Lead Review

  • Book: Something of his Art: Walking to Lübeck with J S Bach
  • Location: Germany
  • Author: Horatio Clare

Review Author: tripfiction



This area of Germany is not a natural draw for tourists and walkers (though there are many beautiful things to see). Something of his Art is inspired by a trip that J S Bach undertook back in 1705 to visit composer Dieterich Buxtehude. Horatio Clare and his team in present day decide to follow in Bach’s footsteps from Arnstadt to Lübeck. The book follows on from an original documentary series for Radio 3.

This is a ramble (a collection of ‘field notes’) through the different landscapes, cities and villages of this area of Germany. There is chat along the way, with observations and musings, peppered with musical themes. Essentially this group of hikers is channelling Bach. There is ribaldry and discussion of what Bach might have seen when he undertook his challenge 300 years ago – when covering such distances on foot was quite the norm. Whom might he have met along the way? Where might he have stayed? Did he walk up through the Harz Mountains or skirt them West or East?

This is a very short book of 90 pages or so that is beautifully presented. It is informative and well written. Take for example the case in Lüneburg where a wild boar was shot and its body found to have been caked in salt. This led to the discovery of a salt mound and the establishment of a principle north/south trade route for the commodity. The present day journeymen find themselves on this historically very important road. The excavations for salt long ago however caused many buildings to fall down and consequently in Lüneburg, there are many crooked and sagging houses, which of course makes it very picturesque for visitors today.

As they continue north towards Lübeck, they ponder the natural environment that Bach might have seen, the oak trees they pass probably mere saplings in his day, the pines a recent addition to the scene. And there is an upbeat tone as they pass through the Holstentor in Lübeck, once again imagining Bach passing through, all those centuries ago.

The premise of the book is a nice idea but perhaps the link to Bach is a little tenuous at times. For me it was a delightful, short read but perhaps needed a bit more substance.

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