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Sunday’s Worship Music

March 24, 2019


O Lamb of God, innocent – Johann Sebastian Bach


(8:30) O God, Thou Faithful God – Sigfrid Karg-Elert

(11:00) Like as the hart – Herbert Howells

THIS MORNING’S ORGAN VOLUNTARY celebrates the 333rd birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born this past week on March 21st in 1685. Although Bach’s larger-than-life persona has long been deified by his biographers, Bach the man–the Mensch–lived a life full of challenges and disappointments not unknown to mere mortals. As a boy, his school environment was so brutal that many parents kept their children away for their own safety; young Johann Sebastian had no fewer than 258 absences in his three years at Eisenach’s Latin School. Orphaned at ten, he lived with his brother in Ohrdruf, and at the Lyceum there, violent thuggery was so rampant that poor Bach would necessarily had to have been either a victim or a victimizer. He would be employed by unappreciative congregations and petty royals: in 1717 he was imprisoned for a month when he sought to end his employment at the court of Weimar. Hence, he is one of the few composers to do ‘hard time.’ In 1720 he returned from a trip only to discover that his wife had suddenly died; her funeral had been held during his absence. He was passed-over for important ecclesiastical and court posts: although ‘hired’ to be the musician at Hamburg’s prestigious Jacobikirche (St. James’ Church), he was unable to pay the expected bribe to the committee and had to decline the post. Bach would father twenty children from his two wives, but only ten would survive to adulthood (several of which who would become important musicians in their own right). He was belligerent and impatient in the extreme: after an organist made a mistake during a rehearsal, Bach ripped the organist’s wig off of his head and screamed “you’d be better off as a cobbler!” Another time he threatened to throw a soprano out the window.  Yet, amidst his share of adversity, frustration and personal challenges, his reformed faith remained the root of all his art and he would single-handedly bring Baroque music to its ultimate maturity. His extraordinary catalogue numbers 1087 works including music for organ, harpsichord, lute and other instruments, orchestral works, instrumental concertos, nearly 300 secular and sacred cantatas, as well as an unknown number of lost works. It was Richard Wagner who called Bach “the most stupendous miracle in all music.”