Bach & God
by michael marissen
oxford, 288 pages, $35
Michael Marissen, emeritus professor of music at Swarthmore, argues that Johann Sebastian Bach’s music embodies the theology of its text, and an acquaintance with that theology helps listeners understand and appreciate Bach’s music more deeply. He also contends that there are troubling anti-Semitic currents in the Lutheranism of Bach’s time, which on rare occasions creep into his music.
For example, some of Bach’s church cantatas reflect the harsh views of Judaism present in Luther’s writings and translation of the New Testament. By contrast, Bach’s settings of the Passion focus on the complicity of sinful listeners, not the Jews, in Christ’s death, even when Luther’s word choice obscures Matthew’s linguistic distinction between the Jewish people and the mixed crowds who condemned Christ to death.