The Reformation and Johann Sebastian Bach (2)

A week ago I indicated my intent to show from his life and music that the great Baroque musician Johann Sebastian Bach was a devout and orthodox Lutheran. In this post I want to highlight some interesting connections between J. S. Bach and Martin Luther himself.

The musician Bach (1685-1730) and the theologian Luther (1483-1546) were of course separated temporally by well over a century. Their lives, however, intersected geographically at a number of places, most notably the German towns of Eisenach and Leipzig.

It was in the town of Eisenach, first of all, where Bach was born, on March 21, 1685. This historic German town was very familiar to Luther and for several reasons: (a) it was the hometown of Luther’s mother; (b) from 1498-1501 Luther studied at the Eisenach Latin school — Bach would later study at the very same school; (c) it was located at the foot of Warburg, the medieval hilltop castle which provided refuge to Luther while he translated the New Testament into German; (d) Luther preached in St. George’s Church, where Bach was baptized, on his way both to and from the Diet of Worms.

It was in the town of Leipzig, secondly, where Bach would later serve as church musician. It took several decades for the Reformation to prevail in Leipzig and when the city finally and officially embraced the Lutheran faith the occasion was marked by an appearance of none other than Martin Luther himself who, on Pentecost Sunday, 1539 preached at St. Thomas’s church, the very church where Bach would later serve.

But the connections between Bach and Luther are far more than geographical. Bach’s family was firmly Lutheran, theologically and ecclesiastically. The Lutheran faith had been embraced early on by Bach’s great-grandfather who, in fact, had been forced to flee to Hungary on account of it. The legacy of devout Lutheranism persisted in the Bach family for generations and is evident everywhere in the life and music of J. S. Bach.

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