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Bach the Evangelist
Part 2

Continue from Part 1

John Pike wrote (June 4, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] I have to say as a believer myself that I agree with everything Uri said. I agree that Bach happened to be a much better composer than Graupner, to take the example cited. However, I also feel that Bach's music is divinely inspired, along with music by several other composers, eg Handel, Mozart, Beethoven to name a few. Many of them were Christians, others were not. I have recently been listening to music by a very wide range of composers. Much as I enjoy a lot of it (even if only in small doses), I have to get back to Bach. There are very few indeed who come up to that level, IMHO.

In my view, God pours out these exceptional musical gifts on only a very few, some of them Christian, some of them not.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 4, 2005):
[To John Pike] John, and I agree with you. I am probably failing to make myself clear. I am NOT saying that Bach was as good as he was JUST because he was an orthodox Lutheran Christian. That is not what I'm saying.

What I'm trying to say is that there is for Bach such an indissoluble connection between his faith and his music that even if you do not agree with his faith, it is a good idea to work hard to understand precisely what drove this man to do what he did. And it is inexcusably inappropriate to dismiss his faith and what impact it had on his music. One can shield one's eyes from Bach's faith and choose to ignore it or, tragically as one person here told us, substitute, "Good beer and wine" wherever Bach's cantatas have "God's Word and Spirit" but I compare that to a man who looks right into the midday sun and says, "What light?"

You are of course right that God gifts good gifts to all and many. As Jesus said, "He makes it to rain on the just and the unjust."

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 2, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "Gabriel...I'm talking about Bach and how his faith impacted his music. I'm not trying to make generalities, one way or the other."
But why was Bach different from other composers in rhat respect? Was his faith (which I am not for a moment trying to deny!) of more consequence for his musical development than it was for equally devout and committed composers of considerably less ability? Surely it is quite a simple matter - either a great composer of sacred music is deemed a great composer because of their religious faith or they are thought a great composer, on account of their talent and ability?

There are very bad composers of great and profound religious conviction, and very great ones who have none...

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
J.S. Bach's faith is what animated his musical work. I think you can understand Bach better if you understand what he believed, even if you don't agree with it. But to deem it irrelevant to his music is an unfortunate conclusion. That's the sort of thinking I'm challenging.

John Pike wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < You are of course right that God gifts good gifts to all and many. As Jesus said, "He makes it to rain on the just and the unjust." >
Many thanks for your kind words. Unfortunately, I thought it unfortunate that you chose to include the biblical quotation below in your reply, although I was well aware of it as I typed my own e mail. This could upset non-Christians on the list who would not take kindly to the inference that all non-Christians are unjust, although theologically you could argue your case. I prefer to look at it this way. God loves all people unconditionally, regardless of whether they believe in him or not. It is therefore natural that he would give great gifts to all people, believers and non-believers alike. After all, everyone surely has a valuable role to play in this life? Not all of us are given the gift of composition. Some are given gifts for musicology or performance, health care, decorating, sport etc etc. This includes non-believers as well as believers.

I think that the exclusive approach adopted by some Christians in public, theologically sound as it may be, can be very hurtful to non-believers and, far from drawing them into the fold, is only likely to put them off all the more.

John Pike wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < J.S. Bach's faith is what animated his musical work. I think you can understand Bach better if you understand what he believed, even if you don't agree with it. But to deem it irrelevant to his music is an unfortunate conclusion. That's the sort of thinking I'm challenging. >
I don't think anyone I have heard on the list regards his faith as irrelevant to his music. The arguments are much more subtle than that. It is just not possible to make generalisations about links between faith and ability, or between lack of faith and lack of ability.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 5, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < There are very bad composers of great and profound religious conviction, and very great ones who have none... >
And there are bad men and wonderful men of religious conviction or not. This association of Bach's genius with his faith, a faith into which he was born (and probably had no choice in), is rather irrelevant in my understanding. Also the argument is simply circular. There are good and bad men and good and bad composers (and writers and painters and sculptors) and genius is something that is beyond our comprehension. Also we may all have different definitions of what constitutes a good man. To my understanding religious faith is not a necessary part of it.

