The doctor is in!

DrBach
J S Bach Reconstructed

Even though Johann Sebastian Bach had a life full of tragedy and heartbreak, his music focused on a joy and peace found not in himself, but in God. Examine his writings and compositions and you will find that his source of life sprung from a well that never ran dry. This wellspring gave him purpose and an ability to cope with the deep sorrow and despair that can come from such circumstances. With the sudden death of his first wife and with the Job-like experiences of losing half of his children in premature deaths, he was able to share a faith and hope through his music that transcended these heart-wrenching tragedies.

Perhaps there is something to be learned from Bach’s life even today. Come along and explore some of his incredible music. The doctor is still in!

BWV 75 – The Wretched Shall Eat (from Part II)

Jesus makes me spiritually rich.
If I can embrace His spirit,
I will long for nothing more;
for my life will grow with it.
Jesus makes me spiritually rich.

Who rests in Jesus alone,
and is driven by self-denial,
which in God’s love
he practises in faith,
has, when earthly things have disappeared,
found himself and God.

What God does, is well done,
I will cling to this.
Along the harsh path
trouble, death and misery may drive me.
Yet God will,
just like a father,
hold me in His arms:
therefore I let Him alone rule.

(English Translation from Emmanuel Music)

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Music for the people

Enjoy this excellent documentary on the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. Explore the legacy of a faithful Christian servant who used his talents passionately with this compelling focus and stated purpose: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”

This award winning introduction to the great composer features scenes from Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Weimar, Kothen, Muhlhausen and of course, Leipzig and showcases insights from noted J. S. Bach scholars Christoph Wolff, Robin Leaver and guitar virtuoso Christopher Parkening. Narrated by Carl Grapentine.

Bach and his music

Johann Sebastian Bach has been called the “Fifth Evangelist”, ranking with the apostles: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, because his music touches the soul in a way that the spoken word cannot. He took Martin Luther’s promotion of congregational singing and the chorale to a higher level. For Bach, music had one purpose: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” His vast number of church cantatas speak to the struggle of the Christian life and the hope of eternal life and bliss with the loving Shepherd.

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Young Bach

Bach had a voracious appetite for studying music in his youth. He was able to master the harpsichord, organ and violin and learned how to compose music at an early age. Imagine a young man walking 250 miles to hear an organ concert in a church where the esteemed organist, Dietrich Buxtehude, is so impressed that he offers his daughter in marriage and his own job. His lifelong musical journey took him from Eisenach to Leipzig where he was employed as the music director for four churches.

The BBC has produced an excellent documentary film on the history of Bach and his music. Here are six video clips, which cover the most significant impact on sacred music by the world’s greatest composer. Your understanding of Bach will never be the same after you watch these clips.

Restless bones

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Bach’s church and statue in Leipzig today

Can you believe Johann Sebastian Bach was buried in an unmarked grave and wasn’t even considered important enough in his day to have a headstone?

Near the end of Bach’s life, his eyesight started to fail and he became increasingly blind. The noted British eye surgeon, John Taylor, visited Leipzig in the spring of 1750 and operated on Bach’s eyes. A newspaper reported “the unhappy consequences of the very unsuccessful eye operation” as the cause of his death just a few months later. Modern historians speculate that the cause of death was a stroke complicated by pneumonia. On the early morning of July 31, 1750, Bach was buried in St John’s Cemetery which stood one block outside the town’s Grimma Gate. His grave-site was left unmarked, and in the absence of any tombstone his grave was soon forgotten.

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Bach’s grave today in St. Thomas Church

When St. John’s Church was rebuilt in 1894, a few Leipzig scholars and Bach admirers succeeded in having what were believed to be the composer’s bones exhumed. In the process of trying to find his bones, 47 graves were dug up. Partial identification was established by a series of anatomical measurements and other tests. The bones were then laid to rest in a stone sarcophagus next to the poet Gellert in the vaults of the Johanniskirche (St. John’s Church). Many people went to pay homage to his tomb until the church was bombed in WWII. Once more his remains were rescued and in 1949 he was buried again in Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) where they remain to this day.

