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Ferment


Vol.XIV#4 June 12,2K Dr. Roy Lisker, Editor


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Johann Sebastian Bach:
The Integration of European Music
in the Aftermath of the Wars of Religion
I. Two centuries of ideological warfare

 In this period of millennial perspectives it is appropriate that we
study the 3 ideological cataclysms which, over the last 500 years, have
shattered the European spiritual continuum:

 (1) The Catholic-Protestant polarization of western European
Christianity . Christianity had frequently put forth divergent branches in
previous centuries: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox , Coptic, Bogomil-Cathar,
Hussite. among others. The persecution of heretics had a venerable
history, nor were murderous conflicts over religious differences
uncommon. All this history pales in comparison with the total devastation
that overtook Europe through the continuous warfare unleashed by the
Reformation and Counter-Reformation during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Thus, the Thirty Years War reduced the population of the Lower Palatinate
( The Rhine Valley) by 90%; the state of Württemburg by 85%. Three-
quarters of the inhabitants of Bohemia ( the modern day Czech Republic)
perished .

(2) Nationalism versus Feudalism. The term "nationalism" rather
than "republicanism" or "democracy" is being used because the
applications of the concept of the nationhood have found expression in
many hybrid forms of government, democratic, parliamentary , socialist,
communist, military, fascist. Despite their great differences, each has
contributed to the undermining of the system of monarchist and feudal
institutions which defined European politics from the 8th century. The term
"feudalism" is also being used in a very general sense, as the system that
connected up Europe until the end of World War I. In its more restricted,
technical usage, "feudalism" applies only to the system established by
Charlemagne, which fell apart in the 14th century.

Wars of national sovereignty and independence came into
prominence in the late seventeen hundreds. They continue to rage
throughout the world. Up until 1989 it was believed that Europe had
finished with this phase; Yugoslavia provided the definitive counter-
example

(3) Capitalism versus Communism. Historically the most recent
replay of Europe's inherent incapacity to achieve spiritual integrity , the
capitalist/communist schism devastated the planet for 7 decades ,
gripping the consciousness of the mankind as with a band of steel.
Vestiges of all these conflicts are still around today: Reformation
contra Counter-Reformation still reigns in Northern Ireland and
Yugoslavia . Monarchies with real political power are still to be found in
Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Nepal, Brunei and certain fringe
principalities. Modern Europe's monarchies are largely ceremonial,
though one should not discount the very real economic power of persons
like the queens of Holland and England.

There are not many private citizens who can claim a world-class oil company
as their personal property. One might also interpret the spontaneous rise of fascist
governments in the 30's as monarchism in modern dress. The distinction
between a king and a demagogue may be clear on paper, but it makes little
difference to the governed.

As for communism, it is very much alive on the mainland of East Asia
and in Cuba. Nor should its continuing political clout in Eastern Europe be
trivialized. That this contemporary catechism of alienation, capitalism
versus communism was more universally dispersed , does not in any sense
imply that its root dissensions were any more fundamental. Ideological
warfare in all its viciousness is a permanent feature of the human
condition.

Sorting through the cultural debris left in the wake of the
shock wave of an ideological divide one identifies certain common
features:

The instinct for detecting heresy present in persons committed
to the cause eventually engulfs members of their own persuasion. To them,
the very exercise of originality or imagination becomes suspect. It may be
that only a few key figures in the arts, letters and sciences, will be singled
out for persecution; others working in their disciplines soon incorporate
forms of self-censorship in their creative output . In the long run this
brings about a climate of opinion, relative to which being inventive in ways
contrary to the norm becomes unthinkable: a restrictive style becomes one
of the characteristics of the age. Although the store of concepts may be
vastly augmented, ( as in medieval scholasticism or Marxist-Leninist
theory) , a shroud of darkness closes over the mind.

Example: in the last decade we have seen how words like "liberal"
and "political correctness" have become so tainted by adverse publicity
and innuendo that they can at most be whispered apologetically. In the
United States it has always been the case that the use of the words
"Negro" and "black" in conversations among white people will be
followed by an embarrassed silence - as if to say " I guess I better watch
my step lest I say the wrong thing." When talking with scientists from
Eastern Europe, I found that the word "Jew" was never uttered without a
nervous laugh. These simple examples serve to illustrate the power of
political manipulation over ordinary speech, and by extension over all
cultural productions.

