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Bach the Evangelist
Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Joel Figen wrote (June 5, 2005):
[To Boyd Pehrson] Not at all. (Though I wouldn't mind if you learned to see.) Christianity is the subject at hand, and specifically in relation to certain people who falsely claim to own it, interpret it, and dispense it. If you would actually read, rather than merely react, you would see that I make no criticism of Christianity, only of those who make it a shibboleth and set themselves up as its providers. If you want a "universal" argument try this: I like cars, but I don't like high pressure used car salesmen.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 5, 2005):
Bach's music sexy?

<< 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 fantasia BWV 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. >
Example: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
"Bach-BWV-922-ending.wma"

With an untexted and free piece like this, whatever goes through the listeners' minds is their own business. And likewise, whatever goes through a musician's mind playing the piece, during the flow of the notes and rhythms and accents, is his/her own business. The result is sound and it's not about anybody's presumed morals. An interpretation is either musically satisfying (as to any underlying dramatic drive that was allegedly in the composer's mind when setting up the structure and progression) in the resulting sound, or it could be done with clearer focus, more sensitivity to the composition's shaping and surprises, more boldness of differentiation.

So, is this piece sexy? All I can say is, I've played it rather like this manner in several concerts, sometimes more wildly, and listeners have reported afterward being very excited and pleased by what they heard...both in applause and in later comments. They didn't say it was specifically about anything in particular, but only that it was enjoyable and effective. I think a slower or quieter reading of the last few bars could work just as well, in a different way, and the notation doesn't make clear which would be "better". I've also heard it played with much less flair than this, more metrically square, and it was merely dull that way.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach & Sex [General Topics]

Dorian Gray wrote (June 5, 2005):
I do not beat Christians unless they insist upon it. :-)P

I think both Joel and Steve should be banned from this group. Their prejudiced commentary is neither amusing nor edifying. And they have the nerve to complain about others being "off topic." Well you, sir, are out of line and off the mark when it comes to the sensibilities of the majority of participants here.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 7, 2005):
Charles Francis wrote: < 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. >
Were not his what you label as "support stance" of earlier days part and parcel of his belief that, IF only the corruption of the Catholic Church were purified, the Jews would see the light of the one and only way? Can it be maintained that Luther was really ever tolerant at all?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 7, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: < 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. >
I guess you meant Bach when you wrote Luther.
Amazing.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 7, 2005):
Joel Figen wrote: < 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. >
I keep on reading this on different lists. I myself have filters set up in the following manner:
One designated mbx for each list to which I subscribe, thus leaving my inbox for personal mail.
With this system on Eudora I am not able to further set a filter to send an e-address to the trash. It is too many tricks for Eudora to handle.
Obviously I could thus filter offlist mail but only one Evangelical person from this list ever sent me unwanted mail. Of course it concerned a certain set of things that the poster found unpleasant about Jews and/or Judaism as though I had ever claimed that there was anything totally wonderful about Judaism or about Jews as a whole. All I had claimed was that the constant attempt to damn to hell all the non-right-believing music lovers here is far out.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 7, 2005):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < Absolutely not. The transmission of AIDS is not a result of sex, nor of an obsession with sexuality, but results from unprotected sex. >
Which can result from being so obsessed with fulfilling one's desires that one does not think about the safety of oneself or others before taking action. (Obviously I am not talking here about people who do not use protection because they lack information or access to it).

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 7, 2005):
Due to overzealous cleaning of my mailbox, I have managed to delete the message containing Uwe Netto's article. Does anyone have it handy, or maybe a link to it? Thanks muchly in advance for your help.

Boyd Pehrson wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Perhaps it is this Article?
http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0006/opinion/siemon-netto.html

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 7, 2005):
Bach the evangelist/Thanks for link!

[To Boyd Pehrson] Indeed it is. Thanks a lot!

Eric Bergerud wrote (June 7, 2005):
The Netto article is interesting but it does need context. I spent the better part of 1972 in West Berlin - an interesting place in an interesting time. Being a starving student about the only place outside Berlin I could afford to visit was the East. (Bless the old commies: their regime was sinister but they kept the train tickets dirt cheap.) Anyway, it struck me very strongly that the Lutheran Church was doing a lot better East of the Wall than West of it. The Bonn government subsidized the Lutheran Church in that part of the country and those subsidies were the only thing keeping it going. I remember seeing pretty healthy congregations (albeit a bit grey) in East Berlin on Sundays. Car owners told me that in rural East Germany the congregations were even larger. I can testify that little churches were easy to spot when going through the smaller towns. Indeed, some supporters of the Ost claimed that the "real Germany" (rural and small town, unpolluted by Western/American materialism) was found in their country and had been lost in the West. They were making an odd argument in favor of economic inefficiency but the point might have been real enough. In any case, anti-clericalism was a catastrophe for Marxism. If nothing else simply going to church was an excellent way to tell the government to drop dead. I'm not quibbling with the idea that some of the choir boys in Leipzig might have learned their faith through Bach, but they were living in an environment where Christianity was healthier than one might think.

