Speculations

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Belle
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Speculations

Post by Belle » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:00 pm

I am touring New Zealand with several people from the UK and Republic of Ireland. All are or have been professionals. Last night we discussed Christianity and its decline and I brought up the topic of music. I argued that we got much of our great music because of Christianity and the Court. When I brought up Bach and his Lutheran sacred works, for example, I made the point that without those musical posts in Germany we would not have this great composer and his sacred and secular masterpieces. The church provided the foundation stones for western art music. I have heard this riposte before: nonsense; he, or others like him, would have come along anyway!

I feel that comment is essentially an anti-Christian stance which inhabits the hypothetical world. And it's also somewhat absurd. And I said so.

What do you think? Would we have a Bach without Christianity and is there any point speculating what might have occurred without the Church when it came to great composers and complex demands made upon them with liturgical requirements?

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Re: Speculations

Post by Lance » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:54 pm

We might have had J. S. Bach, but perhaps not his greatest works. He, along with Handel, among a number of others were devout Christians and were greatly inspired. I think another composer was Mendelssohn, who was Jewish, but turned Christian, and turned out some remarkable music based on Christianity. So I'm with our beloved Sue on this one!

And how wonderful that you could be on this tour! Wish I was there!
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Belle
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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Wed Dec 19, 2018 4:59 pm

They are all out at the geothermal spots in Rotarua and I stayed behind. Catching up on music and reading. And it's raining!!

Mendelssohn's sacred works have received different critical assessments.

I meant also that the Church employed and facilitated the flowering of western art music. Bach also wrote the B Minor Mass for Catholic liturgy. I consider this work amongst the greatest half dozen in musical history.

We need to think along purely secular lines to image a world of a genius like Bach and where else he might have found the opportunity to flourish without Christianity and Christian courts. Sacred and secular: both providing very different contexts for the flowering of genius.

J. E. Gardiner's book "Music in the Castle of Heaven" is a useful insight into the symbiosis between religion and his art for Bach. I have not read it yet.

John F
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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Wed Dec 19, 2018 6:41 pm

Christianity is one thing, the institution of the Christian church quite another. Christianity existed for many centuries before the first music we have whose existence we attribute to the Christian church. And music existed many centuries before Christ, for example in ancient Greece.

It's to secular sources that we owe most of what we call classical music, which was paid for and whose composers were hired first by royalty and the nobility, then by the middle class. It's true that J.S. Bach's employer for most of his creative life was the Lutheran church, for which much of his music was composed, but before that he had made a successful career writing music for the courts of Weimar and Köthen, and he produced an enormous volume of secular music as a sideline while cantor of St. Thomas's in Leipzig. Bach would have been a productive and great composer if he had never written a note for the church, as witness the Brandenburg concertos and the Goldberg variations. It was the church that benefited from his genius more than the other way around.

Without doing any research, I'd say that the amount of great liturgical music, composed for use in church services, is very small compared with the great music we have that's performed in secular venues. (Non-liturgical music on subjects relating to Christianity is another matter, but we can't say that Strauss's "Salome," for example, has any relation to the Christian or any other church.) And some great religious music, for example Mozart's Requiem and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, was not commissioned by the church but had other reasons for its existence.
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Belle
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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Wed Dec 19, 2018 7:49 pm

The Christian church in Paris (there is speculation, if not evidence, that this was also in Britain) is the birth place of western European polyphony. This sprang out of the chant. So the Christian (read Catholic) church was fundamental to our music today. It is speculative to wonder where we might be without it.

The New Testament of Christianity is central to "Salome". Also, Christian values are to be found in Mozart's operas: redemption and forgiveness, hell etc.

Bach did write those masterful secular works you talk about, John, but that would leave out some great organ works, virtually all the cantatas and the Passions and great choral works. Ergo, Bach might still have come along (well, he did) but those works I mentioned put him above all other composers in toto, as genius and influence.

The works you mention by Beethoven and Mozart would not have been brought forth without Christianity whether specifically commissioned or not.

And there are multiple indirect ways Christianity influenced secular music. Not to mention plainchant as the cantus for medieval and renaissance secular music.

