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Events in the Church Year
Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Feast of the Annunciation (Mar. 25) and the Leipzig Tempus Clausum

Drew wrote (March 23, 2007):
For the first time this year, I am listening to all of Bach's cantatas according to the liturgical calendar. What a revelation!

The weeks of Lent have been relatively quiet (the only surviving cantata composed for Lent is BWV 54, "Widerstehe doch der Sünde"), but it has given me the chance to get closer to Bach's jaw-dropping
masterpiece, the St. Matthew Passion.

This year the Feast of the Annunciation (Mar. 25) comes during Lent. There is one surviving cantata known for certain to be composed for this feast day: BWV 1, "Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern."

According to Boyd's (ed.) Oxford Composer Companion, if Mar. 25 came during Lent, no "figured music" would be performed (entry for "Wie schön leuchtet . . ."). BWV 1 was first performed in 1725, one of the few years when the Feast of the Annunciation was not during Lent.

However, according to Christoph Wolff (J. S. Bach: The Learned Musician), if Mar. 25 came during the Lent period, an exception would be made to the tempus clausum (in Leipzig) and concerted music would be allowed (I don't have the page number with me - it is in Wolff's discussion in Ch. 8, "'The Great Passion' and Its Context," pp. 288ff).

Can anyone comment on this apparent discrepancy of information?

Thanks,

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 23, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] The reason why a Cantata would be permitted on March 25, when/if it fell during Lent, is because March 25 is a permanent fixed festival date for a major event in the life of Christ: his conception in the womb of the Virgin, which took place at the Annunciation to Mary that she would be the Mother of God.

Lent, a season in the Church Year, that moves depending on the date of Easter, is the chief penitential season in the Church Year. It was characterized by a more somber, plain and unornamented worship style; thus, no Cantatas, etc.

To this day in many Lutheran Churches, the Divine Service held each Wednesday is a spoken Mass, not sung, etc.

Hope this helps.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 24, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] Dürr is in agreement with Wolff, giving Mar. 25, 1725 as the first performance date for BWV 1, during Lent (Palm Sunday, Easter the following week).

Boyd is also in agreement, although it requires careful reading to recognize that fact. He notes that if Mar. 25 falls during Holy Week (including Palm Sunday), then the Annunciation festival, including music, would be celebrated on Palm Sunday. I did not try to confirm that Dürr and/or Wolff are in agreement with this detail, but it is clear that all agree that BWV 1 was first performed on Palm Sunday, which coincided with the Annunciation, Mar. 25, in 1725.

By happy coincidence, that is when our discussion week for BWV 1 begins, and it is also the cantata for broadcast tomorrow on WGBH, Boston (wgbh.org).

Drew wrote (March 24, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] Thanks for the comments, Ed. The circumstances of BWV 1 are unique - Mar. 25, 1725 falling on Palm Sunday.

What if Annunciation came before Holy Week, though, as it does most years (including this year)? For example, between 2000 and 2012, Annunciation is during Lent except for three years (2002, 2005, 2008).

Boyd (ed. - don't recall the writer of the entry for "Wie schoen . . .") indicates that the tempus clausum would remain - sorry folks, but no concerted music for the feast day. Wolff's comments, however, suggest that an exception would be made and "figured music" would be played.

Since BWV 1 is the only surviving cantata known to have been performed for the Annunciation, it may be difficult to know for sure what the practice was in Bach's Leipzig.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 24, 2007):
Drew...read my response

Drew, I explained below how it is that a Cantata would be allowed during the solemnity of Lent. You have to understand both the Church Year and the theology of the day concerned. It is one of the high feast days in the life of Jesus Christ and thus, no matter when the Annunciation would fall, it would have been observed and celebrated,thus the exception.

 

The Annunciation and Conception of Jesus

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 25, 2007):
Just a note...I believe a person on this list noted that the Annunciation is not the festival of Christ's conception, but only the announcement that Mary will conceive. This is not the case. It is believed that when the angel announced to Mary that she would conceive and when she said, "May it be done to me as you have said" then, in fact, our Lord was conceived. This is why the Annunciation is always exactly nine months to the day before December 25. It is also why the great chorale concerning the "Morning Star" -- Jesus Christ -- is the centerpiece of BWV 1.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 25, 2007):
[To Paul T. McCain] For the sake of congeniality, I will concede the point. Indeed, you are free to believe whatever you want. My only point was that there is no basis for the conception by the Holy Ghost to have already taken place, according to the Gospel of the day, Luke 1:26-38, including (35) <'The Holy Spirit will come upon you'> (note future tense) and (38) <And the angel departed from her>, without any appearance, as yet, by the Holy Ghost.

