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Posts Tagged ‘Bach’

in the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received. Bach Bio:  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers in the Western world. Orphaned at age ten, Bach was mostly self-taught in music. His professional life as conductor, performer, composer, teacher, and organ consultant began at age nineteen in the town of Arnstadt and ended in Leipzig, where for the last twenty-seven years of his life he was responsible for all the music in the city’s four Lutheran churches. In addition to being a superb keyboard artist, the genius and bulk of Bach’s vocal and instrumental compositions remain overwhelming. A devout and devoted Lutheran, he is especially honored in Christendom for his lifelong insistence that his music was written primarily for the liturgical life of the Church to glorify God and edify His people. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your  creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives,and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

On this day in 1750, Johann Sebastian Bach died, thus it is for the saints in Christ, a “heavenly birthday”. 

When I was at  Concordia Junior College, Milwaukee (now Concordia University, Mequon Wisconsin), I took the one credit course on Lutheran Hymnody.   Professor “Ollie” Ruprecht pointed out that Bach’s library had around 80 volumes in it. Prof. Rupprecht pointed out that books were quite expensive and about 60  of those volumes were books of orthodox Lutheran theology.  

Orthodox Lutheran theology is all about proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God.  And so did Bach through music.  One of Bach’s most marked set of volumes was Abraham Calov’s 3 book set of Luther’s Bible, with Calov’s commentary.  Bach, spending a large part of a year’s salary, purchased a 7 volume edition of Luther’s writings which Calov has based his commentary.  Calov wrote regarding Luther:

“It hinders a preacher greatly if he wants to look around and concern himself with what people want to hear and not hear.”

Bach double-marked that sentence for emphasis (Evening in the Palace of  Reason by James R. Gaines). That sentence sums up Bach’s understanding of music.  He would mark on his scores AMG, ad mairorem Dei, to the greater glory of God. He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany. After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  Bach’s music still preaches.

Bach’s texts usually were the Bible and he put the Scripture to music. In his day, the Enlightenment, ‘modern’ music was suppose to reflect how the composer felt and what the people wanted to hear.  Sound familiar?  On NPR, they will have a segment that I call OMS, the obscure musical segment when the artist intros his/her work and tells us what “he is trying to do”, or what he was feeling at the time of composition.  Not for J. S. Bach:  it was to proclaim the Gospel. Bach did not listen to what people wanted, but what he heard was the Lord’s commands and promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus, and he knew the Lord’s second best gift, music.  “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise” (Luther).   Bach’s talent at the organ and as a composer was wanted by the Church and he was not popular in the courts of public taste, but being popular in the world is never the goal, Christ is.

Only two of Bach’s works were ever published in his life time. In the age of the Enlightenment, Bach was considered a ‘has-been’ and not well-received. The Word of the Lord endures forever and the Lord gave Johann a gift that he did use to His greater glory  and the joy of the Church, which is always,  “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring”.

In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons in classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach’”. We also can say, Ahhh, Bach! 

Thank-you Lord for Bach and all church organists, choir directors, choirs and musicians who also through music, especially Bach’s, proclaim the eternal Gospel.

Listen to Bach’s popular chorale Cantata 147,  Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

 

 

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Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum

My soul magnifies the Lord

by Johann Sebastian Bach

Readings for the day:  Isaiah 61:7-11Galatians 4:4-7Luke 1:39-55

Let us pray:  

Almighty God, You chose the virgin Mary to be the mother of Your only Son. Grant that we, who are redeemed by His blood, may share with her in the glory of Your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. 