Ditto this in Asia. I can see a Bach fad among Japanese elites. Whether this will make them flock to the altar is quite another matter. If it does, I rather think that secularism will be a more important force than Actus Tragicus. Plato once argued that an ordered socirequired religion to enhance a sense of political commonality and to give meaning to the individual's life. (he also didn't dismiss the possibility of the soul, and made Pascal's wager two thousand years before Pascal). Maybe he was right. It does appear that Mother Church is willing to roll the dice on exactly this proposition by choosing Ratzinger as Pope. Whatever the impulse, Christianity is growing very quickly in Asia, especially in China. This is kind of a murky area because so many converts belong either to the "illegal" (ie, pro-Vatican) Catholic Church or one of a large number of home grown Pentecostal faiths that remained from the missionaries and have morphed over time. Indeed many of the Christian sects would be considered "cults" in the West. None of this makes Beijing happy and arrests of religious leaders are very common. (Memories are long over there, and the famous/infamous Taiping Rebellion of the 19th Century - one of history's worst wars - was closely identified with indigenous Chinese Christianity.) Korea has long had a large Christian population. Numbers are going up in India (something that infuriates Hindu nationalists) and even in Indonesia. So something is going on. But frankly I doubt it has much to do with Bach. (A growing interest in and acceptance of Chrstianity might well make for new Bach listeners I suppose. Religious music as a whole is an entirely different matter.)

Eric Bergerud wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I find it a little tough to sympathize with Yoel simply because I can't recall anyone on this list damning anyone to hell. (Doing so would be a serious sin, or at least I was told so in Confirmation class.) I have seen some discussion of Bach's religious beliefs, but I don't think that's objectionable on a cantata list. Rather predictable I'd say. Even the odd reference to Luther makes sense. And if believers see different things in religious art (I think Bach cantatas qualify) than non-believers there isn't much to be done is there? When I first visited Notre Dame I think I might have converted on the spot if a Priest had been handy.

If it makes anyone feel better, most modern Lutheran churches (yes, they would qualify as evangelical - a term, I've found that secularists don't understand in the least) don't treat damnation in the way Luther did. This trend is an old one and can be seen in Bach's cantatas where the carrot gets a lot more music than the stick. In any case, lost souls don't roast anymore, they simply do not live with God after death. I can't answer for all of the fundamentalist faiths, but I rather doubt Bach cantatas are a hot item among followers of the Church of God.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Eric Bergerud] Depends. Such churches as the Presbyterian Church in America (a conservative Presbyterian denomination) probably like them - although at a church service, they'd have to be done in English. Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and the like are perhaps another matter. These are folks whose idea of religious use of music is dancing in the aisles to loud CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) at church (and perhaps during private prayer times at home too - so much for the proverbial 'Quiet Time'...). IMHO there is nothing wrong with that, however, you might also possibly find 'contemporified' versions of cantatas or more likely oratorios in the CD or tape collections of folks in this crowd, but more probably it would be Haendel's Messiah than anything by Bach...

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 7, 2005):
< If it makes anyone feel better, most modern Lutheran churches (yes, they would qualify as evangelical - a term, I've found that secularists don't understand in the least)... >
In small to mid-sized cities and towns in Germany, isn't "evangelische" merely the distinction that says a church isn't Roman Catholic? It's either "evangelische" (i.e. Lutheran) or it's R.C., those being the main two options.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Yes, that's basically right - and I think not only in small- to mid-size towns either (unless you classify Berlin in that category). The word 'evangelisch' in German is what they call a 'false friend' for native speakers of English. I don't know whether the word was used the same way in Germany in Bach's time or not.

John Pike wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Correct. "Evangelische" means protestant, not Roman Catholic. It does not mean "Evangelical".