Nevertheless, it is clear that by (39), Mary is with child, so Luke just omitted some details about exactly when the Holy ghost actually showed up. In particular, I agree with your logic that the date of Mar. 25 suggests a commemoration of conception, if Christmas is to be celebrated on Dec. 25, although given the circumstances, it is hard to see why logical constraints should apply.

I think the whole picture would be much more clear if we called the Annunciation what you say it is, and found a better name for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8). I know for sure I am not the only one who was ever confused by this. I am not now, BTW, I am referring way back to student days, so no further explanations are required to set me straight.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 25, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< For the sake of congeniality, I will concede the point. Indeed, you are free to believe whatever you want. My only point was that there is no basis for the conception by the Holy Ghost to have already taken place, according to the Gospel of the day, Luke 1:26-38, including (35) <'The Holy Spirit will come upon you'> (note future tense) and (38) <And the angel departed from her>, without any appearance, as yet, by the Holy Ghost. >
Since this is much more of a church list, both big issues and minutiae, rather than a music list, I feel quite free to ask the obvious.

The whole idea of A Virgin Shall Conceive and so forth is based on one of those pseudo-fulfillments of a prophecy by one of the Hebrew prophets, in this case Isaiah. But in this particular case it is based on a false translation in the LXX of Hebrew alma by Greek parthenos, besides the fact that the prophecy about a young maiden in Isaiah is therein fulfilled, next chapter as I recall.

Furthermore if Mary was impregnated by any exterior force, God, Holy Spirit or whatever, this was no parthenogenesis but a pregnancy with both X and Y chromosomes and it took two to create this child.

The whole construct is simply not something that makes any sense to anyone but those who are indoctrinated with it. Let's stick to the facts and not flame because flaming never convinces anyone. Of course there is always Credo quia absurdum est.

Chris Kern wrote (March 2, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< The whole construct is simply not something that makes any sense to anyone but those who are indoctrinated with it. Let's stick to the facts and not flame because flaming never convinces anyone. >
I would say that implying Christians who believe in the virgin birth follow a nonsensical doctrine is flaming. I'm not going to break the rules by telling people what to post, but I think that on the whole discussion goes more smoothly if we restrict on-list religious discussion to issues of religion as they affect the cantatas -- that is, not whether the virgin birth is a logical doctrine or whether we should believe it, but what was the 18th century Lutheran belief about it and how does that affect his writing of the cantata and our listening to it.

Uri Golomb wrote (March 25, 2007):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< The whole idea of A Virgin Shall Conceive and so forth is based on one of those pseudo-fulfillments of a prophecy by one of the Hebrew prophets, in this case Isaiah. But in this particular case it is based on a false translation in the LXX of Hebrew alma by Greek parthenos, besides the fact that the prophecy about a young maiden in Isaiah is therein fulfilled, next chapter as I recall. >
"Alma" indeed is not "virgin"; moreover, the verse says "Ha-alma" -- meaning "The young woman". The definite article is important: it suggests that the prophet is referring to a specific person, known both to him and to his audience, King Uzziah of Judea.

Moreover, the prophecy is not even *about* the conception and birth of the child. In fact, it's possible to translate the sentence in question as "Behold, the young woman is pregnant [present tense] and about to bear a son" -- though a future-tense translation is also possible. The prophecy itself is about the demise of the Kingdoms of Israel and Syria [Aram, in the Hebrew original -- though this name indeed refers to the land now known as Syria], and rise of the Assyrian Empire. King Uzziah of Judea is fearful of Aram and Israel; Isaiah tells him that before the child Immanuel (who is about to be born -- probably no later than nine months after the prophecy) is old enough to tell good from evil, Aram and Israel will both be destroyed -- but the force that destroyed them will threaten Judea as well, causing much misery. The child's birth is therefore incidental -- it is merely a sign and a time-frame. The prophecy is not a prophecy of redemption for all of mankind in the distant future -- it is a prophecy of troubled times for the Kingdom of Judea in the immediate future.

(I know it's been said that "the young woman" in question is the prophet's wife, and the child is therefore the prophet's own; but in the next chapter, when the prophet's wife does in fact bear a son, he is given the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz -- not Immanuel).

All of which, I'll freely admit, has little to do with the music of Bach...

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 25, 2007):
Parthenos was the word chosen by the translators who were responsible for the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. They used this specific term to render the Hebrew word "almah." The Septuagint, as the Greek translation is known, or LXX, for short, was a work of Jewish translators before the time of Christ. It was not prepared by Christians for there were no Christians around when it was done. An interesting point to consider.

