From Bach to God

StreonshalhStreonshalh Shipmate Posts: 8
edited September 9 in Heaven
Bach’s music makes my heart break with yearning and awe.

Anyone got any suggestions on books/articles/movies/documentaries that connect the dots between Bach’s glorious music and faith/religion/God/Christianity?

(Also interested in the same question for other classical composers, eg Rachmaninoff and Liszt.)
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  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    (Also interested in the same question for other classical composers, eg Rachmaninoff and Liszt.)

    Although it focuses more on his music than his religious opinions, if you're interested in Handel I recommend God Rot Tunbridge Wells!

    Yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, not added by me for emphasis.
  • JS Bach wrote "to the glory of God" at the top of his sheet music.

    Someone, of particular religious views and in something of a position of influencing young people and others, said to a group that Christians should only play and listen to hymns. I told them the above, and they backed off. (At least, at that time. Don't know if they changed long-term.)
  • After Hostly discussion, it was deemed this thread was better suited to the Heavenly realm.

    Going up!

    DT
    Admin
  • It's interesting, because by all accounts Bach wasn't particularly pious in an overt and demonstrative kind of way.

    But yes, sublime and something 'heavenly' about it. Apparently, cats like Bach. They don't like heavy metal.

    I wonder if it's something to do with the precision and regularity, the sense of order and peace that his music conveys?
  • Bach was a Lutheran. What kind of over-the-top piety were you expecting from him? We're not known for showiness, as a rule.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    If you'll permit a non-Bach tangent, David used to remark on how many composers of church music (notably Howells, Vaughan Williams and some other English composers) were not believers in the conventional sense, and some were actual atheists.

    It didn't stop some of them writing sublime music, although if they really didn't believe, you wonder who they were writing it for.
  • StreonshalhStreonshalh Shipmate Posts: 8
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    After Hostly discussion, it was deemed this thread was better suited to the Heavenly realm.

    Going up!

    DT
    Admin

    As a newbie shipmate, I wavered between which forum to post in. I am happy to find I was wrong to default to Purgatory.
  • Bach was a Lutheran. What kind of over-the-top piety were you expecting from him? We're not known for showiness, as a rule.

    But could he make a good tuna noodle casserole to take to a church potluck? Enquiring minds, etc.
  • Piglet wrote: »
    If you'll permit a non-Bach tangent, David used to remark on how many composers of church music (notably Howells, Vaughan Williams and some other English composers) were not believers in the conventional sense, and some were actual atheists.

    It didn't stop some of them writing sublime music, although if they really didn't believe, you wonder who they were writing it for.

    A needed paycheck, maybe?
  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Bach was a Lutheran. What kind of over-the-top piety were you expecting from him? We're not known for showiness, as a rule.

    But could he make a good tuna noodle casserole to take to a church potluck? Enquiring minds, etc.

    Let's hope so. I mean, there's music, and then there's really necessary things...
  • I recall reading - as a 12 y.o. with mumps - a book about a Pope who wanted to canonize Bach as a saint, and the opposition he encountered. As I recall it was painfully funny.
  • This mentions JSB and others who used the same inscription.
    "Soli Deo gloria" (Wikipedia).

    And I found that through this, which has other relevant hits, JSB quotes, etc.
    Duck Duck Go search for "bach to the glory of god".

  • Golden Key wrote: »
    Bach was a Lutheran. What kind of over-the-top piety were you expecting from him? We're not known for showiness, as a rule.

    But could he make a good tuna noodle casserole to take to a church potluck? Enquiring minds, etc.

    Let's hope so. I mean, there's music, and then there's really necessary things...

    Well, JSB certainly knew the necessity of a good cup of coffee (Wikipedia), so...a very good Lutheran!
    ;)
  • Ah, I went to hear that one time. Fun.
  • cgichard wrote: »
    I recall reading - as a 12 y.o. with mumps - a book about a Pope who wanted to canonize Bach as a saint, and the opposition he encountered. As I recall it was painfully funny.

    Presumably that was Bach and the Heavenly Choir?
  • Looked at the reviews of this in case it was the basis of the funniest piece of theatre I ever saw. It wasn’t, sadly. The theatre piece, put on at the Edinburgh Fringe many years ago, was set in heaven where Bach has been put in charge of the angelic chorus while Handel has been given a choir of human souls. The two vie with each other to prove he is the greater musician, with various bursts of recorded music (it was basically a two man piece), while other composers interrupt with short bursts of their own stuff. It was howlingly funny. I think it was called Herr Bach and Mr Handel.
  • Cathscats--

    LOL. Almost sounds like something comedian Dave Alan would come up with for his TV show.
  • If you read French, L' Art de la Fugue: une méditation en musique (Fayard, 2015) by Martha Cook. Cook is an American harpsichordist who has been resident in France for decades. She argues that The Art of the Fugue, rather than being a merely, strictly technical exercise and secular assemblage, is in fact tied to the Gospel According to St Luke, at a crucial point in Germany's intellectual development. It can be a bit of a slog, but worth it. Sadly, it is thus far only in French.