 Such mentally constricting and doctrinaire views extend deep into the
arts and letters of their times. Rigidity of thought becomes the norm.
During the 50's, when censorship of the arts was forcing Russian literature
into the suffocating mold of Socialist Realism, the United States
developed a self-imposing cult of conformism in popular and official
culture, film, music, dress and education. Although this was relieved,
(perhaps) , by the Dionysian revels of the 60's, it has since returned with
redoubled force.

Historically it has always been the case that there remains a large
portion of the planet for whom an ideological conflict, its purges, its wars
and Inquisitions appear foolish, even innocuous. What do most Europeans
think about, or even know about the Sunni-Shiite quarrel that has divided
the Moslem world for centuries? The "Babylonian Captivity" of the Popes
at Avignon during the 14th century, that pathetic succession of Popes and
anti-Popes all under the control of equally ludicrous European potentates,
, a phenomenon that was so overwhelming in its consequences for its own
times , now serves, even for Catholics, as a cause for embarrassment.

 That the Taiping Revolution of 1850-64 was the most destructive
conflict between Napoleon and World War I is unknown to almost all
Americans, most of whom think that the Civil War has that distinction.
When it is explained that the cost of this war was in the neighborhood of
30 million lives, a not uncommon response will be : " That's China; It
doesn't count. They lose that much in a famine. Anyway, what's it got to do
with us?" A clash of both peoples and ideologies, with the Manchu
dynasty and the Confucian bureaucracy on one side, and a mix of
Christianity and 19th century socialism on the other, its importance to
world history is apparent to anyone not biased by xenophobic prejudices:
The Taiping Revolution connects everything from the triumph of Maoism
to the present day persecution of the Falun Gong .

Likewise: although 16th and 17th century western Europeans
believed that the world that really mattered was filled with nothing but
Catholics and Protestants, it must have appeared to the rest of mankind,
Arab, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Chinese, African or Native American that
the West was embroiled in a family squabble around an idea that is almost
incomprehensible: that governments had the right to perpetrate genocide
on persons who misunderstood the teachings of the Prince of Peace.

A European ideological catastrophe classically takes the form of a
civil war cutting across all national boundaries, setting communities and
families at each others throats, devastating entire nations and scattering
peoples over the face of the earth: the national character of the United
States was formed by the members of all the religious confessions forced
out of Europe at this time: Catholics, Quakers, Puritans, Moravians,
Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Huguenots, Jews, Baptists and others.

That the context in which the cracks and rifts open up is
homogeneous is important: the way in which the tectonic breakup of the
trans-national unity unfolds is as much a part of its spiritual universe as
its deceptive appearance of consensus. The growth of fascism taught us a
great deal we did not want to know about the European soul; the Cold
War has supplied us with important insights into communal ways of life,
and responses to the impact of industrialization, around the world
Christianity had been, and would remain, the dominant ideology for
most of Europe through the 16th and 17th centuries . That one now found
Christians, some of them called Catholics, others Protestants, embroiled
in fierce genocidal wars might appear to some as merely a lamentable
detail. Yet the converse proposition exhibits more insight: the truth is that
Europeans have a predilection for continent-wide civil wars, the odd part
of it being that the ideology under which they gave expression to their
hatreds called itself a religion of compassion.
 

Music and the Reformation

The role of music in the church services of all forms of Christianity
has always been fundamental . Writing in 1597 Richard Hooker refers to
the:
" .admirable facility which music hath to express and
represent to the mind more inwardly than any other
sensible mean, the very steps and inflections every way,
the turns and varieties of all passions whereunto the
mind is subject..."

( Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Bk. 5 )

It was therefore unavoidable that over the two centuries during
which the heart of Europe was being torn asunder by religious strife, that
the varying fortunes of sacred music from place to place would reflect the
this on-going violence. The blossoming of numerous confessions,
Catholic, Gallican Catholic, Henrican Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist,
Reform, Presbyterian, Puritan, Pietist, Jansenist, etc. resulted in the
creation of a tragically fragmented musical language across the length and
breadth of Europe. Every imposition of a new religious order brought with
it the creation of new hymnals, missals, graduals, books of common prayer
and other written materials. New music needed to be written for all this,
itself subject to numerous rules and restrictions. Depending on the time
and place, one encounters prohibitions against organs, musical
instruments like sackbuts and viols , counterpoint, polyphony or even
simple part singing , plainsong, and popular melodies deemed too vulgar
for the devout.