Charles Francis wrote (June 7, 2005):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote: < Yes, that's basically right - and I think not only in small- to mid-size towns either (unless you classify Berlin in that category). The word 'evangelisch' in German is what they call a 'false friend' for native speakers of English. >
Absolutely, the 'evangelisch' churches in Germany and Switzerland are just State religions. They are no more `evangelical' (in the English-language sense) than the Anglican Church. In Bach's time, I do not see much need for such an `evangelical stance either. After a devastating thirty-year war, Catholics and reformers had established peaceful coexistence, everybody had a religious identity so there was no pool of unbelievers to recruit from.

Eric Bergerud wrote (June 7, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] Quite so. In other parts of Europe you also had "Reformed" - Protestants influenced by Zwingli and Calvin. (Reformed churches never made a major penetration in Germany: but there must have been some.) Puritans if you will. Calvin and Luther condemned each other for a variety of theological errors. But by Bach's time there probably weren't too many theologians around that could remember what the fuss was about. In the US Evangelical and Reformed churches made several unions in the 19th and 20th Century. As someone else on this list pointed out this is where the term "Lutheran Church" originated - in the US, not Europe.

Peter Petzling wrote (June 7, 2005):
< I spent the better part of 1972 in West Berlin - an interesting place in an interesting time. Being a starving student about the only place outside Berlin I could afford to visit was the East. (Bless the old commies: their regime was sinister but they kept the train tickets dirt cheap.) Anyway, it struck me very strongly that the Lutheran Church was doing a lot better East of the Wall than West of it. The Bonn government subsidized the Lutheran Church in that part of the country and those subsidies were the only thing keeping it going. >
A few corrective remarks re Eric Bergeruds post are called for;

1. There is no "Lutheran Church" in Berlin or the surrounding Brandenburg.

The church in question is the "Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg" It is a so-called "Union Church" , i.e. a Union of Lutherans & Calvinists E N F O R C E D by the rulers ( Electors ) of the House of Brandenburg-Hohenzollern. Over time this "Union" obliterated the Lutheran Confessions and the crucial Lutheran understanding of the Means of Grace.

One important highlight in the struggle of the Calvinist rulers against Lutheran believers and their pastors was the bitter story of prosecution and exile of the renowned Lutheran pastor & hymn writer Paul Gerhard, who was removed from his pulpit at St. Nikolai in Berlin at the direction of "The Great Elector" - der Grosse Korfuerst - in 1666.

There are many twists & turns to this "Union-church-story" , but by 1820 the King of Preussen [ Brandenburg Hohenzollern ] Friedrich Wilhelm III. began to enforce this "Union" in earnest and by means of the police. Lutheran pastors who resisted suffered arrest, imprisonment. Congregations and pastors often chose the path of emigration. Many came to America.

2. The remaining "Lutherans" in Prussia were eventually allowed to build their own small, separate churches - after 1850 . Their numbers remained few and they were known as "ALT-LUTHERANER". They became the Whigs of that era. They continue to exist in a "Non-state Church" body - an independent Lutheran Church , known by the acronym SELK. In Berlin they count no more than 4,000.

3. Nonetheless, the post-1945 "Ev. Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg" was not just a creature of subsidies of "Bonn Gov't" as Bergerud seems to suggest. It lived off the reputation of those who had struggled against Nazi control, the so-called "Deutsche Christen". Here names like Niemoeller , Dibelius & Bonhoeffer stand out. But past heroics alone do not guarantee a strong church. The heirs of Hitler were loath to spend too much time on contemplating their sin and their blatant disregard for the agony/suffering of their neighbors. Neighbors, who were often Jewish.

4. As a small boy , growing up in West Berlin, I remember playing a decoy on trains and trolleys that were still connecting East- and West Berlin before the erection of the Wall in 1961. The purpose of these efforts was to facilitate "the smuggling" of church records from East Berlin to the West. The records were financial and about help given in the struggle against communist directed expropriations of property, including such things as House-Boats or Summer Cottages that defied surveillance.

The Stasi- the East German State Security - had an interest in such records. We used toys with cavities and children's gift wraps to ferry the records out. There were many long Saturday afternoons spent on those dirty trains from Lichtenberg and Weissensee [ in the East ] to Charlottenburg in the West. After a while , the people who initiated the transfers had to flee East Berlin. There were too many eyes that observed others in East Germany. These eyes belonged to spies/informers : "Spitzel" was the word -- Oberservers. And the churches were infected by those Stasi Mitarbeiter as well.

But back to the "Lutheran Church" -- it is not at all prominent in Berlin. Few folks could even tell you what its "marks" are. Unless, of course, they would HEAR J.S.Bach - because he lays them out - Cantata after Cantata.