The rich musical legacy that Johann Sebastian Bach left behind is being rediscovered all over again today. When you hear Bach’s profoundly spiritual music sung by singers who feel that same personal conviction in their hearts, there is also an understanding that Someone else is listening to their worship too.

Read the story about Bach’s final resting place: http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxjsbach.html

Research on Bach’s remains: http://www.mja.com.au/journal/2009/190/4/are-alleged-remains-johann-sebastian-bach-authentic

Bach and his Bible

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Bach’s notes in his Bible

It’s an incredible story! Hear about the discovery of Bach’s own Bible in a Michigan farm house and how it was protected from Hitler and the Nazis. What did Johann Sebastian Bach write in his own Bible? Discover more of his personal faith that is expressed over and over in his music. Take a few minutes and listen to Dr. Thomas Rossin as he tells the story.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Bible was a “Calov Bible”, which is a three-volume 17th-century Bible that contains German translations and commentary by Martin Luther and additional commentary by Wittenberg theology professor Abraham Calovius. [1]

The three-volume “Calov Bible commentary is a vital source for understanding Bach’s approach to Scripture. Each volume contains Bach’s handwritten monogram. Bach underlined many passages, in both red and black ink and, most importantly, wrote his own comments in the margins. These markings give us a glimpse into Bach’s personal beliefs and how he understood his vocation.” [2]

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Johann Sebastian Bach’s Bible
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Bach’s signature in his Bible

Thomas Rossin, a Minnesota conductor who did his dissertation on the volumes that feature Bach’s signature and the date 1733–which could be the year the musician acquired the Bible commentary–said they verify that Bach’s interest in church music was more than just a function of his job as an organist and choir director in Germany. “Finally we have proof in his own hand, not meant for anyone else to see, saying things like, ‘This chapter is the true foundation of all God-pleasing church music,'” Rossin said. [3]

The Bible is now residing, permanently, at Concordia Lutheran Seminary in St. Louis MO. It is possible to make an appointment to see a portion of it, pending on the availability of the librarian.

Gottes wort bleibt in Ewigkeit: “God’s Word stands Forever!”

Sources:

1. Calov Bible (Wikipedia)

2. Bach & the Bible (Christianity Today)

3. Bach’s faith resonates in his Bible notations (Baptist Standard)

Happy Easter!

Catch the excitement of Christ’s Resurrection with Bach’s famous Easter Oratorio! Because He is risen, every sunrise is a promise of the believer’s own resurrection. As Bach aptly stated in the final chorus, “Hell and devil are conquered, its gates are destroyed. Rejoice, you rescued tongues, so that you are heard in heaven.” He has risen, indeed!

English Translation, thanks to Emmanuel Music:

1. Sinfonia

2. Aria (Duet) T B
Come, hurry and run, you speedy feet,
reach the cavern which conceals Jesus!
Laugter and merriment
accompanies our hearts,
since our Savior is risen again.
Come, hurry and run, you speedy feet,
reach the cavern which conceals Jesus!
Laugter and merriment
accompanies our hearts,
since our Savior is risen again.

3. Recitative (Mary Magdalene [A], Mary Jacobi [S], Peter [T], John [B])

Mary Magdalene
O cold hearts of men!
Where has your love gone,
that you owe to the Savior?

Mary Jacobi
A weak woman must put you to shame!

Peter
Alas, a troubled grieving

John
and anxious heartache

Peter, John
along with salty tears
and woeful longing
were intended as a salve for Him.

Mary Jacobi, Mary Magdalene
Which you, like us, prepared in vain.

4. Aria S
O soul, your spices
shall no longer be myrrh.
For only
crowning with the laurel wreath
will quiet your anxious longing.

5. Recitative (Peter [T], John [B], Mary Magdalene [A])

Peter
Here is the grave

John
and here the stone
which sealed it.
Where, however, can my Savior be?

Mary Magdalene
He is risen from the dead!
We encountered an angel
who gave us these tidings.

Peter
Here I behold, with pleasure,
His shroud lying tossed aside.

6. Aria T
Gentle shall my death-throes be,
only a slumber,
Jesus, because of your shroud.
Indeed, it will refresh me there,
and the tears of my suffering
it will tenderly wipe from my cheeks.

