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I will be the first one to say that J.S. Bach is my favorite overall composer, Partita No.2, Chaccone is my favorite piece, but what specifically makes his music great, influential, and worth all the recognition? How would you explain this to a musician and a nonmusician?

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It's cool, as I said Rodney is probably fine with it, and given he started the thread your arbitration - and admonishment - is of little concern.

Serenity Laine said:

I would gently and politely admonish him to go back, read some of the earlier posts which have to do with Bach and Bach's music, and to make an effort to discuss Bach.

Maybe the discussion might proceed a little smoother if the word

'divine' was defined and understood.

There are basically two things the word represents, selflessness

and unconditional love.

For Bach to say that his music 'aspired' to that spirit ,and that the music

was not written to glorify himself, makes perfect sense to me.

There is much more to say about this , but as I stated earlier,

progress and success often happen in small increments.   RS

Hi Roger,

Good point. WRT Bach, Divine would mean his concept of Deity, plain and simple God (as he understood the term). Bach wrote Soli Deo Gloria on his manuscripts, meaning to the Glory of God, and yes he was deflecting any glorification from himself to the church.

Fred asked if Bach's music would be different if his belief was in Zeus or Wotan. I have no idea. I do know that Bach put a lot of Christian symbolism in his music. Anyone who has studied Bach in depth knows that. Let me give an example, the Prelude and Fugue in E flat for organ. The prelude is the first piece of Bach's ClavierUbung III (sometimes called the German organ mass), the fugue is the final piece. This piece was composed in the late 1730s and is Bach at his highest abilities).  Both the prelude and fugue have 3 themes and attempt to portray in music the trinity (a Lutheran theological concept of God in 3 persons, father, son and holy spirit). Of the two the fugue is more easily understood in that regard (skip to the 9 minute mark of the youtube video link below to get straight to the fugue, though the prelude is wonderful music whether you believe in God or not. The 3 sections of the fugue portray the trinity quite effectively, the first section sounds very paternal, the second like a young son scurrying about (Bach had 20 children he knew what young boys were like) and finally the third section has much spirit. Even the key of the music points to the trinity (3 flats). I can't imagine this piece relating to Wotan or Zeus, but the Lutheran God and Trinity, absolutely. The linked performance is quite good and if you have time the next piece up is the E minor "Wedge" prelude and fugue (BWV 548), a much more secular work of incredible virtuosity (especially the fugue).

I've said before and will state again, I don't believe in the God of the Christian Bible, but I find this music effective and moving.

The concept of a triune god far predates Christianity.

I don't know the Bach you cite, but heres the thing, like you, I don't believe in the dogma of religion and am especially unhappy at the violence the hegemony of religion incites in the world and so, if I listen to this work (I haven't yet!) I doubt it would convey the trinity to me. To me it would no doubt just piss me off because the man is sooo good, as well as no doubt moving me to a quivering heap.
I think Fred is more on point for me in this discssion in his inference on the autonomy of music to speak its own language to us, which in turn moves us, despite the instigating inspiration, which to me, is irrelevant when dealing with a musical intellect like Bachs'.
Just another thought, there are atheist composers who have written transcendental and religious themed music, Vaughn Williams springs to mind, he wrote a wonderful mass and the slow mvt of his 5 th symphony has a quote from the bible. Both of these pieces where written without faith and still kick emotional ass...go figure

And December 25th was Mithra's birthday, what's your point?

Fredrick zinos said:

The concept of a triune god far predates Christianity.

Oh, jeepers balls. It'd be nice if this could not devolve.

a) Most of us don't believe in God
b) Most of us agree Bach wrote wonderful music whilst believing in God
c) There are so many other places to get atheistically nitpicky about why religion is full of logical fallacies etc and on, and on
d) See b)

The point is that the use of three flats and creation of three themes to suggest a trinity, is relevant only if one first believes that the Christian concept of trinity is more relevant than the non-Christian concept. If one does not hold these a priori beliefs then the use of 3 flats and 3 themes can be seen as interesting compositional devices but nothing more than that. 

None of which addresses the central question "was Bach's music inspired by god?" Some say, yes it was inspired by god and others, myself included see his music as a product of masterful technique that doesn't need any help from a deity. Moreover a deity could not have provided any assistance because no such thing exists.

Give Bach his due. He worked (according to him) very hard and got a result that is in many ways unparalleled.