I refute the argument that the great composers we enjoy today from the past would have been there anyway if there was no Christianity. Surely they would be like many other secular composers, writing in familiar instrumental and orchestral genres and, in Bach's case, not towering above them.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:27 am

You dispute that argument but you certainly don't refute it. Statements like "The New Testament of Christianity is central to 'Salome.' Also, Christian values are to be found in Mozart's operas: redemption and forgiveness, hell etc." are too loose to amount to an argument. Such themes as redemption and forgiveness are to be found in literary works long before the birth of Christ - cf. the final play of the Oresteia, "Eumenides." And one might similarly claim that ancient Greek and Roman religion are "central" to the many early operas on classical themes, starting with Peri's "Dafne" and Monteverdi's "Orfeo." Not so; Greek religion (and the Old Testament) merely provided familiar stories which could be and were put to entirely secular use.

Bach's organ works, apart from the chorales and chorale preludes, are as secular as his other keyboard music, much of which Bach says or implies can be performed interchangeably on the harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Most organs were and are in churches, which have space for the array of pipes, and many composers of organ music held positions as organists and were therefore employed by the church. But while this provided the opportunity to compose and play music like Bach's passacaglia and fugue, there is nothing Christian or religious about the music itself, nor does performing the same music on a piano convert the concert hall into a church.

"The works you mention by Beethoven and Mozart would not have been brought forth without Christianity whether specifically commissioned or not." This is an example of what I mean by looseness. The form of Roman Catholic liturgy is not integral to Christianity, as most Christian churches other than Catholic don't use it. The style of those works and others like the requiems of Berlioz and Verdi and Britten is not ecclesiastical but rather operatic, and has been criticized as such; the Catholic church no longer allows them to be used in church services (with a special exception made for Vienna).

Of course the Christian church played an important role in the development of western art music up to the 18th century. Nobody disputes that; I certainly don't. But I think you overstate the importance of its role, especially after the Middle Ages, and by speaking of Christianity rather than the church you confuse and undermine the argument you apparently want to make.
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Belle
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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:13 am

In the first place, Mozart was himself steeped in Catholicism and though he had an ambiguous relationship with it - and its clerical power brokers - we do get a sense of it in his letters. The difference between the ancients and their values systems - attributed to 'the gods' in a pantheist culture - and the Christians is that systems and institutions supported the latter, enabling great musical and visual art to be created to the glory of a single god. It was systemic and codified. And I agree with Jordan Peterson that the stories and myths of the bible, continually re-learned through Christianity, have become deeply ingrained in our values systems. Ergo, when Mozart and his librettist consign Don Giovanni to the flames for his sins we are all aware of what that means. I don't think this is the same as the Greek katharsis and 'fatal flaw'. The hubris of the Don cannot go unpunished, just as Shakespeare's characters cannot.

Bach represents the grace of God in his sacred works. And many of his organ works of which you speak were based on religious cantus firmus. Everywhere, no matter what the context or social function you can scratch beneath the surface and find in western art music a DNA based on Christianity. Not paganisn, not Hindu, not nihilism, not Islam. These composers were steeped in the Judeo-christian world to a greater or lesser extent. Many wrote nothing but secular works - like Wagner, but his operas had a values heirarchy all of their own with all the consequences that go with it. The moral lecture at the end of the opera Don Giovanni leaves us in no doubt. Not all Mozart's operas are like this, of course. (It has always intrigued me how theatrical Mozart's religious music is.)

Finally, no matter how ambivalent the Church became about music and no matter how much it, or they, attempted to control it, great composers flourished as a consequence of the christian churches and worship. There is no way the composers of the medieval, renaissance, baroque and classical periods could create works in a vacuum as though none of this had ever happened. Perhaps one of them might have even thought or said, "there's a divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will".

And I am not religious, but steeped.in my Judeo-Christian heritage, for good or ill.
Last edited by Belle on Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:40 am, edited 5 times in total.

jserraglio
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:21 am

John F wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 6:41 pm
Christianity is one thing, the institution of the Christian church quite another.
You can take Christianity out of the church (e.g., the Church of England) but you can't take the church out of Christianity.
Last edited by jserraglio on Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

david johnson
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Re: Speculations

Post by david johnson » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:26 am

Neat discussion.