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < My point is simply that there is an intrinsic link in J.S. Bach's life between his faith and his musical talent and his ability. >
Let us be realistic about this. Bach lived in highly religious times. This makes it a fairly predictable matter that he would be religious. He worked in a church during part of his life. It was the established church of his country. That makes his religion entirely predictable. There was not yet much idea of separation between Church and State, of religious freedom, nor of separation between religion and anything.

Why then are we dwelling on his religion? It's a real part of him, to be sure, but only a part. Yes, the Cantatas are church music. But we are making too much of that fact. To dwell on Bach's religion is something of a mistake, imho, much as it would be a mistake to dwell on John Phillip Sousa's patriotism. (When his real talent was cooking :)

The significance of the religious part of Bach (or anyone) has changed over the centuries. I would say it meant considerably less in those days to be religious than it does now. Being religious was the default condition, the civic norm. Belonging to a (rather the) church meant about as much as being registered to vote means today, though, of course, they were less tolerant of nonconformists like Jews, Catholics, Anabaptists, atheists, etc.. Being a "devout" whatever, though, as long as you were of the mainstream whatever, meant about as much as being civicly active today. Even is he was really, really, really "into" it, it still means less than it would today.

We in this list are ever vigilant for changes in the significance of the smallest details of musical practices over time. Let us please apply the same lens to religious practices. Let us not confuse the religious life of the early 18th century with the religious life of today. The Lutheran creed may not have changed, but the very meaning of religious participation has. Today there are hundreds or thousands of ways to be religious or spiritual, and an even greater number of ways not to be, and we are tolerant of nearly everyone. (even proselytizers :) To choose to be any one thing, a Lutheran, perhaps, is a far more personal and rare choice today, and, important as it is to individuals who choose it, it's really not what we discuss here.

Let us please, also, pay attention to other aspects of Bach's life. He wasn't just a musician and a Lutheran. He was also a family man, a nearsighted man, a fat man, a student of mathematics and languages, a beer drinker, and who knowhat else - some of you probably do know. He had 20 children by two wives. That means he had a LOT of sex. We have every right to be as solicitous of his sex life as of his religious life. His music is VERY sexy, actually. Every aspect of his life has to be somehow related to his music.

Let us also realize that these "on topic" religious discussions are really not so very on topic after all. Until we understand that Bach's religion is a totally different phenomenon, socially speaking, from anything in the world today, even when the creed is the same, we are just having church chat under the guise of secular musicology. enough of that.

If there are facets of his music that "reveal his faith," perhaps there are also facets of his music that reveal his sexuality. What was he like in bed anyway? Did he care about his wives' pleasure? Did he have other women? Men? Goats? Is a talented contrapuntist able to do different things with various parts of his/her body simultaneously? If so, I'd like to learn it. Does it mean he could be religious and worldly on alternate beats? It's ALL important to discuss if there is any evidence whatever. Even where there's no evidence, it's important to be free to discuss it without shame or reticence.

What did like to eat? What foods would he tolerate, what would he reject. Did he like his meat rare or well done? Was he finicky or gluttonous. Was he neat or messy at the table? I could go on and on asking questions about the great man. Dwelling on his religion merely hides his greatness behind a cloak of ordinariness that might well not be significant or even real in any sense but a conventional one. Let's move beyond religion, please.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 5, 2005):
Joel Figen wrote: < What did like to eat? What foods would he tolerate, what would he reject. Did he like his meat rare or well done? >
Did he ever consider the inherent cruelty and misery for the victims in "raising" meat and did he perhaps think of being a vegetarian or even a vegan? Most likely not. Most likely his moral Weltanschauung was limited to the questions that traditional Lutheran religion puts on the table and these are only a small part of the moral reality that we all have to deal with.