7. Recitative (Duet) S A
Meanwhile we sigh
with burning desire:

Ah, could it only happen soon,
to see the Savior ourselves!

8. Aria A
Tell me, tell me quickly,
say where I can find Jesus,
whom my soul loves!
O come, come, embrace me;
for without You my heart is
completely orphaned and wretched.

9. Recitative B
We are delighted
that our Jesus lives again,
and our hearts,
which first dissolved and floated in grief,
forget the pain
and imagine songs of joy;
for our Savior lives again.

10. Chorus
Praise and thanks
remain, Lord, your hymn of praise.
Hell and devil are conquered,
its gates are destroyed.
Rejoice, you rescued tongues,
so that you are heard in heaven.
Open, o heavens, your magnificent drawbridges,
the Lion of Judah approaches in triumph!

A Bach marathon

New York City’s classical music station, WQXR, is conducting a Bach marathon this week. It has been a source of inspiration as I go to sleep and wake to the incredible music of Johann Sebastian Bach. This internet radio station is eager to hear everyone’s Bach story.

As a young lad I was destined to take weekly piano lessons. My parents were determined that their children were going to learn music. Our growing family of 7 children traveled from the hinterland of Alberta’s vast prairie to the “big” city of Camrose, which had a population of 5,000 and was 45 miles away, to take those dreaded piano lessons. A Canadian winter never seemed to stop us either. I remember the highway having a thick coat of ice on it, to the point where one could hardly stand up, let alone walk. It was a good thing that most prairie highways were straight and that we had studs in our winter tires. We were prepared for the worst blizzard that an Alberta clipper could bring in order to learn how to play a piano.

Mrs. Bakken exuded music. She was the accomplished sister of one of those saints in our church who could be heard singing above the whole congregation and always gave a word of encouragement to others. My older brother had started piano lessons when the Bakkens lived on their farm many miles away, but they eventually sold their farm and moved to the city. Form was important to Mrs. Bakken, and I had to do finger and hand exercises to make sure my fingers would “step high” on the piano keyboard. I had a tendency to exert too much force into my playing and she would sometimes demonstate the right touch by running her fingers up and down my forearm. My arms couldn’t flap either, so she made me hold scribblers under both arms to keep them close to my sides. Everything had to be played to the steady beat of the metronome. I had to take theory and prepare for the feared itinerant music examiner who came out from the Royal Conservatory of Music to conduct the annual piano and theory exams.

The biggest inspiration for me was attempting to complete a book of Bach’s music. Mrs. Bakken promised me a Bach figurine when I finished all the pieces in this daunting first book of Bach’s piano music. I remember some interesting notes written above the pieces telling short stories about Bach or with some short poetic phrases from the lyrics. Unfortunately I never got the coveted figurine as my music teacher had to quit teaching  when she experienced overload from struggling with a rebellious teenage son at that time. The impact of Mrs. Bakken, however, lives on in me today and I remember her best for putting her heart and soul into her piano students and for her love of Bach. By the way, I still have that tattered and taped music book of Bach’s piano music!

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A gift more than 3 centuries old

Johann Sebastian Bach was born 328 years ago this week. It has been exciting to share in some of the related musical clips and posts from around the globe. Today’s technology would certainly amaze this musical genius if he were alive today. It’s hard to imagine what more impact his life would have made on music if he had had the tools that we enjoy today.

Switched_On_Bach

Made an orphan at the age of 9, he went on to live with his older brother, Johann Christoph Bach. The story is told about the young composer’s curiosity, late one night, when the household was asleep, he retrieved a manuscript (which may have been a collection of works by Johann Christoph’s former mentor, Johann Pachelbel) from his brother’s music cabinet and began to copy it by the moonlight. This went on nightly until Johann Christoph heard the young Sebastian playing some of the distinctive tunes from his private library, at which point the elder relative demanded to know how Sebastian had discovered them.

He grew up to become the greatest composer of music who has ever lived. Bach stated that “the aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul.” No doubt, his eternal reward will be great! His musical genius is still grabbing my attention 328 years after the gift of Bach was given to us. Enjoy a small part of the beautiful cantata, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, which means “God alone shall have my heart”. I pray that will be so.

BWV 169 Gott soll allein mein Herze haben – English translation