Belle
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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:36 am

jserraglio wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:21 am
John F wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 6:41 pm
Christianity is one thing, the institution of the Christian church quite another.
You can take Christianity out of the church (e.g., the Church of England) but you can't take the church out of Christianity.
Good point.

jserraglio
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:58 am

The Homeric songs are the wellspring of Western lit. (the Iliad containing in germ much of what was to follow). So too the plainsong chant produced by and for the church community may be the West's single greatest body of art music, worthy to stand alongside the work of any individual composer since.

Secular music often trespassed upon the sacred, and vice versa. The categories were not so finely drawn as we try to make them today.
Last edited by jserraglio on Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:12 am

jserraglio wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:21 am
John F wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 6:41 pm
Christianity is one thing, the institution of the Christian church quite another.
You can take Christianity out of the church (e.g., the Church of England) but you can't take the church out of Christianity.
Say what? The Church of England is a Christian sect, you can't take Christianity out of it. And you definitely can take the church out of Christianity; many people today profess themselves to be Christians without belonging to any church. Christianity is a faith and an ethical philosophy, not an organization.
jserraglio wrote:The plainsong chant produced by and for the Christian Church is, in my view, the West's greatest single body of art music, arguably worthy to stand alongside the work of any individual composer since.
Chacun a son gout, as Prince Orlofsky says.
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jserraglio
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:21 am

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:12 am
Say what? The Church of England is a Christian sect, you can't take Christianity out of it. And you definitely can take the church out of Christianity; many people today profess themselves to be Christians without belonging to any church. Christianity is a faith and an ethical philosophy, not an organization.
The Anglican Church has been at odds with Christianity for centuries, a bloody good thing too!

I suppose that if you insist on treating it like Chinese philosophy, you can take the church out of Christianity.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

RebLem
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Re: Speculations

Post by RebLem » Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:26 am

Only four Christian religious traditions go beyond mere hymn singing and have fostered more complex music in longer forms: 1) Catholicism, 2) Eastern Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, 3) Lutheranism, and 4) Anglicanism.

I have often disagreed with Belle here, especially her cultish and nearly worshipful advocacy of the views, often with racist implications, of Jordan Peterson. But on the present issue, I am siding with her.

Very few composers before the 19th century could have made a living as musicians without religious sponsorship forming a foundation stone and an income base from which they could venture out into other forms. And Arvo Part, whom many consider the greatest living composer, writes primarily Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical music.
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jserraglio
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:31 am

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:12 am
Chacun a son gout, as Prince Orlofsky says.
Every shorebird sings the praises of its own swamp. Ancient Russian proverb.

Beckmesser
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Re: Speculations

Post by Beckmesser » Thu Dec 20, 2018 7:40 am

Apropos of this discussion, the following article appeared in today's New York Times:

There’s More Religion Than You Think in Bach’s ‘Brandenburgs’

John F
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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:00 am

Michael Marissen wrote:Bach and most of his contemporaries, however, don’t seem to have understood sacred and secular to be mutually exclusive categories. The distinction they observed was between liturgical music (for the church service) and secular music (out in the world).
Quite so. And Bach recycled some of his non-liturgical compositions for liturgical purposes - he's famous for it. There's nothing religious about his 1720 Partita no. 3 for solo violin, and the fact that he rewrote the preludio as a sinfonia for organ and orchestra for his Cantata no. 29 (1731) and for his Cantata no. 120a (1729),


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tjl07RmEQg


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwGWocp80-o


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy9KM6Wzv80

I don't know of any example of Bach revising his liturgical music for secular purposes. Seems to me that for Bach, devout Christian as he was, music was music, and in his career as in these specific examples, the secular music came first and the liturgical second.
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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Thu Dec 20, 2018 11:58 am

And by the way, here's Rachmaninoff playing his version of the preludio:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPRygvgmbP4

Rachmaninoff also transcribed and recorded the gavotte and gigue from this partita but the recording isn't on YouTube.
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Re: Speculations

