Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Robin A. Leaver (Westminster Choir College of Rider University, New Jersey, USA)

Theological Bach Studies: towards a working bibliography

The context of much of Bach's music is in the first place liturgical. The passions, cantatas, and many of his other vocal works were composed with various aspects of the Lutheran liturgy in mind, as observed in the different churches that Bach served during his life. So too was much of his organ music, especially, though not exclusively, the chorale-based works. That this music had specific liturgical connections also means that there were also theological connections, since liturgy comprises the practical application of specific theological tenets as well as being the outward form of inward spirituality.

Beginning with the somewhat over-drawn late-nineteenth-century depictions of Bach as the quintessential Lutheran Cantor, there have been a number of studies that have discussed some of the theological connections with Bach's music, as well as with the life of the composer himself. Not all the literature has been positive, such as the paper given by Friedrich Blume at the Mainz Bachfest in 1962, that severely questioned the validity of such studies, since, he argued, the (then) "new" chronology appears to suggests that Bach gave up writing for the church. However, the marginal notes that Bach entered into his copy of the Calov Deutsche Bibel came to light after Blume had aired his views in public and have provided a different perspective. The past fifty years or so have seen a growing body of studies exploring many different theological dimensions of Bach music, a corpus of literature that grows not only numerically but also ever-widening in scope. This paper will explore the principal contours of this literature, with the view of creating a working bibliography that charts the strengths and weakness of what has been published, and begins to identify areas that need to be explored further.

Last updated on 29 May 2004