"The suppression of chantries in the first year of the
reign of Edward VI, together with the injunctions of his
reign against organs and florid polyphony, were much
more significant for the musical life of the Church ........
The injunctions for the taking down of rood-lofts and
organs and the destroying of Latin service-books were
not carried out everywhere with equal rigour, but
otherwise the harrowing story of destruction alternating
with restoration ran its course for more than a century "
(Church Music in England , Frank L. Harrison, from The New Oxford
History of Music , vol. IV, page 466 )

The following comical quote is taken from a sermon preached in 1628
by Canon Peter Smart of Durham against the church composer Cosin .
Smart was a fundamentalist Anglican who railed against "schismaticall,
hereticall and traiterous Arminians and Papists" . He spent 12 years in
prison during the civil war:

"... [Cosin] chaunts with Organs, Shackbuts and
Cornets which yield an hydeous noyse....He hath brought
meere ballads and jigs into the Church...Hee will not
suffer so much as the holy Communion to bee
administered without an hideous noyse of vocall and
instrumentall Musicke....."

-Op. Cit, page 47

Although the immediate effects on the art of music were often
catastrophic, the end results were not always negative. Music, perhaps
because its content is more abstract than that of other arts, may, even in
periods when censorship is most severe, also be more protected. Official
censorship will often be appeased by alterations of a libretto or song text.
The thought police of the repressive Metternichian order that dominated
continental Europe throughout most of the 19th century did not interfere
significantly with the careers of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann or
Brahms. Stalin, it is true, laid a heavy hand over the lives of Prokoffief,
Shostakovich and others: he insisted on Soviet music having a
"recognizable content" ( translation: a gloss of "Russianism" derivative of
Rimsky-Korsakoff) - it made the task of identifying "subversive music"
that much easier. Perhaps even he understood that it is not so easy to
eradicate a musical idea.

Thus, even though composers of Catholic church music were forced,
after the decrees of the Council of Trent, to modify plainsong settings by
artificial, even mutilating rules , they could, and did, lift ideas from
Calvinist composers . This was most true in France, where Gallican
Catholicism put up a strong resistance to the Tridentine enactments.
Calvinist, Huguenot or Reformed composers also labored under many
restrictions, different in kind but not in severity from those inhibiting their
Catholic co-workers. They might, for example, be compelled to dilute
their settings of the Psalms to the point where they could be hummed by a
pious peasantry at work in the fields. Yet they too found a way to work
side by side with Catholic musicians . Speaking of France in the first half of
the 16th century, the musicologist François Lesure writes:
" For a long time non-Huguenot musicians did not
hesitate to set the Marot-Bèze Psalter to music. Here
there was still no clear distinction between Catholic and
Calvinist music."

 -Op Cit , pg. 251 (1)

Music in England
Nowhere was the state of music so adversely affected by the
violence of Reformation and Counter-Reformation as in England.
We begin with the 16th century example of John Taverner, whose
peregrinations from orthodoxy to orthodoxy appear extreme, even for his
times:

" England had produced one masterly polyphonic
composer, John Taverner, who wrote eight Masses and
many motets before the Reformation. He was choirmaster
of Cardinal's College at Oxford, Wolsey's foundation. He
resigned in 1530, ceased all musical work, and became a
fanatic adherent of the extreme anti-Catholic party.
[Thomas] Cromwell employed him in the suppression of
the monasteries: in a letter from Boston in 1538, he
writes his master: "according to your Lordship's
commandment, the Rood was burned the seventh day......
and a sermon at the burning of him, which did express
the cause of his burning and the idolatry committed by
him." 2

 -Douglas , pg. 77

The following quotation provides an overview of the tragic history
of those centuries:
" The suppression of the monasteries, and the
introduction of the Book of Common Prayer.... vitally
affected the history of English church music.... The loss
to music was incalculable... The task of these composers,
especially in 1549, was tremendous....

" The Second Book of Common Prayer ( 1552) ....
Once more the church musicians were put to some
confusion... The growth of the newly founded English
school of church music suffered a severe check... A fresh
Act of Uniformity was passed in 1559 ....

" In the period that followed England was
acknowledged to hold the supreme position among all the
nations of Europe. Before the close of the century,
English cathedral music could successfully challenge that
of Italy and the Netherlands....

