Today the Church honors and celebrates the heavenly birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was a master of music with an overwhelming genius of vocal and instrumental compositions and is acknowledged as one of the most famous and gifted composers of all time. Yet more than that, Bach was also a staunch and devoted Lutheran, and throughout his life, Bach insisted that his music was written for the liturgical life of the Church, to glorify God and edify His people.
There was a time, however, when Bach’s faith came under vicious attack. It was said that he was only performing in the Church because that’s where musicians played during that era. Many had attempted to defend Bach’s faith, but the issue wasn’t settled until June of 1934. A Lutheran minister, Christian G. Riedel, was in Frankenmuth, Michigan, was staying with his cousin, Leonard Reichle. His cousin showed him a Bible in which Riedel immediately recognized the signature of Bach on the title page. Reichle then found the other two volumes in his attic. The Bible contained commentary notes from Martin Luther. Apparently, Reichle’s family had unknowingly bought the three-volume Calov Bible in Philadelphia in the 1830s. Reichle donated the three-volumes to the Concordia Seminary Library in St. Louis, Missouri, in October 1938, and Bach’s Bible is there still today. In it, there are hundreds of underlinings and marginal notes written in the handwriting of Bach, which has been verified by handwriting and chemical analysis. Bach was indeed a studious man of the Lutheran Faith.
In addition to his Bible, at the end of almost all of the manuscripts of Bach’s compositions, you can find the letters “SDG” written in Bach’s handwriting. It refers to the words: “Soli deo gloria,” meaning “To God alone the glory!” It is a testimony to his faith and his conviction of music’s highest, most noble use in the life of the Church. Still today, many will use these words or just the acronym SDG, but the use of it was popularized by Bach.
On this day, when Bach was nearing death, it is said that his last words to his family where, “Don’t cry for me, for I go where music is born.”
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, You have taught us in Holy Scripture to sing Your praises and have given to Your servant Johann Sebastian Bach grace to show forth Your glory in his music. continue to grant this gift of inspiration to all Your servants who write and make music for Your people, that with joy we on earth may glimpse Your beauty and at length know the inexhaustible richness of Your new creation in Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
I invite you to listen to this interview about Bach the Composer, Conductor, and Kantor of the Church