Monday, May 30, 2011

Bach's Sacred Artistry

Depending on who you talk to, Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart is the greatest classical composer in history. Unlike the other two, Bach spent a significant amount of his life in obscurity, yet signed every piece "To the glory of God alone!"

In the New Yorker, Alex Ross writes an incisive review of Bach's output, evaluated through the recordings of two contemporary conductors. You don't have to love classical music to understand the imprint Bach put on the world--be they Christian or atheist. Ross puts that into perspective:

More than half of the sacred cantatas were written between 1723 and 1726, when Bach was in the early years of his long, and often unrewarding, appointment as the cantor of the Thomaskirche, in Leipzig. For extended stretches of the liturgical year, he produced one cantata a week, and for the most part he refused to take the easy path of reworking older pieces, whether his own or others’. Instead, in what seems a kind of creative rage, he experimented with every aspect of the cantata form, which traditionally served as a musical meditation on the Scriptural readings of the week. There are intimidating fugal choruses, sublimely extended operatic arias, frenzied instrumental interludes, weird chords galore, episodes of almost irreverent dancing merriment. To hear the entire corpus is to be buffeted by the restless energy of Bach’s imagination.

Bach's a perfect example of what any Christian trying to use their talents in the arts for God's glory should aspire to achieve.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Bach is one of the historical figures that I would most love to meet! He must have been boundless energy and la joie de vivre (not sure there is a German equivalent). In Pentecost, we would have to admit to his being "anointed," and I like to believe that the anointing spills out in his music into the creative pursuits of his listeners. I have to say Bach has aided me in long hours of research and academic writing as recently as today. His contrapuntal melodies and rhythms help render sense from seeming chaos.