Post by Lance » Thu Dec 20, 2018 12:23 pm

Indeed, a most interesting discussion, one of the best I've seen in a while!
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barney
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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Thu Dec 20, 2018 3:25 pm

While I understand why John bridles at Belle's claim - I think she's right but certainly needs the sort of nuance hard to provide on a short post and while on holiday - I think John goes too far in his rebuttal. To Bach, we know, all music was to the glory of God, which is why he wrote SDG on nearly every manuscript. This secular-sacred divide is far more a modern development.
Got to walk the dogs now, but will have more to say later.

barney
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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:18 am

John F wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 5:12 am
jserraglio wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 4:21 am
John F wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 6:41 pm
Christianity is one thing, the institution of the Christian church quite another.
You can take Christianity out of the church (e.g., the Church of England) but you can't take the church out of Christianity.
Say what? The Church of England is a Christian sect, you can't take Christianity out of it. And you definitely can take the church out of Christianity; many people today profess themselves to be Christians without belonging to any church. Christianity is a faith and an ethical philosophy, not an organization.
jserraglio wrote:The plainsong chant produced by and for the Christian Church is, in my view, the West's greatest single body of art music, arguably worthy to stand alongside the work of any individual composer since.
Chacun a son gout, as Prince Orlofsky says.
I think that is a common misconception, JohnF. It IS a faith and it IS an ethical philosophy, but it is much more. Christianity is about relationships, broken then restored, transcendent ones and human ones. It is not a religion, as humanism is, that can be practised in private, topped up a few donations to good causes. When the Bible says we are created in the image of God, it means most importantly that we have rational agency, moral agency and relational agency. What are the central commandments? Love God and your neighbour as yourself; that is the Law and the Prophets. Both commandments born out of relationship. We are hard-wired to relate. Bach certainly understood this, I believe - his music reflects it deeply.

Thinking further, if your point is merely that Christianity and the Church are not co-terminous, no problem. We have the church visible (institutional church) and invisible (God's people, singly and together) which overlap but are not identical. But I suspect you may want to deduce more than that in confining Christianity to personal faith and personal ethics.

John F
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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:21 am

barney wrote:To Bach, we know, all music was to the glory of God, which is why he wrote SDG on nearly every manuscript.
That's as may be, but it does not follow that therefore the music relates to Bach's religion. The man wrote some downright comical music, such as the last Goldberg variation which works "Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben" into its 3-part counterpoint, and the Peasant Cantata from beginning to end.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USLMODbcg8o

(By the way, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings a particular line in the finale with a little bit extra, "Es lebet Dieskau und sein Haus." :) It's a sad irony that not long after this recording was made, his wife, the cellist Irmgard Poppen, died of complications following childbirth.)

Bach may have thought his musical talent a gift from God for which he constantly gave thanks, but how he used that talent in the real world of patrons and employers is another matter to which his habitual if not routine thanks to God on completing each composition need not have had the particular relevance you attribute to it.

(Another by the way: my parents had a recording of the cantata, abridged and in French with Jeanne Guyla and Martial Singher. Until I got to college, this was the only vocal music by Bach I ever heard.)

I'm not interested in discussing the nature of Christianity beyond the specific claim that Belle has made for it relative to the development of western art music. So I'll leave that to you and others.
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barney
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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Fri Dec 21, 2018 8:12 pm

John F wrote:
Fri Dec 21, 2018 2:21 am
barney wrote:To Bach, we know, all music was to the glory of God, which is why he wrote SDG on nearly every manuscript.
That's as may be, but it does not follow that therefore the music relates to Bach's religion. The man wrote some downright comical music, such as the last Goldberg variation which works "Kraut und Rüben haben mich vertrieben" into its 3-part counterpoint, and the Peasant Cantata from beginning to end.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USLMODbcg8o

(By the way, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings a particular line in the finale with a little bit extra, "Es lebet Dieskau und sein Haus." :) It's a sad irony that not long after this recording was made, his wife, the cellist Irmgard Poppen, died of complications following childbirth.)

