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Bach and Religion
Part 1

Atheism, obscurantism, Bach

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 21, 2000):
[To Jane Newble] I'm the kind of person with conviction. I'm really convicted ... atheist. And I love sacred music, especially Baroque sacred music, what leads us to Bach - also his Passions, Cantatas, organ works. Do I not understand them, because I'm even not a Christian?! Am I not entitled to follow certain Bach thoughts, that probably (who knows?!) inspired him in the moment of writing down notes? Why we tend to forget that he was a man of his time, of his age. It was very specific period in the European culture - why we forget it's context - religious - with Reformation and harsh Catholic reaction?; social - with almost - like in the Middle Ages - devoted to GOD model of society, political ...? If the young Bach would become - till the very end of his live - court composer of King of Prussia or King of Poland and Saxony - and never end up in Leipzig, would his 'oeuvre' be different? I think that it would be ... with most sincere conviction.

And the last thing - I can't agree that modern composers can't combine mastery with deep belief. Among my most favourite sacred works are works by Frank Martin, Henryk Gorecki, Krzysztof Penderecki .... did you ever hear anything from them ...? Shall we as well exclude Part, Kancheli, Tavener ... ?! If there is a God - IMO - He is exactly in such works. And it didn't stop with Bach. Whoever agree?

Jane Newble wrote (November 21, 2000):
(To Piotr Jaworski) Thank you for writing about your conviction. I am sorry if my post has caused misunderstanding. I was not saying that only people with the same convictions as Bach could enjoy his music. That would cut out a lot of people ;o) I was really philosophising around the idea that if someone like Bach in this day and age had the same beliefs about sin, hell, Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation etc. etc. that he would not be taken seriously. I know that there are modern composers who combine musical ability with deep belief. All I was saying was that they would hardly be exactly the same beliefs. But also that if Bach had lived today, his music would not be exactly as it is now. That's all really. And I am glad that he lived when he did. I would hate to be without his music as it is.

Once again, sorry if I did not express myself very clearly.

Eric Ostling wrote (November 21, 2000):
I would be interested to know if anyone has documented evidence of a belief on Bach's own part that Lutheran Protestantism was indeed the only way to salvation, because I am ready to disagree. Why for example would he spend almost 25 years carefully crafting the movements of a Latin Mass, that in its final form has no proper place in either a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic service?

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Jane Newble) Probably you are right - I've read something different than what you've written.

It happens, especially when we enter fields of religions, convictions, beliefs etc. Your posting caused no harm upon my side - I intended some kind of defence (maybe not fortunate) - mainly of modern composers, than of other people (like me) that can receive Bach Message in a different way. Not exactly, or rather not mainly through their religious convictions. This Message seems to be nowadays much more "universal" (or rather Universal) that even Bach could foresee. Could he ever imagine, that his works - let's stay with cantatas only - written for the very certain, very specific circle - will be recognized, adored and simply loved ... from America, Brazil, Germany, Poland, to Russia, Japan ...

And I think that we are on the common ground now, don't we?

As for the favourite cantata .... today, I'd say that definitely BWV 131 "Aus der Tiefe..." performed by BCJ / Suzuki (BIS) from his second volume of complete cantatas.

Jane Newble wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Eric Ostling) Bach would be ready to join you in disagreeing with a belief
that Lutheran Protestantism was the only way to salvation. He studied and knew his Bible, and there is plenty of external and internal evidence to show that he believed Jesus Christ to be the only way to salvation. This is also evident in the most beautiful 'Mass' that was ever written.

Jane Newble wrote (November 22, 2000):
(To Piotr Jaworski) I think Bach would be utterly amazed at the series of complete
Bach cantatas, not to mention the project of Gardiner of performing them everywhere. And you are right, we cannot prescribe to anyone, how to receive Bach's music. That depends on who we are . It is possible that we receive it in different ways even in our own life-time. It is certain that my favourite cantata changes as I get to know
more of them. But I agree on BWV 131. When I first heard it, I could not stop listening, and I used to get up early in the morning and listen to it through headphones. I shall have to listen to it again!

Johan van Veen wrote (November 22, 2000):
Eric Ostling wrote:
< I would be interested to know if anyone has documented evidence of a belief on Bach's own part that Lutheran Protestantism was indeed the only way to salvation, because I am ready to disagree. Why for example would he spend almost 25 years carefully crafting the movements of a Latin Mass, that in its final form has no proper place in either a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic service? >
For many months this subject has been discussed in the newsgroup alt.music.j-s-bach. You will be able to find the messages regarding this subject through dejanews.