" The Civil War .... was another tremendous blow to
English church music....The cathedrals were closed.. the
clergy and choirs were dismissed.. organs were mutilated
... wholesale destruction of music books....for some 15
years church music was non-existent in England..."

 -Fellowes , pgs. 1- 9

This was the coup-de-grace. Despite the presence of exceptional
individual composers like Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten, and
notwithstanding the abortive attempt to jump-start a native musical
tradition with the importation of Georg Friedrich Handel, English music
has never recovered its former glory since the civil wars of the 17th
century. That the musical heritage of England is insignificant in
comparison with Italy or Germany only tells us something about its
history, nothing about its national character.

ffffffffffff

The Plight of the Musician
>From the Reformation to the Enlightenment, musicians who
participated in the liturgies of the deviating factions of a once unified
western Christianity often found themselves on the front lines of the
theological battlefields. Music operates at the level of the intimate
spiritual life of the individual: was it not over this foundling that all the
custody disputes were being waged ? With the establishment of each new
religious persuasion, with each reform, with each military victory granting
temporary legitimacy to this or that interpretation of the Scriptures, the
role of music in the liturgy , in the home , in private devotions , as
instigator of profane, even lascivious thoughts, as idleness, distraction,
vanity or , perhaps, as one of the refinements of civilization, was hotly
contested. In Switzerland, Holland, France, England, and parts of
Germany, there was as much risk in the career of a musician as in that of a
writer in Soviet Russia.

As each new hurricane blast of the Reformation sent tidal waves
rolling into the churches, courts and households of Europe, musicians and
composers found themselves persecuted, ruined, dispossessed, sent into
exile or jailed. They were never completely safe on either side of the
divide, though it must be acknowledged that all of the arts were more on
the defensive under the Protestants, with their puritanical reformist zeal,
than the Catholics, addicted to hyper-aesthetic spectacle. It was the
scientists that the Catholics wanted to scalp: although Galileo Galilei was
silenced by the Inquisition and his works placed on the Index, his less
illustrious composer father, Vincenzo Galilei, was never in any danger.
 The concern which cut across all religious boundaries was that the
new forms of music would not be so gratifying to the senses that
worshippers would be distracted from the solemnity of worship:
" [ The Papal edicts of 1665, 1678 and 1692] were
aimed at curbing a dual reality. From a moral point of
view they represented an attempt to bring under control
....... a form of sensuous enticement suspected of
contravening the officially sanctioned decorum, sobriety
and, indeed, compunction of the church."

-Bianconi, pg. 109

Protestant reformers felt much the same way. Luther put a heavy
censorship on all artistic expression in the church, excepting only music.
Zwingli would have eliminated music altogether, while Calvin seemed to
allow it the status of a prisoner on whom a constant vigilance must be
maintained!

 Johann Sebastian Bach himself had to deal with disputes over the
role of music in religious contexts every time he changed jobs, in Lüneberg,
Ohrdruf, Mulhausen, Arnstadt and Leipzig. He avoided conflict in the
princely court of Köthen only because its administration subscribed to the
Reformed Church . Apart from the fact that Bach himself was a Lutheran,
Calvinism had no use for his kind of music in the church . He was quite
happy to invest his astonishing energies into the production of chamber
and instrumental music: that Bach was a great composer of religious music
does not mean that he appreciated being pigeon-holed as one! The very
distinction between sacred and secular music is a product of the late
Reformation and has never sat well with practicing composers.
The objections voiced by his Italian Baroque innovations in organ
music, leveled against him by the worthies of Arnstadt( 1703 -1707 ) sound
like an echo of the censures made at the Papal Council of Trent in the 16th
century - against German music! They accused him of smuggling 'foreign
tones' into the melodies; of 'confusing the congregation'; of playing
'peculiar variations' in the chorale, and so on. We may compare this with
the opinions expressed at the Council of Trent in June of 1543 :
"...it will be necessary after peace is established to
do away with those German songs. which they use very
much in their churches. Not a few of these are hymns
which go contrary to the authority of the Supreme
Pontiffs...."

-Hayburn, pg 26

In Muhlhausen (1707-1708 ) Bach found himself squarely in the eye
of the hurricane. There he had to supply music for two congregations, the
Pietists of the church of St. Mary's, and the orthodox Lutherans of the
church of St. Blasius. The tension became insupportable and he quit after
only one year.

