Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning

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?

Title:Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning
ISBN:9780393635362
Format Type:

    Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning Reviews

  • Heather  Erickson

    I chose to review Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning by Philip Kennicott for two reasons. Ive been in mourning since my husband died in April 2019 and I love baroque music (JS Bach is the mas...

  • Csimplot Simplot

    Excellent book!!!...

  • Lisa

    I read a preview excerpt in the Washington Post shortly after my father died, so I took it as a sign that I should read this book. In some ways, my father had a similar temperament to Kennicott's moth...

  • Ann

    *Counterpoint* is an aptly titled book -- Philip Kennicott's memoir weaves together narrative strands, much as a contrapuntal piece of music weaves together melodic strands within a piece. After his m...

  • Martha Toll

    Heres my review on NPR Books. https://www.npr.org/2020/02/19/802635......

  • Aurelie

    This turned out to be phenomenally good. I felt compelled to write a review not only because I loved it, but because I suspect the title may give the erroneous impression that the book is only for mus...

  • Nasreen Baten-Tschan

    Two parallel threads run through this book, the "Bach" and the "Mother" respectively. As someone who knows almost nothing about the science of music there were parts of this that were hard to read, bu...

  • Erika Kraus

    I won this book in the giveaway. I found the power of healing through Phillip Kennicott's comparisons and words. A fantastic book that is well put together....

  • Kathleen

    Kennicott creates a most unusual book about Bach and grief (surrounding his mothers life. I really liked the parts where he was able to be transparent with the reader....