The keynotes of the age of Bach? Wigs and naughty children. In that order. Wigs because they were the uniforme de rigueurof the époque. Naughty children because interminable church services on Sundays and the drudgery of work chores or school rigours left little room for fun. School involved relentless rote-learning, copying and memorising without any scope for creativity, let alone mollycoddling. If work fell behind or below standard, corporal punishment would ensue. In the scheme of things, the throwing of a wig at a child, a daily occurrence in some schools, apparently, was a welcome diversion from the daily routine. Taking a beating from an overworked teacher could be worse. Having a classmate die (children had a less than 50 per cent chance of survival into adulthood) would be worse still.

The name of one overworked teacher was Bach, a name common as muck if you were living in Thuringia, a state situated smack-bang in the middle of Germany. Virtually every little town in this green paradise had a musician with the name Bach, stemming from a certain Hans, whose son Veit or Vitus Bach (d. 1609), after an unhappy stint as a baker in Catholic Hungary, returned to...