Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning
As his mother was dying, Philip Kennicott began to listen to the music of Bach obsessively. It was the only music that didn't seem trivial or irrelevant, and it enabled him to both experience her death and remove himself from it. For him, Bach's music held the elements of both joy and despair, life and its inevitable end. He spent the next five years trying to learn one of the composer's greatest keyboard masterpieces, the Goldberg Variations. In Counterpoint, he recounts his efforts to rise to the challenge, and to fight through his grief by coming to terms with his memories of a difficult, complicated childhood.
He describes the joys of mastering some of the piano pieces, the frustrations that plague his understanding of others, the technical challenges they pose, and the surpassing beauty of the melodies, harmonies, and counterpoint that distinguish them. While exploring Bach's compositions he sketches a cultural history of playing the piano in the twentieth century. And he raises two questions that become increasingly interrelated, not unlike a contrapuntal passage in one of the variations itself: What does it mean to know a piece of music? What does it mean to know another human being?
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An absorbing meditation on grief....Elegant prose graces a deeply thoughtful memoir.--Kirkus (starred review)
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.--Michael O'Donnell
Immensely moving....With gorgeous prose and granular inspection, Kennicott has created a subtle and profound portrait of love, loss and the human condition.--Marcia Butler
A thought-provoking and accomplished memoir, meeting Kennicott's own criterion that 'every good book or great piece of music carries with it the possibility of redemption.'--Martha Anne Toll
Offers deep and pleasurable ruminations on how our obsessions--musical and artistic--can contribute to an inner life that is both satisfying and difficult so share....But 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.--BookPage (starred review)
Lyrical and haunting.--Alex Ross