Bach may have thought his musical talent a gift from God for which he constantly gave thanks, but how he used that talent in the real world of patrons and employers is another matter to which his habitual if not routine thanks to God on completing each composition need not have had the particular relevance you attribute to it.

(Another by the way: my parents had a recording of the cantata, abridged and in French with Jeanne Guyla and Martial Singher. Until I got to college, this was the only vocal music by Bach I ever heard.)

I'm not interested in discussing the nature of Christianity beyond the specific claim that Belle has made for it relative to the development of western art music. So I'll leave that to you and others.
That's fine John. I'm happy to leave the discussion of Christianity where it lies, but it was you who ventured into the metaphysical by claiming it was (merely) a faith and philosophy. And I think that means you misunderstand its role for Bach.
My point about SDG is that the arbitrary divide you are making between secular and sacred is not one that Bach made. As a strong and educated Lutheran, he understood that all work, from cooking to composing, was to the glory of God. All his music, whether a joke or for private pleasure or for the court, was designed to glorify God. That was one of the key insights of the Reformation, that you don't have to be a cleric or in a religious order to be holy and dedicated to God.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Sat Dec 22, 2018 1:50 am

barney wrote:I'm happy to leave the discussion of Christianity where it lies, but it was you who ventured into the metaphysical by claiming it was (merely) a faith and philosophy.
You misunderstood me. I was distinguishing between Christianity, the term Belle uses, which is metaphysical and intangible and has nothing to do with music, and the Christian church or churches, which has used and sponsored music and hired musicians for its/their institutional purposes. Christianity can do without music (see for example https://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity/c ... out_music/), and I'm saying that western art music could do and has done very well without Christianity: music as notes sung or played is intrinsically nonreligious, though it may be used for religious as for other purposes. (This touches on the perennial philosophical question of what music is capable of expressing; let's not go into that again.) The church can and does specify what kind of music is and is not acceptable for liturgical use, just as a patron or impresario can and does for its secular use. But this limits the composer's creative possibilities rather than expanding them.
barney wrote:the arbitrary divide you are making between secular and sacred is not one that Bach made.
Actually, I'm not making a divide between secular and sacred music, to the contrary, and my examples should show that Bach didn't either. Where we differ is whether or not Bach's music, all of it, is somehow an expression of his religious belief or not. You apparently say yes, I say no. I say that his personal religious beliefs are irrelevant to Belle's topic, which has to do with "Christianity" in general. Unbelievers have composed profound music for the Christian liturgy; deeply religious composers, Bach among them, have written music that's not only not religious but pure entertainment.

You may believe that Bach thought "all work, from cooking to composing, was to the glory of God." How do you know this? I don't believe it. The secular cantata or "dramma per musica" "Tönet, ihr Pauken" BWV214, with its obsequious libretto, was not composed to glorify God but to glorify Maria Josepha, Queen of Poland and Electress of Saxony, on her birthday.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hASwusETOF8

Bach later reused the music of the opening chorus, with new words, to begin his Christmas Oratorio How could he do that instead of composing new music for that holiest of Christian holy days? My answer is that religious as he doubtless was, he was also an eminently practical man of the world, with his head firmly on his shoulders and not in the clouds. You want a composer who thought of his religion and his life in that way, I think Bruckner may be your man.
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jserraglio
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Sat Dec 22, 2018 6:28 am

Belle wrote:
Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:00 pm
The church provided the foundation stones for western art music.
Belle's central point has been fussed over and picked at to the point of distortion. I think she's largely right.
barney wrote:I'm happy to leave the discussion of Christianity where it lies, but it was you [John F] who ventured into the metaphysical by claiming it was (merely) a faith and philosophy.
Christianity developed various creeds and an ethical philosophy but from its inception it was a church.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Sat Dec 22, 2018 12:30 pm

jserraglio wrote:Christianity developed various creeds and an ethical philosophy but from its inception it was a church.
Not so. Christianity originated with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who did not create an institution such as a temple or church to promulgate them. That's attributed to his disciple Peter, though I can't find anything that says when the first Christian church came into existence or what form it took.
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Sat Dec 22, 2018 1:20 pm

