Happy Birthday Bach!

by Derek Nickels, Director of Music

Every year on the 21st of March, musicians around the world honor one of the greatest musicians of all time to have left us such tremendous gifts of musical monuments, Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in the small German town of Eisenach in 1685, Johann Sebastian was orphaned by the age of ten and raised by an older brother, Johann Christoph, a pupil of the famous Johann Pachelbel. His childhood was probably less than idyllic but his musical abilities and precociousness allowed him to escape the hardships of reality into the world of music. Bach's theological background and education was of great importance as well. After the deaths of both parents at an early age, deaths of numerous siblings, the death of his first wife Maria Barbara, and the deaths of five daughters and six sons throughout Bach's sixty-five years, Bach leaned upon his devout Lutheran faith frequently.

Martin Luther placed music as the second most important aspect in worship except for preaching. Luther's belief that music was a gift from God that was an integral part of human expression in both secular and religious levels was in sharp contrast to other leaders during the Reformation like John Calvin, who felt music was a frivolous distraction to worship. Luther insisted on congregational participation in worship. By the late 16th century, organ accompaniments to congregational hymns gradually came into use. There were four customary functions of the organist of that time: 1) accompanying congregational singing; 2) performing short preludes and interludes to congregational singing and to liturgical altar chants; 3) performing alternate verses of the liturgy and congregational hymns; and 4) inserting single selections at the beginning and end of the service as well as during communion. Since many of Bach's organ pieces are based upon German chorales and melodies that have endured the test of time into our present day, it stands to reason that you will find Bach represented in 21st century liturgies.

I will be playing a recital at Presbyterian Homes' Elliott Chapel, 3131 Simpson Street in Evanston on their Gift of Music Series on March 23rd at 1:30 p.m. It seems only natural to include music by the German master Bach.