Joel Figen wrote (June 7, 2005):
Eric Bergerud wrote: < Calvin and Luther condemned each other for a variety of theological errors. But by Bach's time there probably weren't too many theologians around that could remember what the fuss was about. >
I'm pretty sure it had to do with total depravity and double (calvinist) v. single (Lutheran) predestination. :P) Folks are still arguing about it today. There were other threads in Christianity at the time. The Radical Reformation was also in full swing, as I recall. Indeed, the High German language came to Saxony in the pages of Luther's Bible and became the state language when Lutheranism became the state religion. The native Low German came to be used by radical reformers and the uneducated. The words High and Low originally referred tothe altitudes at which the languages were spoken, but latercame to be heard as a reference to social status.

Now, I'd really love it if we simply set religion aside for discussion in venues specifically devoted to it. "Bach'sReligion" might be a suitable mailing list name for those so inclined. There are people here who are uncomfortable with religion, and that alone should make it far off topic. I'm no babe in the woods regarding religion, myself, but I find that most of those who want to spread it like manure into every other subject hugely overestimate their own authority in the subject and hugely underestimate the unpleasantness of the smell. I'd be much happier if we could just keep it secular and make no assumptions about religion whatever. Unsolicited religious opinions are offensive to many, including me. It's not that I don't like religion. What I dislike is the tendency of other people's naive beliefs to become noise pollution in my life. I really don't want to know what strangers believe, thank you very much.

It's ironic how a thread about filters morphed into a discussion of religion... seems perverse... but not sexy :(

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 8, 2005):
Bach as Evangelist -- Netto Article

[To Cara Emily Thornton] Here is that article you requested:

The Gospel According to J. S. Bach

(Two hundred fifty years ago, he was known as a civil servant, a coffee drinker, and a second-rate composer. Today, his music is Christianity incarnate.)

By Uwe Siemon-Netto

Bach has been a part of my life since I was four years old, when my mother first took me to Thomaskirche, Bach's primary workplace in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is where I was born and where Bach died, in 1750, after two botched eye operations. He had lived there for 27 years, during which he wrote the Art of Fugue, the Passions of St. Matthew and St. John, and most of his 300 cantatas (only 190 of which have survived).

Every week we attended the motet service on Friday or the cantata service on Saturday, both sung by the Thomanerchor, which Bach once directed. The composer's portrait dominated the music room in my parents' apartment, where an amateur ensemble of local notables fiddled fugues once a month and where my mother sang "Willst du dein Herz mir schenken," a love song Bach wrote for Anna Magdalena, his second wife.

Now, 250 years after his death, at the birth of a new century, an enormous Bach resurgence is underway--particularly in Japan. There, in one of the most unreligious countries in the world, thousands of people are converting to Christianity after listening to Bach's cantatas. On a recent visit to Tokyo, I was astounded at the enthusiasm there for music that seems to me to have such a specific, and alien, genesis.

My Japanese interpreter came to me one morning and said, "Let's hear some Bach to start the day." She pulled out a CD of the cantata Vergnuegte Ruh, beliebte Seeleenlust, whose lyrics say that God's real name is Love. "This has taught me what these two words mean to Christians," she said. "And I like it very much."

Around the turn of the century, the Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala, in Sweden, called Bach's cantatas the "fifth gospel"; today, such religious terms are just as likely to be applied to Bach by the founder of the Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, who has said, "Bach is teaching us the Christian concept of hope," and Yoshikazu Tokuzen, of Japan's National Christian Council, who has called Bach "a vehicle of the Holy Spirit."

An air raid destroyed our house in 1943, and when we moved into my grandmother's flat to hide from further assaults, Bach's presiding likeness moved with us. As blockbuster bombs detonated outside, Grandmother Netto sang Bach's chorales in my ear. They have remained in my head ever since, and they have kept me in touch with my distant hometown during decades of exile. (I fled Leipzig as a child soon after its occupation by the Red Army.)

Now Bach's city is free again, thanks to a peaceful revolution that began here at the Nikolaikirche. In 1989, the peace marches around Leipzig's medieval town center triggered the collapse of communism in East Germany. Now I return every year to marvel at the city's rebirth.

For an expatriate on a pilgrimage to the city of Bach, arriving at Leipzig's Hauptbahnhof--the largest railroad station in Europe, and one of the most elegant--is an emotional experience. Two rival kingdoms, Prussia and Saxony, built the station together at the beginning of this century, each installing its own staff, complete with mutually hostile cleaning men who pushed rubbish back and forth between their respective territories. There was never much love between Saxons and Prussians. We Saxons deemed the Prussians stiff and uncultured; they considered us shifty and militarily inadequate-rather like the French.