Puritanism in the promotion of religious spectacle struck no
resonance in Renaissance Italy. In the context of Florence it was not
surprising that a fulminating Savanorola would encounter the same fate
as the books and paintings he burned. The marks left by the crusading zeal
of the more extreme manifestations of the Protestant reform were more
indelible. Its effects, both good and bad, have persisted down to our own
times.

Speaking of the early stages of the Baroque style in 17th century
Italy, Paul Henry Lang states:
"The pontificate of Sixtus V ( 1585-1590) may
be considered the time at which the early baroque took
definite form... From the sphere of quiet devotion the
faithful were lifted into the world of the triumphant
Church whose cult was celebrated by richly decked clergy
under the vaults of a mighty architecture, surrounded by
statues and pictures, before scintillating altars
ornamented with gold and silver, to the accompaniment
of the impressive and resonant music of multiple choirs,
orchestras and organs.."

-Lang, pg. 321

With regards to the situation in Protestant lands at this time he writes:
" The situation in the realm of art took a turn for
the worst when religious fanaticism began to claim a part
in it. In its initial determination to assert its
independence, Protestantism exhibited a strong dislike
for all churchly ornament, considering artistic
embellishment of the divine service contrary to
evangelical precepts.... The many products of the
goldsmith's, ironsmith's, mosaic maker's, tapestry
weaver's, wood carver's, and embroiderer's art .... all
were banished from the churches as offensive to the
puritanical sense of the Protestant clergy.....There was
one field however, in which Protestantism created an
art of its own stamp: music."

This did not happen overnight. Many musical traditions have yet to
recover from the ideological violence of the 17th century.
Music and Reformed Christianity: Zwingli and Calvin
Zwingli was himself an accomplished musician. However ,
"Zwingli's service order is largely an original
creation. Of basic importance is the introduction of the
vernacular and of continuous reading as well as active
participation by the congregation in the prayers and,
finally and most important, the exclusion of all musical
elements. This signified a breach with a service tradition
of 15 centuries."

-Walter Blankenburg, in Blume, pg 509
Calvin's policies were guided by his self-proclaimed
"awareness of the possibility and danger of human
misuse of music in the service of vanity and sensuality
his regard for the traditional use of music in the service
as a papist aberration proved that he had no feeling at all
for the developing art of sacred music."

-Op. Cit. pg. 516

In "Protestant Worship Music", Etherington writes:
"... the flower of church music that had
blossomed in their own time, became as if it had never
existed as far as the Calvinists were concerned... In
public worship, organs were silenced; and the singing
was confined to rhymed paraphrases of the psalms, sung
in unison "

 -Etherington, pg. 98

Lang confirms this picture in greater detail:
"John Calvin was not disposed towards music ... the
great musical culture of the followers of Luther always
stood in strange contrast to the sober and almost hostile
attitude toward music of a part of England and Wales,
Scotland , parts of Germany and parts of Switzerland. "

-Lang pg. 320

" The cathedral organist of Zurich watched, with
tears streaming down his cheeks, the destruction of his
magnificent instrument; and the famous Bern organist,
Hans Kotter, made homeless by his unwavering faith in
Protestantism, saw himself reduced to the status of a
schoolmaster when the very champions of his faith
destroyed his instrument."

-Lang, pg. 208

"Loys Bourgeois, the...composer of Geneva, was
thrown into prison for having 'without leave' altered the
tunes of some of the hymns."

-Lang, pg. 258

The musical geography of Europe in 1685 , the year of Bach's birth,
looks something like this:
The wars of religion had wrecked the fabric of English music.
Though Georg Friedrich Handel was conscripted to repair the damage,
nothing could keep the nation from slipping into the status of a musical
backwater after his death.

Zealots of every stripe had railed for two centuries against
polyphonic music because of its propensity, ( to their way of thinking ), for
arousing indecent and lascivious thoughts. The fading away of the great
Netherlands school of polyphony was brought about largely through the
internecine strife of the various Calvinist sects , though, paradoxically,
organ playing flourished, as it does down to the present day. From then to
now one hears very little about Dutch or Flemish masters.
In Scotland music was suffocated entirely, as in certain parts of
Germany and much of Switzerland. French Protestant music went
through many phases in the centuries until consideration, but some idea of
the negative impact of religious zealotry is conveyed by the following
quotation ( Editor's translation):

" J.S. Bach had at his disposal about 5000 choral
melodies. The French Reformation in that time produced
about 125 melodies for 150 Psalms, its evolution having
been obstructed by the historical and psychological
situation."

