Today, this year, March 31st is the 331st anniversary of the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the greatest composers of all time, whose musical works expressed the very height of baroque music.
Doing some research, I discovered that the term baroque refers to an irregularly-shaped or oddly-colored pearl. This word led to the idea that something that was “baroque” was unseemly, with too much detail: in music, for example, or in furniture. Before 1600, the main musical instrument was the human voice, but baroque music used all instruments with no voices at all. Its most striking feature was a basso continuo, or baseline theme, that extended throughout the piece, so the upper notes could go up and down, expressing the entire range of human emotions. To me, baroque music shows God’s incredible sense of humor – that this presumably misshapen pearl would become, for all of Europe for 150 years, the “pearl of great price,” the greatest musical expression of glory to God!
And that was Bach’s purpose for composing: for the glory of God. I confess one reason I’m so drawn to him is because he worked even more hours a week than the busiest pastor. For 27 years, he worked fulltime for not one but four local churches, plus the entire town of Leipzig! His main task was to teach several hundred boys in the St. Thomas Boys School, plus direct two choirs and play as organist for two churches, supervise an assistant director for the other two choirs – and write a brand new cantata (one-act opera for church, based upon that week’s lectionary Scripture) every week! He also wrote original music for every civic occasion, and repaired, tuned and maintained the pipe organs, as well!
What draws me to his music is that baroque style, with its baseline that ultimately gives so much freedom. It’s like John Wesley’s “means of grace” (prayer, Scripture reading, etc.), providing a constant framework for freely-lived abundant life. It’s like the ground of God’s unconditional grace and love, upon which we can base our up-and-down lives, in all their eccentric shapes and colors.
Thank You, God, for Your baseline love and grace, and for the freedom it gives us to live as stewards of Your gospel! Amen.
Your partner in ministry,