There is some truth to every cliche. We do regard the French as our soul mates. "I praise my Leipzig," wrote Goethe, who studied there for three years. "It is a little Paris and educates its people." In my childhood, the Hauptbahnhof catered to our Francophilia, even while we were at war with France; it housed the best French restaurant in central Germany until the station was all but flattened. Now it is home to one of Germany's flashiest shopping centers.

A tour of Bach's city begins with caffeine. Leipzig has been a coffee town ever since the first shipment arrived in 1693. Saxon soldiers are known to have refused to fight when the army ran out of their preferred beverage. "No coffee, no combat," they growled, which is why the Prussians call us Kaffe. It was at Zimmermann's Kaffeehaus that Bach and his Collegium Musicum performed his harpsichord concerti and, presumably, the "Coffee Cantata," the amusing choral work whose title, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, admonishes listeners not to spoil the enjoyment of their favorite drink with chatter. Bach knew well his fellow Saxons, who coined the verb maeren to describe their propensity to spend hours spinning endless shaggy-dog stories, jaws frozen in grins.

Bach's duties also often took him to the Markt, a lively square in the virtual center of Europe. For more than a millennium, the continent's two key roads crossed here: the via Imperii, which connects Rome, Vienna, and Prague with northern cities; and the via Regia, which links Madrid, Paris, Frankfurt, Warsaw, and Kiev. The intersection made Leipzig a natural site for what is now the world's oldest trade fair, established eight centuries ago.

On the Markt's eastern flank stands the Altes Rathaus, the former town hall, where Bach's bosses reigned; he was a municipal civil servant hired to oversee the music in four downtown Lutheran churches. At one point, he was responsible for writing a cantata every week, directing the Thomanerchor, and serenading visiting royalty. The visitors stayed in the Koenigshaus next door, and Bach and his musicians performed on the cobblestoned square below. In Bach's day, the town hall's Renaissance splendor was not matched by its occupants' wisdom: Bach had not been their first choice, and after hiring him they grumbled about having to make do with "the mediocre" because "the best," Georg Philipp Telemann, had turned them down.

Being governed by fools was no rarity for Leipzig. The most noteworthy exception was, ironically, a Prussian, Lord Mayor Carl Goerdeler. Elected before Hitler came to power, Goerdeler resigned in 1937 after the Nazis blew up a monument to Felix Mendelssohn. The Leipzigers loved Mendelssohn, a Protestant of Jewish descent; it was thanks to his 1841 performance of the almost-forgotten St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) that the musical world was awakened to Bach's genius, and it was Mendelssohn who in 1843 founded Germany's first music conservatory, which now bears his own name. He started the tradition of the rich string sound that distinguishes Leipzig's Gewandhaus, Europe's oldest municipal philharmonic orchestra; many of its musicians are graduates of the conservatory--as were, in some cases, their fathers and grandfathers.

After his resignation, Goerdeler became the civilian head of Germany's conservative resistance against the Nazis; he was hanged shortly before the end of the war, and is now revered as a local hero. Not so another Leipziger, Walter Ulbricht, the East German party leader and creator of the Berlin Wall. Ulbricht loathed his hometown's bourgeois, academic, and Christian way of life so much that he ordered the destruction of virtually every symbol of these traditions. Thousands of Leipzigers filled the Augustusplatz (then Karl Marx Platz) on May 30, 1968, weeping when a blast of dynamite lifted the late-Gothic Universitaetskirche off the ground. For a moment, the structure hung suspended in midair, before collapsing into a heap of rubble and dust. The church's organ, built by Johann Scheibe and beloved by Bach--he claimed that it alone in all of Leipzig met his standards--perished along with the sanctuary.

For the 250th anniversary of Bach's death, Leipzig has treated itself to a new $1.2 million organ that resembles, at least in appearance, Scheibe's murdered instrument. It has four manuals, 60 registers, and 4,800 pipes, and now dominates the northern balcony of the Thomaskirche, opposite stained-glass windows dedicated to Luther, Bach, and Mendelssohn. "It was our aim to create the perfect instrument for the performance of Bach's work," says Ullrich Boehme, the church's senior organist.

As I sat in this stark but beautifully restored church, my mind wandered back to the early 1950s, when Ulbricht launched a singularly vicious attack against East Germany's Christians. I was on a Christmas break from my boarding school in West Germany and had gone to the New Year's Eve motet service. The Thomanerchor had finished singing, and everybody had already gotten up to leave.