The attempts by some people to use the B-minor Mass (BWV 232) as evidence of Bach's indifference regarding doctrine are without any foundation. As you write, the Mass in the form we know it has no place in either the Lutheran or Roman Catholic service. I think that Bach has two reasons to complete the sections he had already composed into its present form: he wanted to leave a musical legacy to next generations of composers; he wanted to leave a testimony of his personal faith. In the content or form of the B-minor Mass there is nothing which contradicts the messages of his previously composed works nor the things we know about his faith.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 22, 2000):
Jane Newble wrote:
< Thank you for writing about your conviction. I am sorry if my post has caused misunderstanding. I was not saying that only people with the same convictions as Bach could enjoy his music. That would cut out a lot of people ;o) I was really philosophising around the idea that if someone like Bach in this day and age had the same beliefs about sin, hell, Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation etc. etc. that he would not be taken seriously. I know that there are modern composers who combine musical ability with deep belief. All I was saying was that they would hardly be exactly the same beliefs. >
How do you know? There are lots of people whose faith regarding sin, hell, Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation is exactly the same as in Bach's days - and so, in all probability, the same as Bach's own. (I am one of them.) I don't know if one of these is a composer of any standard. But if it is possible to have the same faith as Bach, I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be possible to be a (prominent) composer at the same time.

Eric Ostling wrote (November 22, 2000):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< The attempts by some people to use the B-minor Mass as evidence of Bach's indifference regarding doctrine are without any foundation. As you write, the Mass in the form we know it has no place in either the Lutheran or Roman Catholic service. I think that Bach has two reasons to complete the sections he had already composed into its present form: he wanted to leave a musical legacy to next generations of composers; he wanted to leave a testimony of his personal faith. In the content or form of the B-minor Mass there is nothing which contradicts the messages of his previously composed works nor the things we know about his faith. >
Sounds like we may be a little in what they call a 'violent agreement'. I am aware of some of the discusson the Bach newsgroup, esp those that have spilled out onto other lists. Certainly, it is hard to look at the texts and the decades of service at St. Thomas and conclude anything other than Bach as profoundly religious.

From a doctrinal point of view, however, it is interesting however that he abandons almost all overtly religious composition, with the notable exception of the B-minor mass and the collecting of the chorales, after the cantata works stop in the early 1730's. His later works are harpsichord concerti, the Musical Offering, Art of Fugue, WTC II; I personally don't see two much 'doctrine' of any sort floating around in these, although the spiritual nature of these works is unmistakable to me, in that they are some of the most profound and powerful compositions ever penned by a human being. My conclusion from this is that Bach's message is religious beyond any doctrine and just maybe beyond any particular form of religion (he is known to have Jewish and other religious texts in his private library, for example).

Johan van Veen wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Eric Ostling) This is also used as "argument". But first of all, we simply don't know exactly as why he stopped composing religious works. One of the reasons will certainly be the increasing problems he had with the authorities both in the church and in politics. Apart from that, we even don't know whether he really didn't write
anything religious. Quite a number of Bach's works have been lost, so it is always possible that pieces from that period have been lost as well. But, unfortunately, we don't know, and we will perhaps never know. Secondly, in Bach's time there was no watershed between sacred and secular music. The fact that a composer in the baroque doesn't compose much religious music doesn't imply religious indifference. Religious music wasn't considered as more valuable or of a higher level than religious music. Both cantatas and concertos were composed in praise of God. Society and general thinking were deeply religious.

< My conclusion from this is that Bach's message is religious beyond any doctrine and just maybe beyond any particular form of religion (he is known to have Jewish and other religious texts in his private library, for example). >
In my view this is an example of anachronism. From what I know about that period in history, being a Christian beyond all doctrines was extremely rare. It is a concept which wins support in the second half of the 18th century, but even then it isn't a general concept. In the time of Bach being a Christian had always to do with supporting a number of doctrines.

Charles Francis wrote (November 23, 2000):
Eric Ostling wrote:
< I would be interested to know if anyone has documented evidence of a belief on Bach's own part that Lutheran Protestantism was indeed the only way to salvation, because I am ready to disagree. >
Bach's library is reported to have contained the following works by Pietistic theologians:

-Johann Christian Adami's "Güldene Aepffel in silbernen Schalen",
-Heinrich Müller's "Göttliche Liebes-Flamme",
-Johann Jacob Rambach's "Betrachtung der Thränen und Seuffzer Jesu Christi",
-Philipp Jacob Spener's "Gerechter Eifer wider das Antichristische Pabstthum".