The reason; however, that I put up my post on what the Annunciation was to comment on BWV 1 and what the Annunciation meant in Bach's day and for those of us who still share the faith confessed in his day.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 25, 2007):
Uri states well the interepretation of Isaiah 7:14 that became quite common among Jewish scholars after the time of Christ in the first century A.D. but it remains an interesting point that the Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew before the time of Christ chose the word "parthenos" or, virgin, to render almah.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 25, 2007):
I note another common misunderstanding was posted: confusing the "immaculate conception" with the conception of Christ. The immaculate conception is a Roman Catholic dogma that describes the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without original sin. It is not a reference to the conception of Christ.

Christians believe that the conception of Christ occurred precisely as Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word." That is the historic position of the Christian Church since the earliest of days. This is not my personal conjecture of speculation. I'm simply trying to report what the position of historic Christianity is in regard to the Annunciation of our Lord.

My only point in posting the remark was to correct a mistaken understanding of the Annunciation and to comment on why this day was regarded so highly by Christians at the time of Christ, and why it still is to this day.

I believe proper historical understanding of the Christian faith helps illuminate our understanding of Bach's church cantatas, regardless of whether or not one believes what the Cantatas are singing about.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 25, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< I believe proper historical understanding of the Christian faith helps illuminate our understanding of Bach's church cantatas, regardless of whether or not one believes what the Cantatas are singing about. >
I fully endorse this point and I (from the perspective of a non-Christian) have found your clarifications of these finer points of considerable interest. And I think that your point is most valid that that the illumination of Bach's works through such illuminations is important rather than the personal belief system a listener may have ----and which might be very different.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
[To Julian Mincham] I join Julian in endorsing your statement, which carefully represents the underlying position which I think everyone on BCML should be able to agree with. Of course, I can only speak for myself

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Christians believe that the conception of Christ occurred precisely as Mary said, "Let it be done to me according to your word." That is the historic position of the Christian Church since the earliest of days. This is not my personal conjecture of speculation. I'm simply trying to report what the position of historic Christianity is in regard to the Annunciation of our Lord. >
Although I continued the thread without change of subject , I am interested in pursuing the topic only as it relates to the text for BWV 1, for the Feast of the Annunciation. I do not see anything in the text which implies (let alone states) that it is also the conception of Jesus. Indeed, Mvt 2 specifically refers to 'the promise of Gabriel', as if it has not yet been accomplished. As I read it, if there is any mention at all of conception, it is vague, and implies that it has not yet occurred.

I note the following, re generally accepted Christian doctrine:

<THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD - 25 MARCH - SOLEMNITY

The First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. Today the Church [RC] celebrates that day when the Archangel Gabriel requested Our Lady to be the Mother of God. Mary accepts and declares herself to be the handmaid of the Lord.

The Annunciation is one of the three most ancient feasts of Our Lady. The feast probably dates from the Council of Ephesus in 431, when Our Lady was proclaimed the Mother of God. This proclamation was because of a heresy which denied Mary's Divine Motherhood. It was also the Council of Ephesus which added the following words to the Hail Mary: "Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen."

This feast has been known by many names over the years including: "the Feast of the Incarnation," "the beginning of the Redemption," "the Conception of Christ" and "the Announcing of the Christ." <end quote>

From this, it appears that far from being universally accepted, the doctrine of conception itself, let alone its timing, has been a matter of divisiveness rather than unanimamong various early Christian sects. I wonder how you interpret the implications of settling on the name 'Feast of the Annunciation', when the day had also been know as 'Feast of the Incarnation', among other things?

I can also see from other web postings that I have unintentionally wandered into a thicket of argument regarding conception and the beginning of life. I have no interest in pursuing this, and it was never my intent to raise it as a point of controversy. I did, and still do, find it difficult to understand the Annunciation as a 'day in the life of Jesus' but this is a minor quibble over language; I fully agree that it is an important event in the overall story of Jesus. Nevertheless, I am interested in hearing how interpreting March 25 as the date of Jesus' conception is important to understand the texts of BWV 1, specifically, and the overall Lutheran theology of Bach's cantata texts, in general.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 26, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< This feast has been known by many names over the years including: "the Feast of the Incarnation," "the beginning of the Redemption," "the Conception of Christ" and "the Announcing of the Christ." <end quote>
From this, it appears that far from being universally accepted, the doctrine of conception itself, let alone its timing, has been a matter of divisiveness rather than unanimity among various early Christian sects. >

Well not really-- the texts from the period all seem to indicate this date was the beginning of the Christ event. The Eastern churches gave the feast day a high priority-- for example, the feast would never be moved, regardless if it occured on another holiday. Early Christians considered March 25 as the birthdate for Adam, so the early church fathers considered March 25 as the conception of Jesus (with Dec 25th as his birthday). The theory that March 25th was the date of Jesus' conception is not that outlandish, and it does have some historical
basis.

Auf Wiedersehen!!!