Great post Joel.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To John Pike] It is just not possible to make generalisations about links between faith and ability, or between lack of faith and lack of ability.

John, I wasn't and am not doing this.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] As I said, a person who can not deal with the religious motivation of Bach's work is similar to a person who is staring into the sun and says, "What light? I see no light!"

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Aebitman] Yoel, your secularist hostility toward religion is obvious. Try as you might however you can not dismiss the religius passions and convictions of J.S. Bach.

You can, and obviously do, reject Bach's religion, but to attempt to write it off and dismiss it as nearly irrelevant to his work is the height of foolishness and simple intellectual dishonesty.

I've already heard from several members of this list, persons from Japan, from Italy and one German: all of whom have indicated they don't like to subject themselves to the secularist attacks that is the result of trying, no matter how gently, to defend and to hold up for attention the connection between Bach's music and his religion.

They are encouraging my remarks.

I've said it before here, and I'll say it again. I will not remain silent while the religion of Bach is dismissed or overlooked. I have before and I will again say it would best for persons to say nothing at all about Bach's Christian faith at all, rather than denigrate and deride and dismiss it. The persons who appear shallow in this are the modern secularist skeptics who love to revel in "beautiful music" but choose to dismiss the very philosophy and worldview that motivated Bach to create such powerful music.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "I've already heard from several members of this list, persons from Japan, from Italy and one German: all of whom have indicated they don't like to subject themselves to the secularist attacks that is the result of trying, no matter how gently, to defend and to hold up for attention the connection between Bach's music and his religion."
This is all well and good, Peter, but I doubt I am alone in finding the oft-paraded hurt feelings of people from various religious traditions who think their religion under attack rather hard to take, given the implicit and often explicit attacks that those with no religious convictions are regularly subjected to. I don't believe anyone here is trying to deny Bach's religigious beliefs but Joels' point about the implications of any such faith being much more profound and significant for people of our own time than they were for people of Bach's time was well made.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Gabriel Jackson] Gabriel, I'm assuming the message you addressed to "Peter" was meant for me. I'm Paul. So, I guess you can say I'm robbing Peter here to pay Paul.

Your comment: < Joels' point about the implications of any such faith being much > more profound and significant for people of our own time than they were for people of Bach's time was well made. >
This statement is simply indefensible in light of the facts that you and others either are unaware of, or simply can not tolerate and therefore must find some way to dismiss.

Just the reverese is true.

Modern secularists find it next to impossible to grapple with the fact that this musical genius from the 18th century was a man of deep, profound faith. And so it is sad that one response to this reality is to try to minimize, dismiss and/or otherwise ignore this reality.

I am NOT saying one must share Bach's faith to appreciate his music. I have never said that. But I am saying that to neglect at least to learn what that faith was is to deprive yourself of a way to bring added pleasure and joy in the music of Bach, the very joy that Bach himself knew most profoundly, precisely because of the faith that moved and inspired him.

I'm sorry this is such a distressing thought for some, but it is simply reality.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 5, 2005):
< What did like to eat? What foods would he tolerate, what would he reject. Did he like his meat rare or well done? >
Well, there's the anecdote in the New Bach Reader about the time he rescued a couple of fish heads from discard at the back of a pub....

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "Gabriel, I'm assuming the message you addressed to "Peter" was meant for me. I'm Paul. So, I guess you can say I'm robbing Peter here to pay Paul."
Indeed! Sorry about that!

"Modern secularists find it next to impossible to grapple with the fact that this musical genius from the 18th century was a man of deep, profound faith."
I certainly don't!

"But I am saying that to neglect at least to learn what that faith was is to deprive yourself of a way to bring added pleasure and joy in the music of Bach, the very joy that Bach himself knew most profoundly, precisely because of the faith that moved and inspired him.
I'm sorry this is such a distressing thought for some, but it is simply reality."
It isn't simple reality - it's highly debatable. No-one knows how other people experience music. It is wrong, and patronising, to claim that those who have no great knowledge of Bach's particular religious beliefs are denying themselves that 'added pleasure and joy'. Those who have that knowledge do not know how those who don't experience the music. Who is to say that anyone's experience is less complete than theirs?