Bach is also reported to have owned Johann Muller's "Judaismus oder Judenthumb" and a book by Josepus on the History of the Jews. Another purported book in Bach's library is Johann Müller's "Atheismus devictus" which points to the (heretical) theologian Jacob Boehme (see http://www.augustana.ab.ca/~janzb/boehme.htm).

Bach's reported ownership of August Pfeiffer's "Anticalvinismus oder Unterredung von der Reformirten Religion" suggests an aversion to Calvinistic doctrine. He is also reported to have owned Pfeiffer's "Antimelancholicus oder Melancholievertreiber".

While the majority of Bach's theological library apparently reflects typical professional needs of a Lutheran Cantor, the books above appear to fall outside this scope. They suggest, to me at least, that Bach was a thinker and inquirer rather than a man of faith.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (November 23, 2000):
Charles Francis wrote, about the books in Bach's library:
< <snip> [these books]... suggest, to me at least, that Bach was a thinker and inquirer rather than a man of faith >
Could he not be both a thinker and a man of faith? Ah, what the heck! I just enjoy the music...

Happy listening...and to my fellow List members, Happy Thanksgiving,

Jane Newble wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Harry J. Steinman) To Harry and all American fellow list members. (And others who want to enjoy some more Bach). Happy Thanksgiving. What about celebrating it with BWV 29..."Wir danken dir, Gott". I have the Herreweghe version, which is fabulous!

Johan van Veen wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Charles Francis) It is a typical example of humanistic arrogance to think that you can't be a man of faith as well as a thinker and inquirer at the same time. Your behaviour on this list is exactly the same as in alt.music.j-s-bach. Therefore you land in my killfilter again.

Piotr Jaworski wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Johan van Veen) Johan, are you sure that your motto reflects your writing?
I didn't find anything to condemn - especially in such a straight and immediate way
- in Francis message. And his "bahaviour" is still OK. His mail was - in fact - very thought provoking. But nothing more.

Let us not become more familiar with your "killfilter problem". It's your very, very personal business.

Johan van Veen wrote (November 23, 2000):
(To Piotr Jaworski) I am not the one who is disturbing the peace. Suggesting - without any argument, without evidence and for no reason - that faith and thinking exclude each other is an insult. It suggest that people who are believers are in fact not able to think properly and therefore are short-sighted ignorants. That is in line with what he is writing in the newsgroup alt.music.j-s-bach. A number of people have tried to prove to him that his views of Bach being a crypto-Catholic or religiously indifferent have no basis in the historical facts. He always thanks them for the information, and then repeats the same views as if nothing has been said. That is why nobody in that newsgroup is debating with him anymore. I am pretty sure that this is the main reason he joined this list. That happened after a long debate in the newsgroup which ended in a number of "regulars" announcing they were not willing to discuss with him anymore. I had hoped his attitude would be different on this list. It isn't, alas.

Fredrik Fernbom wrote (November 23, 2000):
Johan van Veen wrote:
< In my view this is an example of anachronism. From what I know about that period in history, being a Christian beyond all doctrines was extremely rare. It is a concept which wins support in the second half of the 18th century, but even then it isn't a general concept. In the time of Bach being a Christian had always to do with supporting a number of doctrines. And It is a typical example of humanistic arrogance to think that you can't be a man of faith as well as a thinker and inquirer at the same time. >
As a Church historian I can only stress the points. Anachronism is very usual and you can never avoid it totally. But you can try. That is to be "objective", to put yourself outside. Of course subjectivism is valuable too, but not always. I myself have no problems to understand Bach in that way. I am a convicted Lutheran but I am not confessional in my research. And one must not be an enemy of
modern science if one believe in Christ as the only Saviour.

I sent a message July 28th with a biography and some links according to Bach
as a Christian and a Theologian. Of course we cannot know for sure what he believed (you can never know that about another person), but his music and the "Soli Deo Gloria" gives no reason to think that he was a non-believer. The question if you can understand his music without a personal faith is not answered by that. I think you can, but I still think youwill get out more if you believe in Christ.

Diederik Peters wrote (November 24, 2000):
Charles Francis wrote:
< While the majority of Bach's theological library apparently reflects typical professional needs of a Lutheran Cantor, the books above appear to fall outside this scope. They suggest, to me at least, that Bach was a thinker and inquirer rather than a man of faith. >
And we all know how those two charateristics just could not exist within the same man!!!

Charles Francis wrote (November 25, 2000):
(To Diederik Peters) We've been asked to end this discussion, so let's do that! If you're really interested in rationally discussing this topic (and having your belief system challenged), then I'm willing to discuss off-line. Needless to say, I stand fully behind my carefully chosen words!