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Well not really-- the texts from the period all seem to indicate this date was the beginning of the Christ event. >
I agree, if we consider the Annunciation as the beginning of the 'Christ event', but that is not the same as 'conception', to my mind. If all the tests are in agreement, why does it require the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD (or CE, definitely not EC) to declare Mary the mother of God, or resolve heresies?

< The Eastern churches gave the feast day a high priority-- for example, the feast would never be moved, regardless if it occured on another holiday. Early Christians considered March 25 as the birthdate for Adam, so the early church fathers considered March 25 as the conception >
Which early church fathers? Documentation? And what is the connection between the birth of Adam and the conception of Jesus. In fact, 'birth date' of Adam?

< of Jesus (with Dec 25th as his birthday). The theory that March 25th was the date of Jesus' conception is not that outlandish, and it does have some historical basis. >
Historical documentation would be welcome, indeed.

I am doing my best to keep this on track regarding BWV 1. I have no interest whatsoever in discrediting anyone's beliefs. I am simply interested in establishing what is the Christian doctrine, and how does it relate to Bach's cantata texts.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 26, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< Which early church fathers? Documentation? And what is the connection between the birth of Adam and the conception of Jesus. In fact, 'birth date' of Adam? >
That's easy-- Jesus is the new Adam. As for the linkage between the two: "All Christian antiquity (against all astronomical possibility) recognized the 25th of March as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation andfall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring."

Source: The Catholic Encylopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01542a.htm

About the nature of the feast in the Eastern Churches: The Eastern churches (Eastern Orthodox, Oriental and Eastern Catholic) do not move the feast of the Annunciation under any circumstance. They have special combined liturgies for those years when the Annunciation coincides with another feast. In these churches, even on Good Friday a liturgy is celebrated when it coincides with the Annunciation.

Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annunciation

< Historical documentation would be welcome, indeed.
I am doing my best to keep this on track regarding
BWV 1. I have no interest whatsoever in discrediting anyone's beliefs. I am simply interested in establishing what is the Christian doctrine, and how does it relate to Bach's cantata texts. >
Me too.

Toodles,

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< That's easy-- Jesus is the new Adam. As for the linkage between the two: "All Christian antiquity (against all astronomical possibility) recognized the 25th of March as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It > argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation andfall of Adam. And since the world was created in spring, the Saviour was also conceived and died shortly after the equinox of spring."
Source: The Catholic Encylopedia:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01542a.htm >
Which continues:

<Similar fanciful calculations are found in the early and later Middle Ages, and to them, no doubt, the dates of the feast of the Annunciation and of Christmas owe their origin.>

For me, the key phrase is 'fanciful calculations', although I must say the 'pseudo' in 'pseudo-Cyprianic' does not fill me with confidence, either. I have not a clue what that reference is, BTW, but I will try to look it up.

The key point remains, I have no trouble enjoying and understanding BWV 1, with only the day's Gospel of Luke, supporting the Annunciation, as doctrine. No opinions or assumptions about conception required to understand the Bach's text, or implied therein, as far as I can see.

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (March 26, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< <Similar fanciful calculations are found in the early and later Middle Ages, and to them, no doubt, the dates of the feast of the Annunciation and of Christmas owe their origin.>
For me, the key phrase is 'fanciful calculations', although I must say the 'pseudo' in 'pseudo-Cyprianic' does not fill me with confidence, either. I have not a clue what that reference is, BTW, but I will try to look it up. >
Sure, for some all of this stuff is fanciful, for others, it's not. I've only provided some documentation that yes indeed, some in the Christian tradition did see the Annuciation = Conception of Jesus.

< The key point remains, I have no trouble enjoying and understanding BWV 1, with only the day's Gospel of Luke, supporting the Annunciation, as doctrine. No opinions or assumptions about conception required to understand the Bach's text, or implied therein, as far as I can see. >
I guess we all have different vantage points for understanding the cantatas and their texts and feast days. That's the great thing about such groups as these, hearing other points of views, agnostics to very those who are very religious. John Eliot Gardiner is a case point: he does a wonderful job conducting the cantatas; and yet he has specifically stated he does not believe in traditional Christian tenets.

Have a great night and a good tommorrow!

Paul T. McCain wrote (M26, 2007):
[To Ed Myskowski] I'm with you on not trying to turn this into another dust-up over Christianity or faith or theism or whatever.

Thanks for your questions. You ask, "I wonder how you interpret the implications of settling on the name 'Feast of the Annunciation', when the day had also been know as 'Feast of the Incarnation', among other things?

The "Feast of the Incarnation" is precisely the point. Historic Christianity believes that the Annunciation was the moment of the incarnation of the Son of God, when the Virgin Mary was overshadowed by the power of the Most High and she conceived Jesus in her womb. The Annunciation was the day on which Christ was incarnated in the womb of the Virgin. His incarnation is distinct from his Nativity, which is celebrated on Dec. 25th, nine months after His conception/incarnation.