 -Weber, pg. 29

The eclipse of the vibrant Spanish school of the 16th century appears
to have been a by-product of the Counter-Reformation. Italy remained, as
ever, a fount of inexhaustible invention, although the incursions of the
Counter-Reformation onto the vestiges of Renaissance humanism took its
toll on individual composers and on certain musical styles. The efforts of
Vincenzio Galilei and his Florentine coterie, the Camerata, died stillborn,
causing few regrets among music-lovers, for its monotonous note-against
syllable formality was quickly supplanted by the fiery vigor of Baroque
opera. For quite apposite reasons, all interest in, or even understanding
of, the music of the all-but-deified Palestrina, disappeared within 25 years
of his death.

60 years before the birth of Bach, Central Europe had been
reconverted to Catholicism by sword and stake. Original musical
composition more or less died out in this highly musical part of Europe
until the emergence of the movements of national identity of the 19th
century.

The final word goes to Paul Henry Lang. Summarizing the 17th
century he states:
" The humanists disappeared, and the great art
and music that remained were drawn within the orbit of
the new church spirit.... The greatest poet of the age,
Tasso, mentally and morally crushed, humbled himself
ceaselessly in his desire to redeem himself.... Scholasticism
reigned in the universities....the cult of saints and belief
in miracles reappeared strengthened....the most fervent
peoples became victims of [ the baroque spirit's]
consuming force and disappeared from the stage [musical]
history for centuries: Spain, Poland, and what is now
Belgium . "

The Achievement of Johann Sebastian Bach

 We are now in a position to better appreciate the scope of Bach's
legacy in the context of a world that never understood him and, for the
most part, never got to hear his music . Given his unique stature in musical
history , Bach's professional career comes across to us as inexplicably
provincial. All of his jobs were in a small region in central Germany,
south of Hamburg and west of Dresden. He never went further north than
Hamburg, or further south than Carlsbad.

For anyone lesser person such limitations would have been fatal.
Working conditions for German musicians at that time were impossibly
confining and included , among other things, prohibitions against seeking
employment outside their cities of residence. All of the Saxon composers at
Bach's level, Handel, Hasse, Telemann, Zelenka, bridled under this regime
and, at least for a time, sought advancement in Italy, France or Austria.
Bach alone stayed within Saxony's oppressive orbit. Not only did he
manage to thrive, but soared over all his contemporaries to a pinnacle of
timeless universality. How was he able to do this?

One can suggest his very isolation from the great metropolitan
centers where the Baroque style was flourishing may have been a blessing
in disguise . Being thus cut off Bach was impelled to reach back into the
debris of two centuries of shipwreck, even as far back as the Middle Ages,
to forge a synthesis of his own .

The process began with his years of apprenticeship at Lüneberg
( 1700-1702) . Upon his arrival he discovered that
"The choral repertory of Lüneberg was in complete
disorder Aichinger, DeMonte, Gabrieli , Gallus,
Gastoldi , Grandi, Hammerschmidt, Ingegneri, Josquin,
Krieger, Lassus, Marenzio, Merulo, Monteverdi,
Palestrina, Praetorius, Schop, Selle, Senfl , Vecchi,
Viadana the accomplishments of not less than two
centuries, from 1500 to 1700, were combined in the
strangest mixture, without the slightest attempt to
distinguish the different compositions by periods or
countries".

-Schrade, pg. 24

 While other great composers like Vivaldi and Lully could bask
comfortably within the tradition handed down to them, Bach was faced
with the daunting challenge of having to re-invent the whole of musical
art ! Yet, from his northern refuge his achievements so far eclipsed those
of the mainstream musical world, that we now judge all the music written
in his time in relation to him. Bach picked up the fragments of the rich
musical heritage of Europe, now scattered, alienated and confused, here
devastated by war, there rendered impotent through pious rebuke , to
reunite them into a renascent wholesomeness in the crucible of his
towering genius.

Through diligent study and ceaseless creative production,
Bach reunited the scattered sources of European music on all sides of the
religious and nationalist divides : to Sweelinck, the only major
contrapuntalist still active in Calvinist Holland; to Hasse and Zelenka ,
the prominent Catholic court composers in Dresden; to Vivaldi in Italy; to
the school of north German organists, Buxtehude, Reinken and Böhm.
His contributions to abstract, theoretical and pedagogical music,
including the Well Tempered Clavier , the Musical Offering and the Art of
the Fugue, are the bedrock of all European art music of the last 3 centuries.
The greatest composer of Lutheran church music, he also composes an
important Catholic concert mass. Politically an opponent of Pietism ,
( which was unfriendly to music) , he transmits the essence of Pietist
spirituality in hundreds of compositions, not the least in the cantatas , the
very form which the Pietists banned completely from their services
because of its association with opera.