The Mother of Our Lord: St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned repeatedly in the Gospels and the Book of Acts, with nearly a dozen specific incidents in her life being recorded: her betrothal to Joseph; the annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of the Messiah; her visitation to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer; the nativity of our Lord; the visits of the shepherds and the Wise Men; the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple; the flight into Egypt; the Passover visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve; the wedding at Cana in Galilee; her presence at the crucifixion, when her Son commended her to the care of His disciple John; and her gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room after the ascension, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Thus she is present at most of the important events in her Son’s life. She is especially remembered and honored for her unconditional obedience to the will of God (“Let it be to me according to Your word” [Luke 1:38]); for her loyalty to her Son even when she did not understand Him (“Do whatever He tells you” [John 2:1-11]); and above all for the highest honor that heaven bestowed on her of being the mother of our Lord (“Blessed are you among women” [Luke 1:42]). According to tradition, Mary went with the apostle John to Ephesus, where she died. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House)

Reflection:  One Lutheran theologian pointed out that the observance of August 15th, Mary, Mother of Our Lord disappeared from Lutheran Churches though retained on the church calendars, and he commented that the other days associated with her such as  The Annunciation (St. Luke 1: 26-38), The Presentation (Luke 2: 22-38, and The Visitation (Luke 1: 39-56, associated with Mary, “…all in reality festivals of Jesus Christ.”  And that’s the point! Mary is associated with them and she did magnify the Lord.  She never sought  attention for herself.   She knew she would be blessed (Luke 1: 48) but she did not seek adoration but adored Him born of her virgin womb. He was her Son and her Lord!  She knew humility.  This is not the stance of the neo-feminist woman of our day.   Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Orthodox professor (1921-1983) pointedly reflected, “In (Mary’s) humility and silence, she can hardly serve as patron for the noisy and arrogant feminism of our time.”

The sundry revolutions of the ’60s brought new vocabulary  and one of the vocables was counterculture, and from it, counter-cultural.  But that counter-culture was mainly an excuse of condoning immorality. Mary, Mother of our Lord, stands today as a true counter-cultural icon. Fr. Schmemann points out that Mary is understood in her instrumentality  (“Let it be according to Your Word…”) in the Lord’s plan of salvation that the Word became flesh for her, you and I. She was obedient in true faith.  But Fr. Schmemann tellingly points out that her obedience as a woman, 

“…is one of the main reasons for Mary’s “rejection” by many “modern” Christians:  she can hardly be construed as the symbol of that ‘liberation’ which stresses the absolute ‘right’ of man to dispose of his life and of his body in a manner which he himself chooses, to a ‘self-fulfillment’ which he himself determines.”  

This self-determination has culminated in licit  abortion on demand as deadly self-fulfillment.  And Mary brought the Life of the world into the world.  Truly, she is counter-cultural.  Mary is the model of the godly life in Christ Jesus for women…and men!  Just as she told the servants at the Cana wedding, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 5), goes for us servants as well.  Lord, still our hearts and minds in the Sabbath of Your forgiveness by which You have redeemed us from the old way of death to live and breath in Your life, Your life which You first gave to Your Mother, that this dark world know You have come into our world for us and for our salvation. Amen.

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In an episode of M*A*S*H, Radar falls for a nurse who is quite cultured and loves classical music.  He goes to Hawkeye and Trapper for lessons in classical music.  Hawkeye gives Radar the names of some composers and then says, “…then if she mentions Bach, just say, ‘Ahhh, Bach'”.

He has been called, after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the 5th evangelist.  In his day, he was not known beyond Germany.  After his death,  his music was rediscovered.  His output for 27 years in Leipzig for 4 churches was massive.  St. Augustine said that singing is praying twice: with the words and with the music.  Bach’s texts usually were the Bible and he put the Scripture to music.  I took a 1 credit course on Lutheran Hymnody at Concordia Junior College (Milwaukee,WI) with Prof. Ollie Ruprecht.  Prof. R. pointed out that for his day, Bach had a large library of 80 volumes, of which 60 were on Lutheran dogmatics.  Luther died in 1547, within 40 years before Bach’s birth.  Luther was a musician, a singer and a composer.  Bach continued singing the Gospel.  I may have the numbers wrong from Prof. R.’s course, but you get the picture:  Bach was a Lutheran, baptized into the evangelical and catholic Church.  He was an orthodox evangelical (BTW:  to this day, the Lutheran Church in Germany as called evangelical) Christian. Ahh, Bach.

Take a look and especially a listen to the BBC special on Bach.  You may want to watch/listen to the complete series on YouTube.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness. You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music.  Continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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