John F wrote:
Sat Dec 22, 2018 12:30 pm
jserraglio wrote:Christianity developed various creeds and an ethical philosophy but from its inception it was a church.
Not so. Christianity originated with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who did not create an institution such as a temple or church to promulgate them. That's attributed to his disciple Peter, though I can't find anything that says when the first Christian church came into existence or what form it took.
Not so. The ancient gospel narratives unequivocally attribute to Jesus himself, not to Peter or anyone else, the creation of an institution (they call it a church, you of course are free to characterize it any way you please) whose main purpose was to preach and promulgate what they called the gospel of Jesus.
Matthew wrote:"And I [Jesus] say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Mark wrote: And he [Jesus] said unto them, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.

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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:02 am

Maybe JohnF and I are not so far apart. Bach was a practical man, agreed, and not averse to reusing his own music. I have often reused my own words, especially on those rare occasions when I think I said something well in the past. And I have no doubt Bach rationalised his obsequious work you mention. Nevertheless, as a devout Lutheran, he grew up with Luther's conviction about all activities being to the glory of God (as the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians), not just apparently sacred ones such as worship or prayer. Luther very much despised the contemporary Catholic idea that priests and those in religious orders were the only ones who could be holy, or who worked to the glory of God. Luther actually writes of changing nappies to the glory of God.
To this day, it is Catholic doctrine that ordination to the priesthood confers an ontological change which enables the transubstantiation of the elements. As a Protestant, I don't accept that. Sorry if I am straying too far. My point is that Bach writing for the glory of God didn't render impossible other aims or benefits. It was not either/or but both/and.

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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:04 am

The early church was modelled on the synagogue style of meeting, but generally took place in houses (as it does in China today). There are many New Testament references to such meetings. Travelling apostles such as Paul would start with the Jewish communities wherever he was, and if they were unreceptive he would turn to Gentiles. He often spoke in the public square as well.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:56 am

From the quotations jserraglio provides, Jesus himself did not found a Christian church but he instructed his disciples to do so, naming Peter. This does not make Christianity and the Christian church(es) one thing, as many professed Christians belong to no church, but let it go.

Martin Luther may have expressed a conviction that all activities being to the glory of God, but did Bach, living two centuries later in the Age of Reason, really believe this rather extreme position and conduct his life accordingly? I'd be interested in anything he may have said or written about this. But we're talking about the music, not the composer, at least I am, and much of Bach's music, including his church music, does not reveal any such attitude toward the musical art, not to me anyway.
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Re: Speculations

Post by lennygoran » Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:59 am

barney wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:04 am
The early church was modelled on the synagogue style of meeting, but generally took place in houses
Barney yeah but I'd be more interested in knowing where the operas were held--were they held in people's houses or a synagogue or someplace else? Regards, Len [fleeing and hiding] :lol:

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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Sun Dec 23, 2018 7:41 am

John F wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:56 am
Jesus himself did not found a Christian church but he instructed his disciples to do so, naming Peter. This does not make Christianity and the Christian church(es) one thing, as many professed Christians belong to no church, but let it go.
Yikes! Medieval scholasticism is alive and well, well into the 21st century.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Sun Dec 23, 2018 7:47 am

There's an interesting review of an interesting book here:

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/1 ... -recycler/

It's mainly about Bach's Mass in B minor and Christmas Oratorio.
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Re: Speculations

Post by maestrob » Sun Dec 23, 2018 12:07 pm

John F wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 7:47 am
There's an interesting review of an interesting book here:

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/1 ... -recycler/

It's mainly about Bach's Mass in B minor and Christmas Oratorio.
I've sung both in Carnegie Hall, and found this fascinating. Thank you John.

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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Sun Dec 23, 2018 9:59 pm

John F wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:56 am
From the quotations jserraglio provides, Jesus himself did not found a Christian church but he instructed his disciples to do so, naming Peter. This does not make Christianity and the Christian church(es) one thing, as many professed Christians belong to no church, but let it go.

Martin Luther may have expressed a conviction that all activities being to the glory of God, but did Bach, living two centuries later in the Age of Reason, really believe this rather extreme position and conduct his life accordingly? I'd be interested in anything he may have said or written about this. But we're talking about the music, not the composer, at least I am, and much of Bach's music, including his church music, does not reveal any such attitude toward the musical art, not to me anyway.
How would you recognise such an attitude?