" The creation of the church cantata after the most
secular of all secular models naturally aroused the
opposition of the Pietists. The clamor against 'operatic'
church music did not subside until the end of the baroque
period. For the Pietists the cantata meant an abominable
secularization , the ultimate desecration of sacred music."

-Bukofzer, pg. 260

Lutheranism, Catholicism, Pietism, Humanism, even the science-
oriented Enlightenment : all of the wayward currents of the fragmented
European soul were assimilated by Bach in the immensity of his healing
ocean.

It is our custom to arrange a handful of great composers into a
vertical column rooted in the late Renaissance and rising in strict
chronological order into modern times . Out of each period the public ear
selects a paradigm figure that exemplifies its style. All others, ( save for
those represented by a small number of compositions taken out of context
( Albinoni's "Adagio", Pachelbel's "Canon", etc. )) , are cast into oblivion.
They " wrote music that sounds like that of the neighboring paradigm,
although " not nearly as good" .

It's something of a game of leap-frog that we play, skipping along
the gamut of Monteverdi - Schutz - Vivaldi - Bach and Handel - Haydn
and Mozart - Beethoven - Schubert - Mendelssohn- Schumann - Chopin -
Brahms - Wagner and Liszt - Debussy and Ravel Mahler- Stravinsky-
Schoenberg .........

By installing Johann Sebastian Bach in this vertical column, we lose
sight of the true meaning of his work relative to his own time and to the
history of music. We fail thereby the pay tribute to his restorative role in a
spiritual universe shattered by centuries of ideological chaos . One must
account it strange indeed that so many enthusiasts of classical music think
that Telemann, Osiander, Graun, Kuhnau, Muffat, Lully, Vivaldi, Fux,
Rameau, the Scarlattis, Handel, Hasse, Kaiser, Schein, Sweelinck,
Buxtehude and so on, all " sound just like Bach" . They certainly don't
sound like each other.

As with all clichés , this one harbors a grain of truth. Totally out of
touch with his real public, isolated in the cultural vacuum that would
deprive the world of his finest work for almost a century, Bach created the
universal musical language which we all speak and will continue to do so
for some time to come . For this he is rightly honored. He, more than
anyone else, is responsible for reuniting the spiritual sources of music that
had been dispersed around the world under the impetus of one of the
greatest intellectual catastrophes in history.
 

Bibliography
[1] The New Oxford History of Music; vol. IV, Editor Gerald
Abraham ; 1974
[2] The New Oxford History of Music ; vol. V, Editors Anthony Lewis
and Nigel Fortune , 1975
[3] Church Music in History and Practice ;Winfred Douglas ;
Scribner's , 1949
[4] English Cathedral Music ; Edmund H. Fellowes , Metheun, 1914
[5] Music in Western Civilization ; Paul Henry Lang ; Norton 1941
[6] Protestant Worship Music ; Charles L. Etherington ; Holt,
Rinehardt and Winston, NY 1962
[7] La Musique Protestante de Langue Française; Edith Weber ;
Paris, Honore Champion, 1979
[8] Papal Legislation on Sacred Music: 95A.D. to 1977 A.D. ;
Robert F. Hayburn ; The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 1979
[9] Music in the Seventeenth Century ; Lorenzo Bianconi ;
Cambridge UP 1982
[10] Bach Among The Theologians; Jaroslav Pelikan ;
Fortress Press 1986
[11] Johann Sebastian Bach. Karl Geiringer ; Oxford UP 1966
[12] Bach: The Conflict between the Sacred and the Secular ;
Leo Schrade ; Merlin Press 1946 ( Reproduced from the Journal of the
History of Ideas April 1946 Vol VII #2 )
[13] Music in the Baroque Era;Manfred F. Bukofzer ; Dent , 1948
[14] Protestant Church Music,A History ; Friedrich Blume ;
Norton 1974

1The references refer to the Bibliography.
2The quotation does not specify whether or not the "Rood" was merely some
"object of superstitious veneration", or perhaps some church worthy!

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