J S Bach the Believer

This is the day that … Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750.

He was taught violin by his father, became a choirboy at St Michael’s Church, then organist … and so his musical career began to flourish.

He has been described as “the outstanding member of the greatest musical family the world has ever known” (A Gift of Music, by Smith & Carlson). Over 50 musicians bearing that name are remembered by musicologists today” (The Spiritual Lives of Great Composers, by P. Kavanagh).

“I have read countless books and articles,” continues one biographer, “discussing the mystery of Bach’s greatness, and the authors rarely mention his self-acknowledged indebtedness to his Lord and Saviour.”

He was “the greatest organist, not only of his own time, but of all time,” writes another. And as a composer “his lofty genius was wholly consecrated to the service of God in the church that held his heart, and what Palestrina was to the Roman Church Bach became to Protestantism” (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 257). He was a devout Lutheran.

Some consider his name to be “the greatest in all the history of music, whether sacred or secular.” Whilst he was recognised as the outstanding organist of his day (and many would say “of all time”), it is as a composer that he is now acclaimed.

During his lifetime only ten of his compositions were published, and it was not until a century after his death that the greatness of his musical composition was acknowledged.

Many of his melodies and arrangements are to be found in our hymnals, and his cantatas are still sung by many a church choir, including Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Blind, and on his deathbed, he dictated to his son-in-law, his final chorale, Before Thy Throne I Come…!

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.