Lutheranism, unlike other Protestant branches, did not reject the historic and traditional Marian feast days.

BWV 1 is a beautiful cantata prepared to extol the announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of Christ and a cantata that sings the praises of the Incarnate Christ in her womb, hence the center-piece chorale, "How lovely shines the Morning Star." That "Morning Star" is Jesus. I'm looking forward to listening to it again tonight.

Hope that helps.

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 26, 2007):
Marian Feasts and Cantatas

Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Lutheranism, unlike other Protestant branches, did not reject the historic and traditional Marian feast days. >
It appears that Luther, ever attuned to popular sentiment, reduced the five traditional Marian feasts to two, the Annunciation (March 25) and the Visitation (July 2) -- Bach was required to provide cantatas on the two days even whem they ocurred on weekdays. Luther had no problem with these feasts because they were scripturally-based. The other three, the Conception (Dec 8), Nativity (Sept 8) and Assumption (August 15) were basically suppressed primarilly because they had become a polemic locus in Catholic-Lutheran debate about the person of the Virgin Mary. It has been suggested that St. Michael the Archangel on Sept 29 was given given special emphasis to compensate for the popular devotion and fairs associated with August 15. It also seems to have collected the devotional piety around the harvest. The cantatas written by Bach for Michelmas are certainly among the grandest he ever wrote.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 26, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] Doug, the question of how many of the historic Marian feast days were observed in Lutheranism is interesting. It varied actually from place to place. For instance, in Magdeburg in the 16th and 17th century, the Lutherans there retained the historic feast days, even apparently the "Purification" event marking the time that Mary's mother visited the temple after her birth. Apparently in Bach's Leipzig the Marian festivals were restricted to the two you mentioned: the Visitation and the Annunciation. Luther in fact preached in his life on a number of the Marian festivals, of course, modifying them and placing the focus squarely on Christ, which emphasis is reflected in BWV 1 which sings of Christ, and less of Mary.

Thanks for your post.

Drew wrote (March 26, 2007):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< It appears that Luther, ever attuned to popular sentiment, reduced the five traditional Marian feasts to two, the Annunciation (March 25) and the Visitation (July 2) >
What about the Feast of the Purification (Feb. 2), for which Bach wrote three of his most lovely cantatas?

BWV 83, Erfreute Zeit im neuen Bunde
BWV 125, Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
BWV 82, Ich habe genug

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
[To Douglas Cowling] While we are on the subject, is it possible to get a definitive answer on the performance of an Annunciation cantata when Mar. 25 fell during the Lenten hiatus (which must have been almost always)? The standard resources ( Boyd, Wolff) are fuzzy at best, and other on-line materials suggest varied details based on 'only during Holy Week', or exactly the opposite, 'anytime except during Holy Week'.

Incidentally, BWV 182, which is listed in some places as Palm Sunday/Annunciation was written in 1714 at Weimar for exactly the same coincidence as occurred in 1725: Palm Sunday on Mar. 25, but in the case of BWV 182 the text is specific to Palm Sunday. Just the opposite applies for BWV 127. It appears that the only surviving cantata specific to the Annunciation is BWV 127, suggesting (to me, anyway) that it must have had a lot of subsequent performances, depending on the resolution of the question of exactly when music was permitted for Mar. 25, the Annunciation, and what alternate music may have been lost.

Joel Figen wrote (March 26, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
<< I believe proper historical understanding of the Christian faith helps illuminate our understanding of Bach's church cantatas, regardless of whether or not one believes what the Cantatas are singing about. >>
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I fully endorse this point and I (from the perspective of a non-Christian) have found your clarifications of these finer points of considerable interest. And I think that your point is most valid that that the illumination of Bach's works through such illuminations is important rather than the personal belief system a listener may have ----and which might be very different. >
My only reservation in endorsing it is that "proper historical understanding of the Christian faith" seems to require absorbing endless details and nitpicks and variant opinions. Therefore, imho, learning about Christianity doesn't really help much in enjoying music unless, of course, one enjoys Christianity for its own sake. Christianity is a VAST subject, comparable in scope to Music, and, like Music, it's far from cut and dried. Varying opinions abound, even in narrowly sectarian circles. Sects and schisms are the end result of most serious discussions of Christianity, sad to say.

As I've pointed out in the past, those who are fascinated by Christianity today, and want to live it and breathe it, are of a different sort from those who lived and breathed it in Bach's time. The sociological meaning of religion has changed; even if someone is pushing the exact same creed, it's psychologically different. In Bach's time, Lutheran Christianity was simply a part of the civic culture, rather like participating in electoral politics is today. A Buddhist Bach probably wouldn't have been successful in the music scene of his day, and a Jewish Bach almost certainly would not have been successful, just as an atheist presidential candidate isn't likely to win the White House today. Therefore, I find that those who are most eager to inform all and sundry of Just How It Was And Everything are specificially the last people I'd turn to for the insights on Bach and, frankly, on Christianity as well.