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 5, 2005):
< He had 20 children by two wives. That means he had a LOT of sex. We have every right to be as solicitous of his sex life as of his religious life. His music is VERY sexy, actually. Every aspect of his life has to be somehow related to his music. >
Indeed, the soundtrack to a rogering is a pretty obvious possibility in interpretation of the keyboard fanBWV 922. Especially the buildup into the last page with the pounding chords in the left hand, and then the way the texture changes into the Presto...and then the more Adagio type of ending, after that.

The staid way this piece is typically played on recordings (foursquare, with little bending of the rhythm) is another matter, and relatively dull, but that doesn't mean the above more dramatic reading is not possibly in there.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < Who is to say that anyone's experience is less complete than theirs? >
Indeed! For all I know you firmly believe the moon is made of cheese, that the sky is not blue, and that the earth is flat, not round, but I do not see how that in any way possibly changes what is true, and what is not.

I know the postmodernist mind compels many to assume this sort of posture over against even the possibility of objective truth and reality, but ironically, in so assuming, they assume a harsh, rigid dogmatism of the worst kind.

My point is that to understand [not believe, mind you!] but to at least fully understand the faith that animated, inspired and motivated J.S. Bach is to open the door on a fuller, richer and deeper appreciate of what gave Bach such great and transcendant joy, and perhaps some of that joy might become yours as well, in addition to al the joy that his music otherwise gives you.

As John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things" and these are simply the facts of the situation.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Indeed, Bach lived at a time where children were regarded as gifts and blessings to a marriage, not as burdens. Of course,if Bach had lived in communist Leipzig the possibility is very high his wives would have murdered their unborn children, thus depriving the world of Johann Christian and others. And though surely Bach enjoyed the pleasures of married life, he was not consumed by what proves in so many tragic cases to be a fatal obsession with sexuality and perversions of that sexuality of the worst sort, which tragically today in Leipzig may be viewed just paces away from the church where Bach labored.

But of course, we know we are the more enlightened ones today, don't we? The "Worker's Paradise" that was Leipzig under Communism surely must attest to the progress of our times, correct?

What did old J.S. Bach know, all he had was his profound faith, his music, his work and his family. Imagine if he would have been as "sexually liberated" as some fancy themselves today?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "My point is that to understand [not believe, mind you!] but to at least fully understand the faith that animated, inspired and motivated J.S. Bach is to open the door on a fuller, richer and deeper appreciate of what gave Bach such great and transcendant joy, and perhaps some of that joy might become yours as well, in addition to al the joy that his music otherwise gives you.?
"As John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things" and these are simply the facts of the situation."
But these are not facts, they are opinions.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: >>But these are not facts, they are opinions. <<
What an utterly banal and dull experience these conversations would have been been in Bach's Leipzig. Where every potentally intelligent conversation and hearty debate were to be come up against this last resort of those ill equipped to discuss philosophy or religion, "But that is your opinion!" Save us from such wretched and impoverished times! I believe we can do better than wimper to one another, "But that is your opinion!"

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "For all I know you firmly believe the moon is made of cheese, that the sky is not blue, and that the earth is flat, not round, but I do not see how that in any way possibly changes what is true, and what is not."
To which the inevatible response is that for all i know you fimly believe in God but I do not se how that in any way possibly changes what is true and what is not!

"And though surely Bach enjoyed the pleasures of married life, he was not consumed by what proves in so many tragic cases to be a fatal obsession with sexuality and perversions of that sexuality of the worst sort, which tragically today in Leipzig may be viewed just paces away from the church where Bach labored."
In what instances does this supposed 'obsession' with sexuality prove fatal, exactly? The reference to sexual perversion 'of the worst kind' suggests a degree of intolerance of others' values and lifestyles that is rather at odds with requests for respect for religious conviction.