 

How the theology, the music, and the listener relate? / Bach: Faith and Reality

Nicholas Baumgertner (June 28, 2001):
[snip]
In that vein, I would be very interested in hearing responses from this group to a question I have posed throughout my research to dozens of Bach scholars and performers throughout the world--one that centers on the Cantatas. What does the religious dimension in Bach's music mean for us today? To what extent is this dimension still valid, or even necessary, given that many of us today live in a primarily secular society?

Kirk McElhearn wrote (June 28, 2001):
(To Nicholas Baumgartner) In my opinion, the fact that we live in a secular society places the cantatas, and other sacred music works, in a different context than that which their original listeners had. But this is unavoidable; times change. For me, not being "religious", yet nevertheless being "spiritual", the cantatas express the simple fact that music can transcend reality, and express the most subtle and profound feelings of spirituality. While not especially touched by the actual words of the cantatas, the mere music shows me that the religious dimension is present, and is indeed a key aspect in these works.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 28, 2001):
(To Nicholas Baumgartner) If I may, I should like to rephrase that question in a way I often do on this matter which sometimes troubles me on the Bach lists.

What does the Christian theological textual basis of Bach vocal music mean for a person who is either secular or non-Christian religious or non-traditional religions spiritual? I am certain and confident that the music with its texts can edify those of us who do not accept the theological premises. And that Bach cannot and should not be used to preach to the unconverted as one sometimes receives the impression. Bach's music, all the more his Christian music or, better put, his music set to Christian theological texts, is universal in its appeal to many not of that belief system and there
is nothing odd about that at all.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (June 28, 2001):
(To Nicholas Baumgartner) Hi all, GREAT question/topic...I would catagorize myself as being in both the non-Christian and in the secular worlds...and yet I find understanding the theological underpinning of JSB's music to be helpful in understanding the structure and content of the music.

Case in point: The sinfonia to the second of the Xmas Oratorios (BWV 248). The underlying biblical text refers to the shepherds watching in the fields when angels come along to announce the birth of Jesus, and how the shepherds are unnerved by the heavenly apparation. The booklet accompanying the René Jacobs version describes how the musical theme is first carried by the violins, representing the angels, and then the oboes join...uncertainly at first, representing the fear or chagrin of the shepherds.

I do not personally believe for a minute that actual angels appeared to actual shepherds (nor do I believe that there is such a thing as an angel. Please-no offense is meant to Believers; it's just not my pot of tea) but understanding the biblical text makes the music richer and far more meaningful to me.

When I listen to the cantata-of-the-week, I enjoy knowing the scripture on which the music is based so I can understand Bach's goal...and the interpretation of the performers.

I don't think you have to be jewish to like rye bread; christian to enjoy Bach; or Buddhist to be unattached to the fruit of action. Understanding each religion's contribution to culture and to the universal body of mythos enhances my experience of being human.

So, on the one hand, I do think that knowing about Bach's religious orientation helps me apprehend the music. On the other hand, sometimes the discussion of specific, very detailed theological elements is difficult to wade through. Not offensive; boring. But I wouldn't have anyone self-censor (except when it comes to criticising others!).

Well, back to the daily grind...with Bach!

Roy Reed wrote (June 28, 2001):
Sorry to be a lurker these days, but I am chained to my desk on other labors....very different....hard to divide concentration. Besides, I have a deadline. I do wish to respond to the question by Mr. Baumgartner. At the time of the big Bach birthday in l985 I conducted two performances of the St. Jn. Passion (BWV 245). Among responses was this letter:

Dear Dr. Reed:
Please let me express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to you and the other musicians involved in the Sat. night performances of the St. John Passion. A group of choir members from our church in Chesterland, Ohio attended and for me it was a most meaningful experience.
Our daughter was killed in an auto accident a while ago and I want you to know that hearing your sensitive performance allowed me to finish my active grieving and put it all to rest.
I have sung it and just heard it this year at Severence Hall again, but the sensitivity and intimacy you achieved made it a truly religious experience for me - I am grateful.
Best wishes in your work.
Sincerely,
Name

Obviously this woman was well disposed religiously and musically to hear Bach; not everyone is. This note did say to me, though, that what JSB did in his passions still works. He puts you at the foot of the cross, confronts you with tragedy....not just that of Jesus, but of yourself and the whole world....brings you to prayer and in the catharsis of the whole drama turns you to grace. I think that the first cantata I ever heard was BWV 78. I can only recall a couple of things, beyond my general happy appreciation. The male singer was Mack Harrell (Father of cellist Lynn Harrell). Wonderful singer. Also, the sprightly second movement was sung by women of the chorus, with piano and cello continuo. The first cantatas I ever conducted, not surprisingly, were BWV 4 and BWV 140.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 28, 2001):
Arguably until fairly recent times (we now have a smaller world), the two pillars of Western Art, Literature, and Music have been "The Classical (Greco-Roman) Heritage" and the Christian Heritage. Against this background it is simply impossible to try to read Milton or Dante without knowing both the Classical texts and the Biblical texts. I--of course-- would never have thought of listening to "Es ist vollbracht" from the Johannes Passion (BWV 245) without knowing the text. It is necessary both for understanding Bach's music and his Gesamtkunstwerk, to apply a term anachronistically.

