerned with bio-graphical matters usually address musical matters as well. In others the primary emphasis is on the music, while biography plays a supporting role.
Before introducing the protagonists directly the volume begins with a Prologue. The essay, admittedly, is an academic exercise of sorts. It questions the long-held, traditional, view that the music of the eighteenth century naturally falls into two contrasting halves—a “late Baroque” followed by a “Classical” period—and suggests rather that the hundred-year span from 1700 to 1800 (i.e., the eighteenth century in its most literal sense) can be plausibly and more helpfully understood as forming a single stylistic whole: one unified, bounded, “music-historical epoch.” The proposi-tion is not altogether original: it has been argued elsewhere on different grounds. But it remains unorthodox—and controversial.
After that preliminary “throat-clearing” historiographical contemplation of the “Century of Bach and Mozart,” fifteen numbered chapters devoted to the two mas-ters follow in roughly chronological succession. Chapter 1, originally written on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, begins with a summary review of Bach research in the second half of the twentieth century before turning to the topic of Bach biography. It calls for a less hagiographical, more “humanizing” approach to its subject both in the portrayal of his character and in the critical assessment of some of his early works. To illustrate how this desideratum could be satisfied, it drafts a provisional biographical account of “Young Man Bach.”