"What did old J.S. Bach know, all he had was his profound faith, his music, his work and his family. Imagine if he would have been as "sexually liberated" as some fancy themselves today?"
Would that have been so deadful?!

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
< In what instances does this supposed 'obsession' with sexuality prove fatal, exactly? >
I'm sure both the homosexual and heterosexual communities of sub-Sarahan Africa would be more than happy to tell you, given the AIDS crisis they face.

Politically incorrect? But of course.

Factual? Absolutely.

Pity people won't consider Bach's religion but instead would actually wish instead to impose on J.S. Bach their own obsessive eroticism.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain writes: "In what instances does this supposed 'obsession' with sexuality prove fatal, exactly?
I'm sure both the homosexual and heterosexual communities of sub-Sarahan Africa would be more than happy to tell you, given the AIDS crisis they face.
Politically incorrect? But of course.
Factual? Absolutely."
Absolutely not. The transmission of AIDS is not a result of sex, nor of an obsession with sexuality, but results from unprotected sex. And one of the chief architects of this crisis is of course the Catholic church, who not only peddles an anti-contraception message (which is both deeply anti-women and anti-sexuality, and has no Biblical basis) but even more perniciously, has promulgated the notion in Africa that condoms not only do not prevent the spread of AIDS but that they actually increase it.

Charles Francis wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < Dear Charles, orthodox Lutheranism rejected only praying to Mary, not proper thanks for her postion as Mother of God. Bach did not pray to Mary. Within orthodox Lutheranism the Marian feast days were retained, but used to extol Mary's virtue and point the worshipper to Christ and His Gospel. That is a theme one will notice in Bach's Marian cantatas, etc. >
Thank you for your response. I will confess a certain bewilderment now, which you can perhaps resolve. Luther in his commentary on the Magnificat calls for the intercession of Mary on our behalf, yet it appears from your reply that Orthodox Lutherans were denied such a possibility. That seems to put Luther in the role of 'high priest', being able to pray for Mary's intercession while ordinary believers such as Bach were denied that option. But isn't that at odds with the whole thrust of Luther's philosophy?

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
Thanks for your inquiry and question. Luther matured in the application of his theological insights. His commentary on the Magnificat was one of his earlier works and there indeed you still find vestigal traces of his strong Roman piety. He gradually completely abandoned any notion of prayers to Mary. As for whether Mary and the saints intercede for us in heaven, the Lutheran Confessions declare that they may well do so, but this is no license for us to pray to them.

Luther's goal in his commentary on the Magnificat is to put as much of an evangelical intepretation on the old Roman practices. Likewise, in his "Personal Prayer Book" note how Luther specifically rejects praying the Hail Mary:

Therefore we should make the Hail Mary neither a prayenor an invocation because it is improper to interpret the words beyond what they mean in themselves and beyond the meaning given them by the Holy Spirit.

Luther, M. (1999, c1968). Vol. 43: Luther's works, vol. 43 : Devotional Writings II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Here, for example, is what the older Luther had to say about prayers to Mary:

Thus formerly, under the papacy, we shuddered more at the thought of Christ our Savior than at the mention of the devil, from whom we hoped to be able to escape or to be freed in some manner. We persuaded ourselves that Christ would judge and condemn us, and for this reason we called upon Mary and other saints.