Non-Christians are "strangers" in the Christian world to a good extent. But, and here I address Roy, we are all human beings and we all face eventually the same pains and pangs of the course of life.

If the passion message brings comfort to some persons, I do not believe anyone would want to deprive that person of such a comfort. But OTOH I cannot avoid being aware of the incitement for hatred that the passion play traditions, carried forth much more in Johannes than in Matthäus, have led to historically.

So, yes, let those who are comforted be comforted and let all stop sending others to a bad afterlife as we share a common mortality. Bach is not here toand we could not ask him about all this in the light of history since his time. He was a supreme musician in the service of a Lutheran world and his talents still affect many of us in an extraordinary way, different for each.

Roy Reed wrote (June 28, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) True enough! And the road to repentance on this matter should be packed with Christians. It is demonic to sing the song of Christ's passion out of the hateful mouth of an ignorant past.

Marie Jensen wrote (June 30, 2001):
Nicholas Baumgartner asked:. What does the religious dimension in Bach's music mean for us today? To what extent is this dimension still valid, or even necessary,
given that many of us today live in a primarily secular society?

To Yoel who answered:And that Bach cannot and should not be used to preach to the unconverted as one sometimes receives the impression.

No, but often Bach’s music begins to preach by itself... :-)!

Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote (June 30, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Sorry about the late response. I was out of town this week attending a Lutheran Classical Education Conference. To the question(s) "What does the religious dimension in Bach's music mean for us today?" It means the same for us that it did for the people of Bach's day. "To what extent is this dimension still valid, or even necessary, given that many of us today live in a primarily secular society?" Of course much (but not all) of Bach's was written for use in the church. The cantatas were musical sermons intended to correspond to the historic pericopes of the Christian Church Calendar. Many of them include one or more of the Lutheran chorales, which also are themselves mini sermons. I certainly agree that a list like this should not be used as a soap box for promulgating one's own views about religion. At the same time, however, as I've said before, one really cannot do justice to the study of Bach unless one understands the Orthodox Lutheran Faith that Bach was operating under, and unless one considers the texts that he was setting his music to. As far as being relevant in a secular society, it's just simply wrong to think that our society is any more or less "secular" than any other--superficially perhaps, but in fact, every generation is just as bad as the next. Therefore God's call to repentance and faith is always relevant. For the sake of argument, the more secular the society is the more relevant Bach's sermons are, and while one does not want to turn a list like this into a religious gang bang, we do have to realize that God's Word (I'm talking about the Bible here) always preaches. Whenever it goes forth, it elicits one or the other of three responses, i.e., anger, indifference, or repentance and faith (Isaiah 55:11).

For those of you who might be interested in a further treatment of Bach's Lutheran faith, see: Robin A. Leaver, "Music and Lutheran ism, From the Cambridge Companion to Bach. John Butt, Editor. Cambridge Press, 1997

Boyd Pehrson wrote (June 30, 2001):
(To Marie Jensen) Part of Bach's genius as a composer is his musical exposition of the the texts he selected. He was primarily a church composer as far as his cantatas and motets and passions are concerned. So, the fact that Bach's music still stirs the faithful is more testimony to his genius. He applied his art to his work as church musician, and did an astoundingly beautiful job. I agree with Marie, that Bach's work is what it is. It remains a boost to the faithful and a draw and interest to the unbeliver. Yoel had commented about the hatred stirred by the passions at one point. I don't see hatred as an enduring element of the passions. I don't see anyone these days walking out of a Passion performance and wanting to tear down a synagogue. If everything the Nazis used is to be avoided, then lets throw away our german cars. I'm not suggesting that Yoel wants to throw any Bach away. Quite the contrary, we all would like to study Bach intently. The parts of Bach cantatas that speak to belief and faith are entirely connected to his work as a church musician. The purpose of the music is church related. The fact that "unbelievers" find Bach's music of interest means he did his job well.