Suddenly Günther Ramin, then the Thomaskantor, went to the massive late-Romantic Sauer organ, which is still there today. Quite unexpectedly, he started to improvise on the wonderful hymn "Abide, O Dearest Jesus." When he came to the point where the hymnal says, "Satan may not harm us; nor we to sin give place," he dispensed with all frills and let the instrument roar. This musical message sent shivers down our spines--for if there was one thing Leipzigers knew in those days, it was the Lutheran chorales.

No longer, claims Johannes Richter, recent superintendent, or dean, at the Thomaskirche. "Secularizing this part of Germany has been Communism's only success. For many, the motet and cantata services are the only contact with our Christian traditions." Moreover, the few who have kept their faith have lost the lust to cheerfully belt out the chorales. They sit silent and embarrassed, moving their lips. Richter sees this refusal to sing as "a symptom of a national soul in disarray."

This is why Georg Christoph Biller, the 16th successor to Bach as Thomaskantor, states, matter-of-factly, "I am a missionary." In this belief he is joined by other musical luminaries in Leipzig, notably Herbert Blomstedt, the Swede who is Kurt Masur's successor as musical director of the Gewandhaus orchestra. "I am fully behind Biller," he says, "and I have discovered that Bach often provides a road to faith."

The road from Bach to faith--and from Tokyo to Leipzig--is well trafficked these days. The Japanese convert then converge: They go to Thomaskirche, in front of whose altar Bach is now buried. They follow the opulent liturgy performed by the Thomanerchor and Gewandhaus. They fill the classes of the Felix Mendelssohn academy.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a theologian; his compositions have been called "theology set to music." Twenty years ago, several members of the Thomanerchor told me that the composer worked as a missionary among them; today, Bach preaches to many more than just the choir. Musicologist Keisuke Maruyama once undertook the eccentric study of Lutheran lectionary cycles and how they influenced Bach's cantatas; it soon became more than merely an academic exercise. When Maruyama finished, he went to Johannes Richter and said, "It is not enough to read Christian texts. I want to be a Christian myself. Please baptize me."

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Thanks for the article!

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 8, 2005):
Religion As Manure

< But by Bach's time there probably weren't too many theologians around that could remember what the fuss was about. >
[To Joel Figen] Joel, there are a number of factual errors in your post.

There was clear difference and determined efforts to resist the inroads of Calvinism into Lutheranism. Lutheran in the 18th century slowly gave way to Pietism, which in turn led in the 19th century to the disastrous state-imposed union of Reformed and Lutheran, but this was not so in Bach's time.

The "Radical Reformation" refers to movements in the 16th century, not the 18th century.

Luther used "High German" which already existed in his days. His Bible did much to standardize German. There was no "state" church in Luther's time, Germany being divided up into many different principalities and territories. There were territorial churches, but no one "state" Lutheran church across Germany.

Low German was spoken more commonly in Southern Germany, where one will find more mountains than in Northern Germany, where High German was more common, among the ruling classes. Altitude had nothing to do with it.

< Now, I'd really love it if we simply set religion aside for discussion in venues specifically devoted to it. >
You make a number of profoundly wrong assertionsabout religious and other facts and then suggest we set it all aside? That's an interesting way of making a point.

< "Bach'sReligion" might be a suitable mailing list name for those so inclined. There are people here who are uncomfortable with religion, and that alone should make it far off topic. >
If this list is devoted to Bach's CHURCH CANTATAS if would be impossible to avoid religion. Unless you would like to suggest that only the music of the Cantatas is really what this list is all about?

< I'm no babe in the woods regarding religion, myself, but I find that most of those who want to spread it like manure >
You may be no "babe in the woods" but by referring to religion as manure you prove you are a baby who needs a change of diapers after soiling himself.

< hugely overestimate their own authority in the subject >
Such as yourself, who managed in one post to prove that your grasp of facts about religion in German in Bach's time is quite poor.

< Unsolicited religious opinions are offensive to many, including me. It's not that I don't like religion. What I dislike is the tendency of other people's naive beliefs to become noise pollution in my life. >
Since it would seem you are more than willing to contribute your own share of "noise pollution" to the environment, you will probably just have to live with those of us who do the same.

Paul T. McCain wrote (June 8, 2005):
Netto article

[To Cara Emily Thornton] Please note that by referring to "God" you have undoubtedly offended the secularists on this list who will no doubt rise up in protest that you would dare to wish me the blessing of "God" -- but they seem quite tolerant when Bach does it.

Go figure!