Luther, M. (1999, c1965). Vol. 7: Luther's works, vol. 7 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

In a letter he wrote to his mother, Margaret, as she lay on her death bed in 1531, Luther has this to say about her deliverance from Papistic error re. Mary:

Above all be thankful that God has brought you to such knowledge and not allowed you to remain caught in papistic error, by which we were taught to rely on our own works and the holiness of the monks, and to consider this only comfort of ours, our Savior, not as a comforter but as a severe judge and tyrant,&#65279;12&#65279; so that we had to flee from him to Mary and the saints, and not expect of him any grace or comfort. But now we know it differently, [we know] about the unfathomable goodness and mercy of our heavenly Father: that Jesus Christ is our mediator,&#65279;13&#65279; our throne of grace,&#65279;14&#65279; and our bishop&#65279;15&#65279; before God in heaven, who daily intercedes for us and reconciles all who believe in him alone, and who call upon him;&#65279;16&#65279; that he is not a judge, nor cruel, except for those who do not believe in him, or who reject his comfort and grace; [and] that he is not the man who accuses and threatens us, but rather the man who reconciles us [with God], and intercedes for us with his own death and blood shed for us so that we should not [Vol. 50, Page 21] fear him, but approach him with all assurance and call him dear Savior, sweet Comforter, faithful bishop of our souls, etc.
Luther, M. (1999, c1975). Vol. 50: Luther's works, vol. 50 : Letters III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

I hope this is helpful to you to understand Luther's views on prayers to Mary for her intercession.

Stephen Benson wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < Pity people won't consider Bach's religion but instead would actually wish instead to impose on J.S. Bach their own obsessive eroticism. >
Not only is this a precipitous plunge into the ridiculous, twisting words and placing unwarranted absurdities in the mouths of others, but this statement would appear to this most un-Christian observer to be the basest sort of un-Christian name-calling.

A subsequent message from Mr. McCain re. Luther's views on prayers to Mary is simply too much to stomach. It's bad enough that we have, in America, Christian evangelicals running the White House; now we have them taking over the Bach Cantata List!

I think it's time to think about taking a break from the List and checking back in at some future date to see whether or not reason and civility have been restored.

Dorian Gray wrote (June 5, 2005):
Stephen Benson wrote: <<<Not only is this a precipitous plunge into the ridiculous, twisting words and placing unwarranted absurdities in the mouths of others, but this statement would appear to this most un-Christian observer to be the basest sort of un-Christian name-calling.
A subsequent message from Mr. McCain re. Luther's views on prayers to Mary is simply too much to stomach. It's bad enough that we have, in America, Christian evangelicals running the White House; now we have them taking over the Bach Cantata List!
I think it's time to think about taking a break from the List and checking back in at some future date to see whether or not reason and civility have been restored. <<<
I don't follow...If his comments are so un-Christian, then what is your problem with them? On the one hand, Christians are to be opposed when they participate in governance and yahoo groups, but when they do, you have a problem when they don't act like Christians should? If being an 'evangelical' Christian is so bad, then why do you complain when they don't act like Christians? Sounds as if any stick is good enough to beat Christians with, even if you don't mind abandoning any sort of persuasive reasoning.

Incidentally, "Reason and Civility" both owe a lot to an enormous number of great people who also happened to be Christians, Bach obviously being one of them...Enjoy your stay in Canada!

Charles Francis wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < Thanks for your inquiry and question. Luther matured in the application of his theological insights. His commentary on the Magnificat was one of his earlier works and there indeed you still find vestigal traces of his strong Roman piety. >
I appreciate your thoughtful and comprehensive reply. The problem, it seems, in defining Lutheran Orthodoxy as it may or may not relate to Bach, is that Luther's views changed with time. Implicit in your comment above, is the notion that Luther's later views take precedence over earlier ones. That is not unlike the editorial policy of the NBA, where Bach's final reworking of a piece is regarded as definitive. In the context of Luther, however, I find such a policy troubling. Confronted with the rabidly anti-Semitic writings of Luther's old age, Lutherans will point to the helpful and supportive stance he took towards Jewry in earlier years. But if the tenets of Lutheran Orthodoxy are defined by Luther's final views on any given topic, then such reassurances would appear as mere palliatives.

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < As I said, a person who can not deal with the religious motivation of Bach's work is similar to a person who is staring into the sun and says, "What light? I see no light!" >
you said it, but that doesn't make it an astute observation of the actual situation.