Bach, like a novelist, can take someone on a journey to experience another world. One can participate in the realm of the faithful, and understand it fully as interest allows. I don't have to be jewish to place myself in Anne Frank's situation. That is the great thing about writing- it allows us to "safely" experience the other worlds around us past and present. I think the same of Bach's music. One may "safely" explore- the realm of angels, the crucifixcion of Christ, the christian doctrines of trinity and justification by faith, guilt and true christian forgiveness, or just tap one's fingers to the music- Bach is as deep as one wants to go. Few people anymore hold to the idea that Bach was insincere about his faith, as was the fashion at one point. The depth and character of Bach's work do speak universally. They are gifts for all of us.

Michael Grover wrote (July 1, 2001):
Nicolas Baumgartner wrote:
<<snip> In that vein, I would be very interested in hearing responses from this group to a question I have posed throughout my research to dozens of Bach scholars and performers throughout the world--one that centers on the Cantatas. What does the religious dimension in Bach's music mean for us today? To what extent is this dimension still valid, or even necessary, given that many of us today live in a primarily secular society? >
In asking what the religious dimension in Bach's music means for "us" today, each person can only answer what it means to them personally, since none of us is qualified to speak on such a matter for anyone else, let alone society at large.

I am a devout Christian, and "religious" in the traditional sense of going to church each Sunday - very conservative, old-fashioned, etc. etc. (Despite being only 29 - I think I'm an anomaly in my generation. But that's not necessarily true either.)

Interestingly enough, however, the texts of the cantatas do not usually move me in any particular way. The music of the cantatas is outstandingly wonderful, of course, but I've never had a spiritual epiphany with them. Here are my reasons why I think this is so:

(1) The language. My native tongue is English. Although I am fluent in German, and understand the texts easily enough, I find religious feeling to be a spontaneous kind of thing, and it's hard to be spontaneous when you have to translate in your head first.

(2) The texts themselves. First of all, Bach didn't write them (at least most of them. Are there any that are proven that he did, in fact, write himself?) I tend to find most of the texts of the cantatas pretty much second-rate poetry that has the honored distinction of being set to some of the most sublime music ever written. I find myself much more spiritually moved by the recitatives in the passions, because it is actual (what I consider to be) scripture, rather than Picander's 18th century musings.

(3) The beauty of the music. Because Bach's music is so wonderful, I find myself focusing more on the tunes rather than the words. And while they certainly bring a smile to my face, they usually don't move me in what I consider to be a spiritual sense.

There are times, in fact, when the spiritual dimension of Bach's choral music does hit me. These times are almost ALWAYS during the simple hymn chorales rather than the arias, duets, or choruses. I have found that, for me at least, spirituality is best conducted through simplicity. The arias are beautiful, but I find, despite Bach's best intentions, that they are too show-offy to communicate genuine spiritual feeling. But again, that may be just me.

Well, I suppose I've rambled on long enough. I do hope that no-one has been offended in any way. Religion and spiritual beliefs are always touchy subjects. I am grateful for lists and forums such as this that allow people to voice their opinions in a non-confrontational way with respect and tolerance for others.

One last note. In regards to thcomment about ours being a "primarily secular society," -- I know you can't read too much into it, but on Sunday here where I live, the parking lot of every church in town is filled to capacity. (Of course, I do live on the edge of the Bible Belt.) I guess it just depends on what your definition of "secular" is.

Jill Gunsell wrote (July 1, 2001):
Michael Grover wrote:
< I am grateful for lists and forums such as this that allow people to voice their opinions in a non-confrontational way with respect and tolerance for others. >
Amen. Amen. I also happen to be a religious person but I so much appreciate the insights (religious, non-religious, whatever) of other Bach lovers who do not share my beliefs. This is a particularly wonderful list in terms of tolerance and sharing, and I am grateful to its members for much information and pleasure, peacefully and generously exchanged.

As for appreciation by Christians of Bach's religious cantatas and the Passions, it is a great joy to me that in our age, most Christian denominations are coming to an understanding that what we hold to be ultimate truth is above merely intellectual comprehension, and that therefore all our theologies are necessarily provisional. It is
against this background that Bach's religious music qua music is (for me) quite miraculous, a vast vehicle for religious concepts (thought) and sentiments (not thought). I use the word "religious" in the widest possible sense. A propos, I asked Andreas Scholl whether he is conscious when singing Bach's religious music that some people may be moved to prayer. His reply: "How could I not be? Of course! And anyway, all music, all art is religious, in the sense of reaching out to an ultimate truth." Whatever else there is in Bach, there is truth which speaks to many; truth perceived whether or not grasped in a specific manner, religious or otherwise.