Enjoy the article. Wonderful, isn't it?

Olle Hedström wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] Thank you for a most interesting article.

Thomas Braatz wrote (June 8, 2005):
Paul T. McCain wrote: >>Low German was spoken more commonly in Southern Germany, where one will find more mountains than in Northern Germany, where High German was more common, among the ruling classes. Altitude had nothing to do with it.<<
Nor did latitude! A major correction which might have been an oversight: Low German is spoken in the Northern section of Germany (lowlands) (near the North Sea and the Baltic up to where Denmark begins) (Actually, at one time all the cities of the Hanseatic League use Low German as their official language for transacting business.)

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 8, 2005):
evangelicals

Cara Emily Thornton wrote: < Yes, that's basically right - and I think not only in small- to mid-size towns either (unless you classify Berlin in that category). The word 'evangelisch' in German is what they call a 'false friend' for native speakers of English. I don't know whether the word was used the same way in Germany in Bach's time or not. >
Yes, I know well that in Germany the term means basically about what "Protestant" does or used to mean (probably not a useful term in the current USA where Evangelicals do not recognize less born-again Protestants as "Good Christians", a matter which is not my business). I use the term for those born-again Protestant Christians who insist on saving everyone else and who are on the whole associated in the current USA with right wing politics and many other social positions which we all know about and deem themselves to have a monopoly of truth and all this is far out of the subject matter of what was once a nice music list.

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Paul T. McCain] I can understand that some people find religion an uncomfortable thing to discuss, but I'm afraid this is inevitable in any comprehensive survey of Bach's music or any discussion list about him, especially the church cantatas. The use of the word "manure" in this context is particularly unfortunate and just as unpleasant as anything the evangelicals have been accused of. Please stop it now.

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Very interesting. A couple of years ago my wife and I got very fed up with certain evangelicals because of the extreme intolerance displayed by some of them and we left our evangelical church. We joined a new church with much more accepting and tolerant views. Talking to our new vicar over a glass of wine a few weeks ago, we discovered that he would call himself an evangelical in that he believes in the supremacy of scripture and in spreading the good news. He is also very tolerant and was a co-founder of a new organisation, accepting evangelicals:
http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org/

We have signed up to that and with that definition, and no other baggage, we would be happy to call ourselves evangelicals, so Cara is quite right. We are left wing evangelicals who would very definitely have voted for Kerry if we lived in the US.

Joel Figen wrote (June 8, 2005):
John Pike wrote: < I can understand that some people find religion an uncomfortable thing to discuss, but I'm afraid this is inevitable in any comprehensive survey of Bach's music or any discussion list about him, especially the church cantatas. The use of the word "manure" in this context is particularly unfortunate and just as unpleasant as anything the evangelicals have been accused of. Please stop it now. >
If you object to being made uncomfortable, please desist from doing what others have told you makes them uncomfortable. Thank you.

It's appropriate that Bach's religion get some air time. What's not appropriate is that some people think they can speak for Bach's religion as if it were their own, thereby injecting their own religious values into a forum that's not intended to be about anyone's personal beliefs. The former is interesting, the latter disgusting. Manure is the right word. Sorry if you don't like it, but it's something you perhaps need to hear. Manure. Manure. Manure.

If you care about politeness, be polite: Stop spreading the manure. If you do that, I'll stop calling it manure. I'll have no reason to call it anything at all. Won't we all be happierthat way?

Joel
ps: Manure!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 8, 2005):
This list: what is it?

Joel Figen wrote: < If you care about politeness, be polite: Stop spreading the manure. If you do that, I'll stop calling it manure. I'll have no reason to call it anything at all. Won't we all be happier that way? >
There is a choice and that is to form a secular Bach mailing list which would be moderated in one sense or another of that term and where certainly religious Christian concepts in the cantatas and the passions could be narrowly discussed but this endless religiosity and evangelism would be ended for it is obvious that many of the incessant posts are simply church tracts and nothing more. Such a list might also limit a member to two posts a day as 10 posts on the same subject from pugilists only make a lot of mess.

John Pike wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Joel Figen] I did not want to get sucked into this anymore than you and I made it clear last week that I am all in favour of very considerable religious tolerance and of reaching out to non-Christians (and not being very exclusive). I watched with dismay over the weekend as Paul on the one hand and Dave, you and Yoel on the other thrashed it out. The "offensiveness" in this discussion has been far from one-sided and I thought it was high time someone gave Paul a bit of support.

