Author: James Runcie
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: March 15, 2022
Book Description: From acclaimed bestselling author James Runcie, a meditation on grief and music, told through the story of Bach’s writing of the St. Matthew Passion.
In 1727, Stefan Silbermann is a grief-stricken thirteen-year-old, struggling with the death of his mother and his removal to a school in distant Leipzig. Despite his father’s insistence that he try not to think of his mother too much, Stefan is haunted by her absence, and, to make matters worse, he’s bullied by his new classmates. But when the school’s cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach, takes notice of his new pupil’s beautiful singing voice and draws him from the choir to be a soloist, Stefan’s life is permanently changed.
Over the course of the next several months, and under Bach’s careful tutelage, Stefan’s musical skill progresses, and he is allowed to work as a copyist for Bach’s many musical works. But mainly, drawn into Bach’s family life and away from the cruelty in the dorms and the lonely hours of his mourning, Stefan begins to feel at home. When another tragedy strikes, this time in the Bach family, Stefan bears witness to the depths of grief, the horrors of death, the solace of religion, and the beauty that can spring from even the most profound losses.
Joyous, revelatory, and deeply moving, The Great Passion is an imaginative tour de force that tells the story of what it was like to sing, play, and hear Bach’s music for the very first time.
Rating: 3 Stars
Review: Stefan Silbermann is sent away to school in 1727 after his mother passes. When he arrives there, he meets the new cantor who is none other the J.S. Bach. Bach quickly realizes this young boy’s talent and takes him under his wing. While he is excelling at school and the Bach family adores Stefan, students become jealous and he is bullied by his classmates.
While Stefan is still reeling from his own loss of his mother, the Bach’s experience a great loss also, that transforms their relationship. Taking place as Bach is writing The Great Passion, Bach writes a vibrant piece of music that Stefan is brought into. He has the great honor and trust of copying his music to paper.
As a music major in college, I gravitated towards this books. Runcie places a lot of details of that time and integrates great musicians perfectly into the story. It is obviously well researched.
This did start a little slower for me, but very much picked up at the end that I actually wanted a little more. I am not sure, if my timing was slightly off for reading this and maybe in a month or so, I would have loved it even more, but it was still a solid read. If you love baroque music or just want to read a good story, then give this one a try.
Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.