Friday, 19 October 2012

Faith+reason+goodwill+music = the glory of God

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a diligent, logical, highly productive Church musician, organist and cantor, who successfully combined his music ministry with family and community life. He stated his purpose as a Church musician simply: “I have always kept one end in view, namely, with all good will to conduct a well-regulated church music to the glory of God.”
This combination of faith, reason and goodwill drove Bach’s music ministry to the heights of well-regulated genius. A common secular misconception about Church music is that it is an unregulated, ecstatic outpouring of passionate emotion, with reason and intelligence playing no part. This is incorrect: all Church music worthy of the name has logical structures, and is the outgrowth of centuries of tradition and education in carefully coded religious expression. Observant hearers can discern structures in Church music, meant to teach or illustrate Christian texts or doctrines, or assist the listener to meditate on a text in depth. Examination of the greatest Church music shows that complex rational structures support the interwoven melodies, rhythms, and harmonies we hear. The description of Bach’s cryptic musical integration of his Christian faith into a Church music composition, found in Joan Huyser-Honig’s essay “Musical Theology: Past lessons, present perspective” on the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website, speaks for itself (see link below for full essay).
“Bach was Cantor (music director) at St. Thomas, a Lutheran church in Leipzig, Germany, when he wrote his St Matthew Passion for a Good Friday service. He wrote it in the key of E minor, which has one sharp. The German word for sharp is kreuz, which also means cross. The Gospel of Matthew is packed with numerical symbolism, and Bach embedded biblically significant numbers (two, three, five, seven, and twelve) in his score. He also used music to emphasize key ideas in the text. His notes ascend for the word heaven. A melisma (multi-noted syllable) highlights the words love, die, wept, and forever.

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