This week's cantata, BWV 161 is particularly beautiful. May I suggest that everyone now just shuts up and makes some comments on it. The raison d'etre of this list is to discuss Bach's cantatas, especially the cantata of the week, but it seems to me that the people who are most vociferous in lecturing others on their behaviour on the list are the very people who never (or hardly ever) make comments on the week's cantata. Indeed, I could count on two hands the number of people who REGULARLY comment on the week's cantata (Neil, Peter S, Thomas S, Thomas B, Brad, Uri, myself and the person introducing the cantata (currently Peter B). Please lets get back to discussing the week's cantata. If we have to say about such a sublime piece of music we might as well just call it a day.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (June 8, 2005):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] I am glad you have defined your use of the term 'evangelical' in English. Did you know that there are left-wing evangelicals too? A lot of them are 'peace church' types - Quakers and Anabaptists of various kinds. And probably none of them voted for Bush.

PS I can't resist adding that in Polish, there are two very similar words for Protestants: ewangelicki and ewangeliczny. The dividing line is very simple - does the church in question practice baptism of infants? If so, it's 'ewangelicki'; if not, it's 'ewangeliczny'. Neither term has any recognizable political connotation.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (June 8, 2005):
Cara Emily Thornton wrote: < I am glad you have defined your use of the term 'evangelical' in English. Did you know that there are left-wing evangelicals too? A lot of them are 'peace church' types - Quakers and Anabaptists of various kinds. And probably none of them voted for Bush. >
We are all the products to some extent of our encounters. I spent my freshman year in college in a Mennonite College (where there were also some "modern" Amishpersons).

Politically at the time they were both what you call Peace Church types (refusing military service and receiving as a matter of course alternate service in various capacities) and yet of the 500 student body, I alone was for John Kennedy. The rest of the student body and almost all the faculty were adamantly for Richard Nixon and this at that time was primarily because they were sure that, should JFK be elected, there were already plans for building a wing in the White House for the Pope to reside in and direct the USA's policy from. In many other respects they were aligned with mainstream Evangelical mvts. such as Billy Graham. Thus the Anabaptists, as I knew them were not classifiable so easily. They certainly had no great love for Martin Luther or for movies or television or drinking or smoking or for wearing a tie. Wearing a tie for a man was equivalent in moral turpitude to cutting her hair for woman. One professor of mine (the only Kennedy professor) was seen at a concert at another college in a suit and a tie and almost lost his job. And so forth. Of course today many forms (conferences) of the Mennonites are just about mainstream Evangelicals except for their exemption from military service (currently irrelevant as there is no longer a draft).

< PS I can't resist adding that in Polish, there are *two* very similar words for Protestants: ewangelicki and ewangeliczny. The dividing line is very simple - does the church in question practice baptism of infants? If so, it's 'ewangelicki'; if not, it's 'ewangeliczny'. Neither term has any recognizable political connotation. >
The one should simply be called a Polish equivalent of anabaptist:-).

Tom Dent (June 9, 2005):
Speaking to (non-)coreligionists

Paul T. McCain, wrote to Cara Emily Thornton: < Please note that by referring to "God" you have undoubtedly offended the secularists on this list who will no doubt rise up in protest that you would dare to wish me the blessing of "God" -- but they seem quite tolerant when Bach does it.
Go figure! >
No-one has refuted my contention that the Leipzigers though it improper to perform a cantata in front of a Catholic visitor. Bach knew that he was, most Sundays, speaking to a 100 percent Lutheran audience, and tailored the cantatas accordingly (including the aforementioned reference to the cruel and vicious Turk and Papist). The readers of this email list are a quite different collection of people from Bach's congregation, and it is advisable to recognise this distinction in communicating with them.

Any non-Lutheran who wanted to listen to Bach's church cantatas (let us not forget the secular cantatas!) would have had to eavesdrop. I find this - informed eavesdropping - an apposite way of describing the usual modern way of listening. Or as Pope put it in a less fervent age,

Some to the Church repair, Not for the doctrine, but for the music there.

As an atheist, I find Paul McCain's unfounded characterization of 'the secularists on this list' quite offensive. It is odd that a Christian would be moved to protest by the mere thought of others expressing adverse opinions, when the most powerful men on the planet are of their religion, Christianity is de facto state faith of the most powerful nation, and it is unremarkable when a President says that atheists do not deserve to attain the highest office. Go figure, as they say.

It must indeed be a terrible martyrdom for those who are forced to imagine that they are going to receive email messages criticizing their public displays of religion.

Continue of this part of the discussion, see: Bach and Religion - Part 5 [General Topics]

 

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