I chose to review “Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning” by Philip Kennicott for two reasons. I’ve been in mourning since my husband died in April 2019 and I love baroque music (JS Bach is the master). The author is a gifted writer. Philip Kennicott is the chief Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. Kennicott won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.
What I got from “Counterpoint” was different from what I expected.
In “Counterpoint” Mr. Kennicott recounts how he wanted to master the Goldberg Variations by JS Bach after the death of his mother. Their relationship was complicated, but it was she who spurred him on in music. He was playing the piano before he could even read. In “Counterpoint,” Kennicott shared his passion for music and in particular for JS Bach, in a way that even non-musicians will understand. I know, because I fall into that category. Although I can read music, I’m not a musician by any standard.
The relationship between Kennicott and his mother was enigmatic. We were given just enough information to understand the complexity of it, and how it could contribute to some complicated grieving after her death. I appreciated that. He didn’t treat this book as a tell-all, but rather communicated his grief experience honestly in a way that meant something deep: music.
As someone who is in mourning, I appreciated reading his experience. How does one pull themself out of mourning? Should one even try? It’s something that’s as unique as the individual in mourning. In some ways, I envy Kennicott’s music. It is something one can throw their self into.
This book felt like taking a stroll. It was a series of experiences the author had (some were present and others in the past) which all connected to show the process he took to try to perfect the Goldberg Variations. At the same time, he processed the relationship he had with his mother. I appreciated the honesty in “Counterpoint.”
The Music is Beautiful
As I read “Counterpoint,” I looked up pieces of music that Kennicott mentioned, as well as specific musicians such as Glenn Gould. I fell in love with the music and found a greater understanding of JS Bach. I also began to understand the power music has to heal. My daughter is a pianist who played the piano for her dad during his time on hospice. She also played at her funeral at his request. I can’t imagine a more difficult thing to do. When she heard that I was reading this book, she began to play the Goldberg Variations. It means so much to me.
I recommend this book to anyone who has lost someone after a complex relationship. This will appeal to all musicians and likely, lovers of classical music. When the book is released on February 18, 2020, I plan to buy a copy for my daughter’s piano teacher.
I give “Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning: 5 Stars!
Thank you to NetGalley and W. W. Norton & Company who provided me with an ARC “Counterpoint” in exchange for an honest review. “Counterpoint” is available for presale until its release on February 18th, 2020. Buy your copy here!
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I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:
I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.