To the extent that we can have dispassionate presentations of the theological aspects of Bach's music, let's have them, but I haven't seen them yet, don't expect them, and would rather concentrate on the music.

Julian Mincham wrote (March 26, 2007):
Joel Figen wrote
< My only reservation in endorsing it is that "proper historical understanding of the Christian faith" seems to require absorbing endless details and nitpicks and variant opinions. Therefore, imho, learning about Christianity doesn't really help much in enjoying music unless, of course, one enjoys Christianity for its own sake. >
I agree with this but might I add a caveat I have previously entered on list. There is a difference between UNDERSTANDING the works (on all sorts of levels and this is where knowledge of the social, political and religious issues that pertained at the time may well be illuminative) and APPRECIATING it i.e. simply enjthe music. The processes are different and are differently nourished.

And the extent to which the understanding of the structure and context of a piece of music may affect and impinge upon the appreciation of it is largely a matter for individuals--although I know of at least one person who researched this for a doctoral thesis some years ago.

< To the extent that we can have dispassionate presentations of the theological aspects of Bach's music, let's have them, but I haven't seen them yet, don't expect them and would rather concentrate on the music. >
I think I have been saying something similar to this for some time!

Douglas Cowling wrote (March 26, 2007):
[To Drew] Sorry! I forgot what was probably the most important Marian feast in the Lutheran calendar.

Bach was required to provide cantatas for three festivals:

Purification (Feb 2)
Annunciation (March 25)
Visitation (July 2)

Conception (later the "Immaculate Conception" - Dec 8), Nativity (Sept 8) and Assumption (August 15) were not celerbrated as major festivals although they may have appeared in Lutheran calendars along with other saints' days.

Paul T. McCain wrote (March 26, 2007):
Lutheranism and Mary and Bach's Cantatas

Throughout Lutheranism in Bach's day, and earlier, there were variations in the number of traditional Marian festivals observed. By and large however there was a marked decrease in observances regarding the Medieval Marian feasts. A book published in 2004 deals with the issue of Mary and the Lutheran Church Year and Lutheran preaching. Bach's Cantatas for the three primary Marian feast days were a result of this shift in focus and thinking about Mary. Here is further information:

So what did Lutherans think of Mary in the Sixteenth Century? Today we hear precious little about the Mother of Our Lord, save those times when her presence is unavoidable, such as Christmas or late Advent. On the other hand, there appears also to be a revival, of sorts, in Marian devotion among some in Lutheran circles. In a review of Beth Kreitzer's 2004 book Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixteenth Century (Oxford Univ. Press) in the January issue of the Concordia Journal, Dr. Timothy Maschke of Mequon gives a nice overview of the Marian views of our 16th century predecessors.

Preachers of this era (including Luther) retained the traditional Marian festivals for their Christological significance (Annunciation, Visitation, and Purification). However, the Mary in these early Lutheran sermons was not the Queen of Heaven or the great intercessor of mankind, but rather "an example of the faithful believer." They saw in her a model for all women and a good witness to God's grace. However, they did not shrink from her humanity, and freely noted the sinful weakness she possessed in common with all believers, or where it appeared that her actions may have been the result of sinful tendencies.

The Ave Maria, while popular even today in Catholicism, was also roundly critiqued in many of the sermons of this era, noting that the angel's words "are not a prayer, but a simple and proper greeting." Obviously Lutherans would have struggled with the AM from the perspective of Mary's role as a kind of "redemptive intercessor," especially the call to "pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death." Although it should be noted that the Lutheran Confessions do not deny that the saints of heaven pray for us (as a part of our understanding of the Communion of Saints and Una Sancta.) We simply find no command in Scripture to pray to them.

All told, however, it would appear that Mary was publicly recognized in sermons with greater frequency than we are accustomed to do today. The early Lutherans preachers saw in her an exemplary example of genuine Christian piety. Even her "chaste manner of travel" as well as her "neighborliness" were duly recognized. Still, these early Lutherans were careful always to note that Mary possessed no intercessory powers and did not actively participate in the actual redemptive work of our Lord.

Source: http://nwseelsorger.blogspot.com/2007/02/sixteenth-century-lutheran-views-of.htm

Drew wrote (March 26, 2007):
While we are on the subject, is it possible to get a definitive answer on the performance of an Annunciation cantata when Mar. 25 fell during the Lenten hiatus (which must have been almost always)? The standard resources (Boyd, Wolff) are fuzzy at best, and other on-line materials suggest varied details based on 'only during Holy Week', or exactly the opposite, 'anytime except during Holy Week'.