    GG - Although Bach was known to have a bad temper, and obviously enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh (viz. his numerous progeny), I don't think that there's anything in his biography to cast any doubt upon his personal piety. You were looking for.... well, what, precisely? A rousing chorale in Tongues? (Might be fun at Pentecost.)
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Anyone remember My Word and the Muir and Norden stories accounting for quotations?

    One was about a German princeling entertaining the Bach family to dinner in a restaurant with the aim of acquiring a junior one as perspective court composer. Drinks are ordered - but one of the children has gone to the Gents. Hence - see what the Bach in the boys' room will have
  • I got interrupted and missed the edit window, and, then again.

    The thread could have been titled To God and Bach Again. (Harhar.)

    Taverner is interesting as he became increasingly devout. Schütz wrote his Geistliche Chormusik 1648 the year both his wife and daughter died as well as at the end of The Thirty Years' War. Holst is interesting in that he composed both Hymn of Jesus and Hymns from the Rig Veda, (his stepmother was a theosophist).

    I have thought in past that if I have a choice of "exit music" it would be Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of The Goldberg Variations. technically secular though it is, to hear the way in which Gould inhabits every tone is a metaphysical experience.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited September 10
    Taverner is interesting as he became increasingly devout.
    To clarify; John Taverner (c1490–1545) or John Tavener (1944–2013)?

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Taverner is interesting as he became increasingly devout.
    To clarify; John Taverner (c1490–1545) or John Tavener (1944–2013)?

    The latter. Thank you for that. [Where's that blushing emoji when I need it?]
  • Hedgehog wrote: »
    Presumably that was Bach and the Heavenly Choir?
    Oh, yes, that's it. Thankyou @Hedgehog. Judging from the date of the first edition and knowing that it was a library copy, I must have been a little older than 12. And the reviews don't mention it as being funny, so my recollection seems to be doubly faulty. Maybe when postal services approach normality I shall seek out a secondhand copy.
  • There is a well-deserved and enormous compliment to Bach in one of the books by Douglas Adams.
  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    Front Row on Radio 4 last night had an interview with Lang Lang about his recent recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which had some interesting insights. I only heard bits of it but hope to catch up with it on iPlayer over the weekend.
    GG may be right about Bach’s feline fans. Our cat Mick, who died just over a year ago of cancer, was an extreme Bach fan and loved the Goldberg Variations. We played him the CD as the vet put him to sleep. It was months before I could listen to them again.
    (The new cats have different tastes in music; neither seems to respond to Bach. Cassie quite likes opera, while the only music Lyra has shown any interest in is the ghazals sung in “A Suitable Boy”.)
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    edited September 11
    Re cats disliking Heavy Metal - I knew thy would have good taste. :naughty:
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    HarryCH wrote: »
    There is a well-deserved and enormous compliment to Bach in one of the books by Douglas Adams.

    No matter how enormous be any compliment to Bach, it will always be inadequate.
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    edited September 12
    Of course, the church was Bach's employer for a large part of his life, so that certainly boosted the religious-oriented output.

    I have a complete set of recordings of the sacred cantatas. I started listening in 2012. Haven't quite finished yet, there's about 7 discs to go...

    The liner notes of those recordings and some other sources do occasionally mention how musical devices were associated with particular religious ideas and other themes. For example, Jesus always gets to be a Bass. And you get very long phrases when someone is singing about eternity.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited September 12
    Of course, Bach was not averse to repurposing his music! This programme note suggests that the "Hosanna" from the B Minor Mass wasn't originally devised to praise God but the King of Poland and quotes an unnamed source which says that "in a society which regarded Kings as divinely appointed ... [Bach] would have seen no incongruity in using the same music to praise the King of Poland and the King of Heaven".

    http://www.choirs.org.uk/prognotes/Bach B minor mass.htm



  • Orfeo - Which recording and which format is your set of cantatas?

    BT - Repurposing needn't be from one's own work. Bach based a concerto on a theme by Vivaldi, and it was not entitled "Concerto on a theme by Vivaldi" (I believe that it was first written as a flute concerto.)
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    edited September 12
    Orfeo - Which recording and which format is your set of cantatas?

    It's the recordings by Maasaki Suzuki from Japan, on the BIS label. I have them on CD in a collection of boxes that were released, 10 discs in each of the first 4 boxes and then when it was all done they added a last box with 15 discs.

    I believe the entire thing was later packaged into a single 55-disc box. Or you can still get lots of the individual ones...

    It's pretty remarkable that one of the more consistently liked cantata sets comes from a Japanese ensemble on a Swedish label.

  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    orfeo wrote: »
    Of course, the church was Bach's employer for a large part of his life, so that certainly boosted the religious-oriented output.

    I have a complete set of recordings of the sacred cantatas. I started listening in 2012. Haven't quite finished yet, there's about 7 discs to go...