Yeah...fair enough Dave..perhaps we should talk about his fugal work, you know, just for the sake of variety. Just a thought..

I think in Bach's time the focus was not on the composer. The concept of 'star' and adulation of an individual artist came later, I think, though individual musicians were admired for the quality of their craft. The focus was on the music. Composers worked towards building the body of music. Composers used each other's themes freely at that time because the aspect of authorship was far less important or maybe not at all important. Isn't this true? It has been many years since I read any sources and I wouldn't be able to recall them, but this is the understanding I developed. Am I wrong?

Bach wrote 'Soli Deo Gloria' in his manuscripts and stated that 'it is God who makes the music'. There are different ways to interpret these statements, but the suggestion that he was merely motivated by pleasing his employer is, in my opinion, very implausible. We know he was a man of dignity. He refused a good job opportunity based on principle, when they demanded some kind of application fee that he felt was dishonest (just an episode of his life I remember reading about).

Was he deflecting glory from himself by writing 'it is God who makes the music'? Maybe, but I think he believed that to be correct. And, again, the concept of the glorious composer may not have been in place at that time, so there may not have been much personal glory to defect anyway. The prevailing understanding at that time was that the composer was a laborer who did the work of God. When Bach played, he 'hit the right notes at the right time' (like he said). And when he composed he wrote the right notes on the right places. When we hear these right notes placed on the right places played at the right time, things inside of us come alive that we didn't know were there. Things that remained dormant until that time. These 'things inside of us' find an analogue of themselves in the way these precise notes follow one another. They identify with the music. The music mirrors them. In our daily lives they had not found any other mirrors. Now they could see themselves in this mirror and became self-aware. They were awaken by the music. Bach's music awakens parts of our inner selves that no other music does. Other composers' music wakes up other parts of us but the places Bach's music reaches are rarely reached by anything at all and hence his music is exceptional. 

Bach's music and how it 'speaks to us' in this way I talked about must have appeared to be the perfect embodiment of the Lutheran Church's philosophy that the individual can and should communicate with God directly. This is why mass should be in German, not Latin. This is why Luther translated the Bible into German, so that any literate person could read it and interpret it directly without a priest as intermediary.

No one can provide objective evidence that either music or our inner selves are God's creation or that God exists.

But it is possible to provide objective evidence that Bach's music is not explained by hard work alone. I think Serenity has done this by pointing out that many others have worked as hard as Bach. This is not only objective evidence but also obvious to everyone who thinks objectively about it. I have never said to my daughter 'if you work very very hard, then your music will be as good as Bach's music, and if you work harder than Bach did then you will surpass him'. If I said that, would anyone believe me? I do not think there are any ceilings or limitations to what my daughter can achieve as a composer. But I feel very certain that what she does achieve will not be the predictable result of working very very hard. Not if we are taking about the kind of work that can be described by words such as 'diligence'. And yet, of course, diligence will be needed too (it always is).

Bach could extemporize easily. He could play a multi-part piece based on a theme that had just been presented to him. This may have been the product of his own work on himself (maybe he worked very very hard on himself) but it certainly was no ordinary type of work. We don't know what it was but I feel certainly that 'diligence' had very little to do with it (though it always plays a fundamental even if small role). What was the nature of this extraordinary work? And how did Bach's deeply religious built contribute to this very particular type of 'work'?

Nobody knows who or what inspired Bach's music, not even the man himself. There is no way to know, which is what makes the question less interesting to me. People will make up stuff (religion) to explain such phenomena or adhere to strict logic (atheism) to proclaim that answer wrong. It's the ultimate uncertainty principle. If there's a God and an afterlife we'll find out soon enough. If there isn't we won't be around to wonder anymore. Bach wrote a lot of wonderful music during his life, so much so that he's one of the three Bs of classical music. It's unquestionable that he had an extreme gift of innate ability. He also worked hard at his craft and as you say he deserves his due. So I guess it's safe to say we agree on that.

Fredrick zinos said:

None of which addresses the central question "was Bach's music inspired by god?" Some say, yes it was inspired by god and others, myself included see his music as a product of masterful technique that doesn't need any help from a deity. Moreover a deity could not have provided any assistance because no such thing exists.

Give Bach his due. He worked (according to him) very hard and got a result that is in many ways unparalleled.

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