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Dear Ed et al., here's a breakdown of what several sources have to say about the question:

1. Nicholas Anderson (from Oxford Composer Companion: J. S. Bach, Malcolm Boyd, ed., p. 524):

"The Annunciation was an important event in the Lutheran Church calendar, but the date on which it fell (25 March) nearly always occurred during Lent, a tempus clausum in Leipzig, during which music in the churches was not allowed. If, however (as was the case on three occasion during Bach's Leipzig Kantorate), the Annunciation fell during Holy Week, it was celebrated on Palm Sunday, when the ban on music was lifted and a cantata was sung to celebrate the festival."

2. Christoph Wolff (from Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician, p. 290):

"After a tempus clausum longer than that of Advent - six weeks of Lent during which no concerted music was permitted except on the Marian feast of Annunciation, March 25 - the morning service on Good Friday at the Leipzig main churches followed a long-standing tradition . . ."

3. Klaus Hofman (from notes for Vol. 34 of Suzuki's Cantata Cycle)

"The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated each year on 25th March and for this day - on which, as an exception during Lent, music was performed in Leipzig - Bach wrote his cantata Wie shoen leuchtet der Morgenstern."

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< To the extent that we can have dispassionate presentations of the theological aspects of Bach's music, let's have them, but I haven't seen them yet, don't expect them >
JF: << and would rather concentrate on the music. >>
JM: < I think I have been saying something similar to this for some time! >
I saw my doctor the other day, and explained why my weight was up ten pounds because of my lack of attention (winter, etc.), to exercise regimens he recommends. I finished by saying 'I'm probably the only guy who comes in here and tells you the truth'.

He agreed. Then he confessed: 'If many people did, where would be the fun in that?'

Your round, Harry.

Ed Myskowski wrote (March 26, 2007):
Paul T. McCain wrote:
< Throughout Lutheranism in Bach's day, and earlier, there were variations in the number of traditional Marian festivals observed. By and large however there was a marked decrease in observances regarding the Medieval Marian feasts. A book published in 2004 deals with the issue of Mary and the Lutheran Church Year and Lutheran preaching. Bach's Cantatas for the three primary Marian feast days were a result of this shift in focus and thinking about Mary. Here is further information:
So what did Lutherans think of Mary in the Sixteenth Century? Today we hear precious little about the Mother of Our Lord, save those times when her presence is unavoidable, such as Christmas or late Advent. >
I am responding to what I see as the key point, without any disrespect for the rest of your post, which I presume anyone interested will already have read.

Doesn't your statement contradict the emphasis we have recently placed on the importance of the Incarnation/Conception, simultaneous with the Annunciation? Indeed, if this is your theology, isn't the Incarnation the very momewhen God joins Man, in a Mystery and Miracle? The subsequent birth (Christmas) is almost an afterthought.

Why deal with Mary only when unavoidable? What if she had said no to Gabriel, at the Annunciation? If you ponder this, it was her acceptance which saved the world (potentially). Through my eyes, it is difficult to consider it saved, just yet.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (March 27, 2007):
A Tale of two Uris (was: The Annunciation and Conception of Jesus)


[To Uri Golomb] Yes, indeed Uri, not only does the Hebrew have the article, as you have correctly informed us, but the LXX has it likewise: "he: parthenos". Not only does good old Luther forget the article but indeed many Christian translations do including the RSV. Now I am sure that the RSV is not the latest word in an attempt at a Protestant accurate translation but it was in my day. It was revolutionary and thus I would have expected the King James to ignore the article but I would have expected the RSV, which gives "a young woman" (with a fn. "or virgin", necessary if you know anything about the dangerous territory with the RSV was entering in its time).

Much more interesting of course is that the prophet, when he approaches the prophetess (or is this like a rebbetsin, merely "a prophet's wife?) takes two witnesses by the command of God. The first one is your namesake, Uriyyah (Uriah).

The wording of what will or does occur to the young woman in Isaiah 7:14 and the wording at the beginning of chapter 8 are so similar that the fact that this Name-String which you cite is then the name given to the child
cannot prove that this is another and different event.

You are certainly correct that all such narratives in the Hebrew prophets are very complex matters of which we can only have a shadow of an idea as to their meaning.

Unfortunately such Hebrew works have been wildly (mis-)used, the present matter being not one of the worst examples.

I also concur that the actual meaning of ancient documents has little relevance to Bach's music as Bach relied on (1) Luther's translation and (2) on the frightening commentaries in his library about which Michael Marissen has published a lengthy article in the Harvard Theological Review of 2003.

