My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach

My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach

My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach

My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach

Synopsis

In the history of Western music, J. S. Bach is unsurpassed in mastery of technique and profundity of thought. He was also a devout Lutheran with a broad knowledge of Scripture and theology. Given Bach's combination of musical prowess, personal devotion, and theological depth, it is not surprising that his music stands unexcelled among artistic expressions of the Christian faith. With the passage of time, however, many of the essential keys to understanding Bach's music have been lost. My Only Comfort uniquely reconnects modern listeners with Bach's music, enabling them to listen to Bach with renewed understanding and appreciation.

After an introduction to Bach, his theological knowledge, his musical language, and the various genres of sacred music in his output, Calvin Stapert leads readers through specific works by Bach that express, interpret, and vivify some of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. For each work discussed, Stapert provides relevant quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism (a novel and provocative approach to the study of Bach), a literal translation of the text set beside the German original, and textual and musical commentary meant to contribute to a more perceptive and devotional listening to the work.

Excerpt

In the history of Western music, J. S. Bach is unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled, in mastery of technique and profundity of thought. He was a devout Lutheran whose knowledge of Scripture and theology was so broad and deep that the eminent historian of theology Jaroslav Pelikan wrote a book entitled Bach Among the Theologians. Given Bach’s combination of musical prowess, personal devotion, and theological understanding, it is not surprising that his music stands unexcelled among artistic expressions of the Christian faith. At the center of his musical output stand some two hundred cantatas along with four monumental works — the Christmas Oratorio, the two Passions according to St. Matthew and St. John, and the Mass in B Minor. The four large works have long been heard fairly regularly in concert and have also been quite readily available in recorded form. The same cannot be said for the cantatas. But at least with regard to recordings, the situation is changing. Although Bach’s cantatas are still not as easily found in recorded form as, say, Beethoven’s symphonies or Mozart’s operas, they are not difficult to obtain. The complete cantatas have been recorded twice, once on the Hänssler label with Helmut Rilling conducting, and once on Teldec with the conducting duties divided between Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt. Two more projects to record them all are in progress — Ton Koopman’s performances are being issued by Erato and Masaaki Suzuki’s by BIS. In addition, fine recordings of individual cantatas have been made, and continue to be made, by conductors such as John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Monica Huggett, Joshua Rifkin, Jeffrey Thomas, and others.

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