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < I've said it before here, and I'll say it again. I will not remain silent while the religion of Bach is dismissed or overlooked. I have before and I will again say it would best for persons to say nothing at all about Bach's Christian faith at all, rather than denigrate and deride and dismiss it. The persons who appear shallow in this are the modern secularist skeptics who love to revel in "beautiful music" but choose to dismiss the very philosophy and worldview that motivated Bach to create such powerful music. >
we do, however, have the right and the ability to ignore your messages.

Dave Harman wrote (June 5, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < I've said it before here, and I'll say it again. I will not remain silent while the religion of Bach is dismissed or overlooked. I have before and I will again say it would best for persons to say nothing at all about Bach's Christian faith at all, rather than denigrate and deride and dismiss it. The persons who appear shallow in this are the modern secularist skeptics who love to revel in "beautiful music" but choose to dismiss the very philosophy and worldview that motivated Bach to create such powerful music. >
But why are you so worked up about this? Who appointed you 'defender of Bach's faith' I think your coments about Bach's faith and your defense of it are more about you than Bach.

Further, you have begun to throw around the label 'secularist' - as if there is a polarity at work - faith against non-faith.

Then you begin to advance a theory about 'modern secularists' being unable to admit Bach could be a devout Christain and the great musician he is.

So, it seems, as your posts become more and more defensive and strident and your postition becomes more intractable, you begin to cast yourself in the role of 'Defof the Faith of Bach' and that just pulls you more and more over to the tone you demonstrated in your post of yesterday and which I responded to as being smug.

While you maintain Bach was a 'devout Lutheran' I maintain Bach was a practicing musician living in a time when religion was very prevalent and common. Did Bach pray before composing ? I doubt it. DId Bach look to his religion for approval of his musical gifts ? I doubt it. Would Bach be as great a musician if he were only nominally devout ? I think so. Can the beauty of Bach's music be attributed to his religion ? For me, the answer is no.For you, the answer is yes.

And why would it be best for persons to say nothing at all about Bach's Christain faith rather than denigrate, deride, and dismiss it ? Is this discussion about NOT disturbing you ? Can't you live with others disagreement - even dismissal of your beliefs ? IS your world made bleak and unbearable when someone "denigrates, derides, and dismisses" something you believe in ?

Then, you climb up into your pulpit to inveigh against "modern secularist skeptics who love to revel in beautiful music but choose to dismiss the very philosophy and worldview that motivated Bach to create such powerful music" How very intolerant of you - I listen to Bach from a different reference that you and I'm a "modern secularist skeptic" who appears 'shallow' because I don't see Bach's music as you do, or listen to Bach's music while contemplating the same religious truths you do ?

Doug Cowling wrote (June 5, 2005):
Stephen Benson wrote: < I think it's time to think about taking a break from the List and checking back in at some future date to see whether or not reason and civility have been restored. >
I think the solution is to abandon this fruitless string and actually dicuss the music of J.S. Bach. What is next week' s cantata?

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Stephen Benson] You could try simply not reading his messages. Most mailers have a filter mechanism that would let you deposit messages from unwanted sources directly in the vaporizer.

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Dorian Gray] Three comments, before I start filtering messages:

1. Those who make a public shibboleth of religion are explicitly deprecated by none other than Jesus himself.

2. The fact that certain unpleasant people rant about any particular subject scarcely makes them authorities in it. In particular, when the subject is Christianity, the essentials of that particular religion are well known to all with any claim to a Western mindset. We've lived with it for too long not to know it rather well. Those who claim to be dispensers of the-real-truth-about-God-and-everything are, imho, quite deluded, and when they become unpleasant, quite filterable. As for what they believe, I really couldn't care less, and the more they rant, the less I like them. As for what conclusions they draw about my beliefs or affiliations, I also couldn't care less, for those conclusions are sure to be wrong, as well as off topic for this forum.