    The liner notes of those recordings and some other sources do occasionally mention how musical devices were associated with particular religious ideas and other themes. For example, Jesus always gets to be a Bass. And you get very long phrases when someone is singing about eternity.

    In most Cantatas you get very long phrases where someone can be singing almost anything. Repetition didn't come in with Graham Kendrick.
  • KarlLBKarlLB Shipmate
    Huia wrote: »
    Re cats disliking Heavy Metal - I knew thy would have good taste. :naughty:

    Oi! I resemble that remark!
  • BT - Repurposing needn't be from one's own work. Bach based a concerto on a theme by Vivaldi, and it was not entitled "Concerto on a theme by Vivaldi" (I believe that it was first written as a flute concerto.)
    Yes, I know; the point I was trying to make that Bach re-used what had been an explicitly secular piece to praise God. (Concerti, being purely instrumental, aren't so explicit in their remit).

  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    KarlLB wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    Of course, the church was Bach's employer for a large part of his life, so that certainly boosted the religious-oriented output.

    I have a complete set of recordings of the sacred cantatas. I started listening in 2012. Haven't quite finished yet, there's about 7 discs to go...

    The liner notes of those recordings and some other sources do occasionally mention how musical devices were associated with particular religious ideas and other themes. For example, Jesus always gets to be a Bass. And you get very long phrases when someone is singing about eternity.

    In most Cantatas you get very long phrases where someone can be singing almost anything. Repetition didn't come in with Graham Kendrick.

    I should have been more specific: particularly long musical phrases on a single syllable of a word.
  • StreonshalhStreonshalh Shipmate Posts: 8
    Hedgehog wrote: »
    cgichard wrote: »
    I recall reading - as a 12 y.o. with mumps - a book about a Pope who wanted to canonize Bach as a saint, and the opposition he encountered. As I recall it was painfully funny.

    Presumably that was Bach and the Heavenly Choir?

    Thanks, from a quick look definitely looks like something i want to read.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    HarryCH wrote: »
    There is a well-deserved and enormous compliment to Bach in one of the books by Douglas Adams.

    Yes ... I love that part!!
  • In which book, please? One of the H2G2 series, or one of his other books?

    Thx.
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    Golden Key wrote: »
    In which book, please? One of the H2G2 series, or one of his other books?

    Thx.

    IIRC they're talking about Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Which personally I think is Adams' masterpiece.
  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    Yes, that's the one.
  • Thx. I think I started that, but didn't get into it. But I'll put it on my list.
  • Is' 'Bach and the Heavenly choir' a translation of 'die Heiligsprechung des Johannes Sebastian Bach' by Johannes Rueber ? (Canonisation of J.S.Bach)
  • sorry for previous question. I have just found out that 'Bach and the Heavenly choir' is a translation of the above novel.
  • If you are after a scholarly portrait of Bach, then John Eliot Gardiner's 'Music in the Castle of Heaven' is hard to beat. And, if you are short of time, then his chapter on 'The Mechanics of Faith' covers just what you are looking for.
  • BelisariusBelisarius Admin Emeritus
    edited September 23
    Golden Key wrote: »
    A needed paycheck, maybe?

    From Jude The Obscure:
    “I have been singing in the choir of a little church near Melchester,” [Jude] said. “And we have this week practised ‘The Foot of the Cross,’ which I understand, sir, that you composed?”

    “I did—a year or so ago.”

    “I—like it. I think it supremely beautiful!”

    “Ah well—other people have said so too. Yes, there’s money in it, if I could only see about getting it published. I have other compositions to go with it, too; I wish I could bring them out; for I haven’t made a five-pound note out of any of them yet. These publishing people—they want the copyright of an obscure composer’s work, such as mine is, for almost less than I should have to pay a person for making a fair manuscript copy of the score...music is a poor staff to lean on—I am giving it up entirely. You must go into trade if you want to make money nowadays. The wine business is what I am thinking of. This is my forthcoming list—it is not issued yet—but you can take one.”

    ...They talked a little longer, but constrainedly, for when the musician found that Jude was a poor man his manner changed from what it had been while Jude’s appearance and address deceived him as to his position and pursuits. Jude stammered out something about his feelings in wishing to congratulate the author on such an exalted composition, and took an embarrassed leave.

    ...Bach...obviously enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh (viz. his numerous progeny)...
    Not necessarily--per the skit in Monty Python and The Meaning of Life, the possibility of only having had sex to produce even 19 pregnancies in a lifetime is not particularly excessive.
  • StreonshalhStreonshalh Shipmate Posts: 8
    Chorister wrote: »
    If you are after a scholarly portrait of Bach, then John Eliot Gardiner's 'Music in the Castle of Heaven' is hard to beat. And, if you are short of time, then his chapter on 'The Mechanics of Faith' covers just what you are looking for.

    Spot on tip, thanks. I know of the book but have been wary of it's size.
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