Anyone who begins playing Bach as an adult will notice two things: that he should have started earlier, ideally by studying the piano as a child instead of chasing a leathery orb around some field; and that there is something of the divine in Bach. Philosophers have always drawn a connection between music and the cosmos and its creator. And after butchering our way through various preludes and fugues, most of us will see a connection, too, even if it isn’t quite the one the philosophers propose.
Superficially, we could cite the religious content of Bach’s music, or his biography. Mozart and Beethoven wrote glorious Masses, and the former at least seems to have had some enthusiasm for the words. But listening to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is another thing entirely. It isn’t just the lyrics. It’s the three-hour length (half an opera, Wagner would say), the interpolation of Lutheran hymns, and Bach’s personal obsession with this work. Despite the mix of indifference and hostility that greeted it, his calligraphic score from 1736 was an elaborate red-letter edition, with carefully glued repairs. And then there are all the other passions and Masses, hundreds of cantatas, and chorale preludes for the organ.