3. I do not beat Christians unless they insist upon it. :-)P

Neil Halliday wrote (June 5, 2005):
BWV 155 (was Bach the evangelist)

Doug Cowling wrote: <"I think the solution is to..... actually dicuss the music of J.S.
Bach.>
Yes, for example, I think the opening movement of BWV 155 is a vivid musical expression of one believer's sense of wretchedness, desolation, and abandonment before his/her God.

The continuously repeated note in the bass (this rpeated D accounts for the first 3/4 of the whole movement) is representative of the narrator's highly strung mental state, and the dissonant upper string strokes have a 'searing' quality (I like Harnoncourt's strings here) that leaves us in no doubt as to the emotions being experienced by the narrator.

This is a most expressive short movement.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] Really Joel? How unfortunate. Perhaps if we place instead the word "Jews" or "Islam" or "Atheists" in place of "Christian" in your three points, we can more clearly see the universality of your argument.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
< But these are not facts, they are opinions. >
In your opinion, you meant to say.

: )

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Chasrles Francis] Charles, I was answering your question about Luther's views on Mary, but now I see in fact you are instead attempting to make some other point.

The definitive position of orthodox Lutheranism is not, by the way,determined by the writings of Martin Luther, but actually by the confessions of the Lutheran church as contained in the Book of Concord of 1580. You may read and review these statements at: www.bookofconcord.org

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
>>Did Bach pray before composing ? I doubt it. Did Bach look to >>his religion for approval of his musical gifts ? <<
In fact Bach did often begin all his church music in the following manner. The standard initials 'J.J.'(Jesu iuva - Jesus help) and 'S.D.G.' (Soli deo gloria - To God alone be glory) are found at the beginning and end of church compositions and of some, but by no means all, of the secular pieces.

Did Luther "look to his religion for approval" -- no, in fact, he looked at his music as a way to bring glory to the One in Whom He believed, His Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 5, 2005):
On the Joy of Bach

An individual contacted me off-list to send me these comments in reaction to the conversation on the list about J.S. Bach's faith and his cantatas. This from a fellow Bach cantata lover in Germany:

Dear Mr. McCain!

I write to you off-list because for one thing I hardly ever find time to participate in the discussion of this forum and secondly because if I start arguing I canīt quitt and I donīt have the time to do that. Besides that I wanted to let you know that other people out there think like you.

I do agree with you 100% and I donīt understand the discussion at all. Itīs great that people like yourself put their head out of the window, even if they know they will be misinterpreted.

Everytime this point is discussed I am left with the question where the real problem behind this discussion is to be found.

Are believers narrow-minded people who ignore historical facts or do non-believers have a problem with a composer whose music they love, but donīt share his foundation of faith?

This is a purely rhetorical question, of course.

The answer is quite clear to me.

In a few minutes I will listen to one of my favorite cantates, BWV 100, Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan. I have performed it twice with my choir and orchester.

When I listen to the last movement especially, I guess I know why non-bellievers keep arguing about J.S.Bach and his faith. This music is fantastic, but there is something behind it. It lites the candle in the dark, that means, it supportes may faith, changes my everyday-life and makes me sing Halleluja to my God.

J.S.Bach - with all the trouble and problems in his life - wrote this music, and after many, many cantates had to add horns and timpani to a fantastic piece of music to make this a triumphant hymn of trust in God.

When ones candle is not lit by this music, your faith and believe not supported, then - I guess - you must start arguing about J.S.Bach, because if you donīt you kind of admit that you miss the main thing about his music.

Doug Cowling wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Neil Halliday] And I'm sure Bach would have had no qualms about using it in a secular cantata. Remember the snakes in Hercules' cradle became the paths of the Lord in the Christmas Oratario, the exqusitely secular Brandenburg Concertos make guest appearances in the cantata, and even the opening chorus of the St, Mark Passion became an invocation to a dead electress. The "affections" make no disticntion between sacred and profane, a factor which has always bothered the pious.

 

Continue on Part 3

Bach & Religion: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8
Bach the Evangelist:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2012 ý17:23:37