 

The Passion of Passover

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (April 5, 2007):
By an uncommon coincidence this year Easter actually falls on the Sunday after Passover (in spite of the intent of the early church according to the 2nd article here to disassociate the time of Easter from that of Passover).
The first article is on Passover's observance [in a Christian world] and the 2nd article is on the occurrence of Easter.

http://www.slate.com/id/2162993/pagenum/all/#page_start

http://www.slate.com/id/2113321/

They both seem like good articles.

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 5, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I would argue that Christmas/Hannukah celebrate the winter solstice, and Easter/Passover the spring equinox. The exact dates are complicated by the need for early peoples to correlate solar and lunar measurements.

By the time they got to writing it down, they were already fighting over the details. Ongoing, as best I can tell.

It is a very misleading stretch to say that the second article cited suggests that the intent of the early church was to disassociate Easter from Passover. Read it again.

The key word is a very tentative 'possibly'. The calculation of Easter is much better read as an effort by the Romans to integrate Solar and Lunar calendars. Although it would be incredibly naive to suggest that Constantine may have had a peaceful resolution of differences in mind, that is also 'possible'. Not for nothing did they name Constantinople (now it's Istanbul. Why did Constantinople get the works? That's nobody's business but the Turks' (I believe that possessive apostrophe is correct?)).

Long live 'Tin Pan Alley', as well as my new friend, 'Tin Can Sally', who makes sculpture from cigar tubes and tobacco tins. Other varieties as well, but those are my most available, to give her.

May your Easter (oestrus) be fertile, if that is your wish. Otherwise, take appropriate precautions, as required.

Shabtai Atlow wrote (April 5, 2007):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman & Ed Myskowski ] If you take a look at The History of the Christian Church, vol. 3, paragraph 79 <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc3.iii.x.vi.htm>, the rule is stated as: The feast of the resurrection was thenceforth required to be celebrated everywhere on a Sunday, and never on the day of the Jewish passover, but always after the fourteenth of Nisan, on the Sunday after the first vernal full moon.

Indeed, Ed is correct that one of the things Passover celebrates is the solstice. One of the rules for determining if the Jewish calendar is intercollated (when the calender was determined by the Sanhedrin by observation, as opposed ot the present fixed calendar, they would add an extra month from time to time - the Jewish calendar is boht lunar and solar, so things had to get back in wack) was that passover had to occur after the solstice.

And now, Back to Bach,

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (April 5, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< It is a very misleading stretch to say that the second article cited suggests that the intent of the early church was to disassociate Easter from Passover. Read it again.
The key word is a very tentative 'possibly'. The calculation of Easter is much better read as an effort by the Romans to integrate Solar and Lunar calendars. >
Well, no.

John Q. Publicus walking to church on the Appian Way (or any other early Christian for that matter other than some high church officals) didn't give a fig about lunar and solar calendars). What did get them worked up was celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on the *right day* (important also because annual baptism rites took place during vigil masses on Easter).

The early Church in the Western Roman Empire DID make every effort to separate Easter from Passover with rhetoric taking some took some nasty turns after Constantine converted, with the Bishop of Rome wanting complete uniformity (funny how things never change eh?) on when to celebrate this feast day.

The Eastern churches from a very early date, consistently fought the Western churches on this topic, by using their authority of closeness to the physical roots of Christianity (Palestine) and no doubt Palestinian Jewish Christians that were still members of local churches, besides the traditions that went back to the Apostolic church.

Wikipedia mentions this in detail:

The Nisan 14 practice, which was strong among the churches of Asia Minor, becomes less common as the desire for Church unity on the question came to favor the majority practice. By the 3rd century the Church, which had become Gentile-dominated and wishing to further distinguish itself from Jewish practices, began a tone of rhetoric against Nisan 14/Passover (e.g. Anatolius of Laodicea, c. AD 270; 6.148,6.149 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers"). The tradition that Easter was to be celebrated "not with the Jews" meant that Easter was not to be celebrated on Nisan 14.

Listening to Bach while I have some marshmallow peeps:
Cordially wishing everyone a nice holiday (lunar or solar):

Ed Myskowski wrote (April 5, 2007):
Ed Myskowski wrote:
< It is a very misleading stretch to say that the second article cited suggests that the intent of the early church was to disassociate Easter from Passover. Read it again.
The key word is a very tentative 'possibly'. The calculation of Easter is much better read as an effort by the Romans to integrate Solar and Lunar calendars. >
Kim Patrick Clow wrote:
< Well, no. >
Well, think again.

Easter falls on the Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox (note that it is Hanukkah /Christmas, not Passover/Easter which is timed to the solstice). If that is not coordinating solar and lunar cycles, what is it?

Perhaps there are other sources which more strongly indicate the intent to separate Easter from Passover. I was referring only to the article Yoel cited.

 

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