Bach scholar Peter Williams (1937-2016)

Professor Peter Williams (1937-2016)

The death has been announced of the British Bach scholar Professor Peter Williams aged 78.  One of the most respected writers on Bach over the past half-century, Peter Williams was a former Professor and Dean of Music at the University of Edinburgh and Emeritus Arts and Sciences Professor of Music at Duke University, North Carolina. There will be many an organist today brought up on Williams’ three volumes “The Organ Music of J S Bach”  published between 1981-1984 where, among other thought-provoking statements, he dared to suggest that the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 was not by Bach.  He was also a close friend of one of the world’s most respected and gifted interpreters of Bach’s organ works,  Dr. Peter Hurford, regularly attending the St. Albans Organ Festival  & Competition founded by Hurford in 1963. 

Always fascinated by every aspect and joining our frustrations that so little in the way of letters and documents have survived that give us greater knowledge of Bach’s life and work, Williams became author-turned-detective, using segments of the Bach Obituary to delve deeper and in the process to offer further insight that moved away from the deferential and towards the more human. It was this that inspired Williams’ biography of the composer “The Life of Bach” published in 2004 expanded to “J S Bach: A Life in Music” published in 2007, these two volumes a culmination perhaps of his own life’s work from which many across the globe have benefitted. While Bach scholarship is continually being advanced, Williams’ books will remain a significant reference point for all students of the composer and form part of the legacy of expertise and knowledge handed on to new generations.

Peter Williams’ books are published by Cambridge University Press  Visit our Books page for information on a new Bach book by Professor Williams published after his death.   Margaret Steinitz



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