Songbird

   Written by on March 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

He was born on the first day of spring in 1685.  His ancestors had fled Hungary years earlier during the Thirty Years War rather than give up the biblical faith.

The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at carolinastudycenter@msn.com.

The Reverend Stephen Crotts is pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, VA. He is also the director of the Carolina Study Center, Inc., a campus ministry, located in Chapel Hill, NC. Pastor Crotts may be reached at carolinastudycenter@msn.com.

His birthplace, Eisenach, Germany, was the same town that church reformer Martin Luther had taken refuge in over a century earlier; where Luther had translated the Scriptures into German. It is often said by scholars that if there had been no Luther, we would never have had this composer whose music is full of faith in Jesus Christ and Scripture.

His parents died when he was ten years old. An older brother took him in. The family owned one volume of music, but he was not allowed to use it.  The young lad stayed up late at night copying it by hand. He became a boy soprano in a church choir. By age 18 he was an excellent clavichordist, organist, violin and viola player, and composer. Then began his long career as a church musician, him holding a series of posts in obscure churches—Arnstadt, Weimar, Leipzig, Mulhausen, Cothen. He loved to play loudly, to startle the congregation with organ pieces.

He married Maria and together they had seven children. She died and was already buried by the time he’d returned from a concert tour.

He always signed his compositions, Solo gloria Deo, “For the glory of God.” He was a gentleman of strong opinions. He was mostly right, jovial, hospitable. Once he was offered a better job in another city. His boss threw him in jail on trumped up charges. When the job offer was rescinded, he was let out of jail to continue his local duties.

He remarried in mid-life, a woman named Anna. They had thirteen of Bach’s 20 children. Ten died. Those who survived and their descendents would dominate church music for over 200 years!

He never traveled outside of Germany.  He was little aware of the greatness of his music. In old age he went blind. He died in his 65th year. His last composition? Come, Sweet Death. Sadly, his music would be forgotten for 100 years after his death. A converted Jew, Felix Mendelssohn, would revive his music. It has never been out of style since. As one scholar said, “There is always something new and fresh to discover in it.”

The man’s name? Johann Sebastian Bach. Christian lover of Jesus, servant of the church, musician, and composer. To sample the best of his compositions, listen to his “Christmas Oratorio,”   “Saint Matthew Passion,” and “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”  “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and “Sleepers, Awake!” You’ll come to agree with Helmut Walcha: “Ultimately Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning in life after all.”

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