< where I live, the parking lot of every church in town is filled to capacity. >
Same here in my part of England.

Jill Gunsell wrote (July 1, 2001):
Boyd Pehrson wrote:
< I don't see hatred as an enduring element of the passions. >
No. But repentance is. Very Bach, very Luther, truly Christian. The very core of SMP is Erbarme Dich: a naked, absolutely unqualified plea for forgiveness. One holds in one's heart the whole of suffering humanity -- especially the persecuted, and the persecutors -- on every hearing of this beautiful, terrible cry, and applies its sentiments to oneself. Exactly as Bach intended, I suspect.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 1, 2001):
(To Marie Jensen & Boyd Pehrson) I find alas a certain lack of appreciation of my views in both Marie's posts and in the present one of Boyd's. Yes, Bach can preach to the believers, but no he does not preach, as you would have him preach, to the non-Christian believer (Believer has a wider application). Bach is not yours alone as Sophocles is not only to those who believe in his gods, etc. I am not anti-German in any sense.I do believe that the passion plays of the textual tradition that is embedded in the Johannes Passion is a major contributory factor to a millennium and more of Christian Judenhass of a sort that led to the Holocaust after leading to many smaller in scale acts of that sort. To deny that is to deny history and some of the very earlier Church fathers. And I find such denial unacceptable. I am very much at home in much of German culture. I listen to Wagner quite regularly and I don't worship either Wotan or Jesus. Respect me as I respect you. It is quite simple. There are many Jewish Bach lovers. That doesn't mean that they will ever be preached to. This Christian tradition of forcing Jews to be preached to has an odious tradition too. I do find your insistence on this one of the reasons I stay away from the cantata list. I do not intend to be captive at a religious service. I would not attend a cantata as part of a worship service, but would as part of a concert in a church. That Christian Believers have a great experience precisely in the cantata as part of a worship service is totally understandable. And I have no need to deny Bach's Christianity. I do believe while listening to a great performance as I do when listening to Cherubini's Medea or Bellini's Norma. I believe that art can transform life and bring us closer to one another and to beauty and truth. Finally I will add that some of the deepest music loving friends of mine who are Gentiles, not Christians, adamantly find the Johannes Passion something they will only listen to the arias from. I would not do that, but I understand and appreciate that sensitivity.

Frank Fogliati wrote (July 2, 2001):
Rev. Robert A. Lawson wrote:
<snip> < At the same time, however, as I've said before, one really cannot do justice to the study of Bach unless one understands the Orthodox Lutheran Faith that Bach was operating under, and unless one considers the texts that he was setting his music to. >
Interesting comments. And despite the fact that I'm coming from a different perspective (aetheism) I quite agree with you. Lately I have been listening to Sufi songs of worship, and Islamic music in general. Encouraged by a Moslem friend I decided to read the Qu'Aran and other relevant guides to Sufisim. Coupled with the fact that I will be travelling to several Islamic countries later this year, I find that the knowledge I have now acquired has helped me to understand and appreciate the phenomenon of Sufi mysticism. I would encourage anyone seeking a more intimate understanding of a music tradition to at least acquaint themselves witrh the relevant history and texts.

< Michael Grover wrote: One last note. In regards to the comment about ours being a "primarily secular society," -- I know you can't read too much into it, but on Sunday here where I live, the parking lot of every church in town is filled to capacity. (Of course, I do live on the edge of the Bible Belt.) I guess it just depends on what your definition of "secular" is. >
In the most recent census conducted in Australia approximately 60% of our population stated their religion as Christian. Yet the reality is far different. Low (and steadily declining) church attendance confirms this. I remember having a conversation with work colleagues soon after the results were published. Many admitted they had claimed an allegiance to Christianity on their census form. However the truth (and they 'owned up' to this) is that they are no more Christian than I am. Most are decent people, and many are very spiritual, but Christian they are not. Their reasons? 'I didn't
know what else to write' or 'I don't want the Buddhists/Jews/Moslems/Hindus to think they outnumber us' or 'I was baptized 40 years ago'. So they actually perform a disservice to both themselves and practising Christians by claiming this 'commitment' to a faith they have no belief in.

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 2, 2001):
(To Yoël L. Arbeitman) Usually I stay away from such controversial topics, but one sentence in your message caused me to overstep my practice.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
<snip> < There are many Jewish Bach lovers. That doesn't mean that they will ever be preached to. This Christian tradition of forcing Jews to be preached to has an odious tradition too. I do find your insistence on this one of the reasons I stay away from the cantata list. I do not intend to be captive at a religious service. I would not attend a cantata as part of a worship service, but would as part of a concert in a church. <snip> >
Here you come again with the statement 'this one of the reasons I stay away from the cantata list'. I think that the main idea of the BCML is sharing ideas and learning from each other. You can guess that I am not a Christian, but I do not see myself as a religious person either. And I do still enjoy Bach's music, especially the cantatas and his other vocal works. I am learning the texts, because they add extra dimension to my enjoyment. It is hard for me to identify with the religious message of the text, but although their origin is of course religious, they almost always talk about human feelings - misery, compassion, love, longing, worry, suffering, , etc. And with such feelings I find it easy to identify. I am aware that being non-religious, I might miss something. On the other hand, I might also getting something as compensation. It might be that because I am not limited to religious view, I am more open to see, understand and learn from different kind of views. Because understanding does not necessarily mean accepting. I can surely tell you that during the weekly cantata discussions I am learning a lot from the Christian members of the BCML (whenever they will to contribute). That is one of the reasons I am always asking the other members of the BCML to send their reviews and opinions. I want to learn from others. Enjoy and stay with us,

Marie Jensen wrote (July 2, 2001):
Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote:
< I find alas a certain lack of appreciation of my views in both Marie's posts and in the present one of Boyd's. Yes, Bach can preach to the believers, but no he does not preach, as you would have him preach, to the non-Christian believer (Believer has a wider application). Bach is not yours alone as Sophocles is not only to those who believe in his gods, etc. >
Of course not. Bach belongs to the whole world. Perhaps I should have written more than just my very brief answer. Bach's music is universal. Atheists, Moslems and Indian gurus appreciate it. If a person converts to Christianity, something causes it - often some kind of preacher. As Bach was a Christian and used his great genius to compose about Christianity, it cannot be excluded that he could push the listener in a Christian direction. I did not write he always does, and his music should be used for that. Bach has inspired me to study Christianity more closely, but I have also listened to him lots of times just flowing in his wonderful music. Take the organ works, for example BWV 542 or 582. I don't think a composer could write so spiritually without a connection "upwards".

Yoël also wrote:
< Respect me as I respect you. It is quite simple. There are many Jewish Bach lovers. That doesn't mean that they will ever be preached to. This Christian tradition of forcing Jews to be preached to has an odious tradition too. I do find your insistence on this one of the reasons I stay away from the cantata list. I do not intend to be captive at a religious service. I would not attend a cantata as part of a worship service, but would as part of a concert in a church. That Christian Believers have a great experience precisely in the cantata as part of a worship service is totally understandable. And I have no need to deny Bach's Christianity >
I do respect you. To start an argument about who should be allowed to listen to Bach would kill this list. My faith is not strong enough to convert anybody, and that is not why I write. But I am allowed to write about my associations listening to Bach, and should they be Christian, as when I wrote about BWV 39 and the rich and the poor of this world, then you have to accept it. And you write yourself: <Respect me as I respect you. >

I do not hope that my postings make you stay away from the list. If we take "The Cantata of the Week" there are so few postings. People including myself are astonished and filled with awe when they read Aryeh’s and Thomas' postings. They know so much. They write so much. All I can offer is the ordinary Bach lovers’ experiences and associations, and the list would not die, if I did not write them. But if many of us Liebhabers did not write and Thomas and Aryeh never saw any reactions, then how long would they go on? I read with great pleasure short postings from all other Bach lovers. When I listen to a cantata I cannot have all the fine facts Thomas and Aryeh present us for in mind and flow happily in Bach’s music at the same time. I really appreciate that they go on week after week sharing their knowledge with us, but I also love short notices with one or two personal associations. Perhaps it is even them I remember in the end.

I hope I have made myself clear. In respect of all list members.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (July 2, 2001):
(To Frank Fogliati) I do remember you and absolutely agree with you and with Robert whom you cite. Bach indeed needs to be understood as to his religion which he served so faithfully and indeed one needs to understand Sufism and Islam to appreciate such music. One could not possibly appreciate Dante without a full grounding in Catholicism. I couldn't agree more and I concur with Aryeh and with Marie and with everyone else. I do not divorce Bach or any creative spirit from his time and place and his culture, etc. Nor do I denigrate Christianity. I also am happy to have confirmed that there are, as I always knew of course, many full-fledged Bach lovers who do know the texts and the theology and are not believers in the religion or in religion in general.

And I certainly agree with Marie that mere simple music lovers like me need to be part of any list. The Bach lists, both, are really heavy with experts in a way that most other yahoo-lists are not, really heavy and the participation of us ordinary folk is really a welcome suggestion, Marie.

 

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Last update: ýMarch 11, 2012 ý17:24:22