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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Mon Dec 24, 2018 12:37 am

RebLem wrote:
Thu Dec 20, 2018 6:26 am
Only four Christian religious traditions go beyond mere hymn singing and have fostered more complex music in longer forms: 1) Catholicism, 2) Eastern Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, 3) Lutheranism, and 4) Anglicanism.

I have often disagreed with Belle here, especially her cultish and nearly worshipful advocacy of the views, often with racist implications, of Jordan Peterson. But on the present issue, I am siding with her.

Very few composers before the 19th century could have made a living as musicians without religious sponsorship forming a foundation stone and an income base from which they could venture out into other forms. And Arvo Part, whom many consider the greatest living composer, writes primarily Russian Orthodox ecclesiastical music.
My "cultish and nearly worshipful" admiration for Prof. Peterson is probably similar to my passion for our great composers. All worthy human beings. In his case, the most significant Canadian public intellectual since Marshall McLuhan. And as for racism: do not look for offence where there isn't any. Even Beethoven disliked Italians!

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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Wed Jan 02, 2019 3:53 pm

Here is a recently-recorded small organ work by Bach, which reveals a controversial attribution history and uncertain composition date. This is discussed under 'About this Work', which you can read whilst watching the performance:

http://allofbach.com/en/bwv/bwv-702/

I have donated to the All of Bach project and couldn't be happier with their work. Highly recommended.

Returning to the original question of this thread, I believe that without Christianity we would not have had JS Bach in the form and status we currently have. He would have been known for his purely secular works, many of which were based on the dance. But, religious music was at the centre of Bach's output for much of his life. The hundreds of sacred works he created are usually seen as manifesting not just his craft but a truly devout relationship with God. Many scholars have suggested this, so it's a nonsensical argument to claim (as my erswhile touring companion did) that if it were not for Christianity another Bach would have come along. There are 'other' Bachs anyway; those giant composers of the baroque whom Bach trumped at every turn (with the possible exception of Handel - and that's another argument). Just on the most practical level, and leaving aside questions of devotional music, Bach would not have had access to organs to create his great works were it not for Christianity as churches were amongst the very, very few institutions which could afford organs. So, whilst a composer may have written music for the organ without a directly religious intention, the existence of organs primarily for Christian music and worship enabled the development of organists of profound musical skill.

Ergo, the question might be reframed as "would Bach have enjoyed his status today as amongst the very greatest of all composers (if not the greatest - my own personal opinion) if his sacred works in all forms, and the influence of Christianity on his secular music, were excluded from his oeuvre? Georg Telemann was a great composer and he may have been Bach's equal had not those other criteria come into play with JS Bach.

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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Thu Jan 03, 2019 7:42 pm

I think Christianity influenced other baroque composers too, however difficult it may be to disambiguate the various influences. After all, it was in the air they breathed. Vivaldi may have been an erratic Christian, but there is little doubt that he was one. But with Bach, of course, it was much more conscious.
That's why I asked John F to demonstrate what a religious attitude to secular music might look like. I maintain that all his music was religious, in the sense that Bach was always God-conscious.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Thu Jan 03, 2019 8:28 pm

barney wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 9:59 pm
John F wrote:
Sun Dec 23, 2018 6:56 am
Martin Luther may have expressed a conviction that all activities being to the glory of God, but did Bach, living two centuries later in the Age of Reason, really believe this rather extreme position and conduct his life accordingly? I'd be interested in anything he may have said or written about this. But we're talking about the music, not the composer, at least I am, and much of Bach's music, including his church music, does not reveal any such attitude toward the musical art, not to me anyway.
How would you recognise such an attitude?
I didn't answer this before, as I can't think of an answer, but since you're essentially asking it again, I ought to say something. If this Lutheran attitude had a real influence on the music Bach wrote, so as to make it perceptibly different from the music of composers believing in a different sect (such as Catholic) or religion or none, I should be able to hear and recognize it, as I can hear and recognize a nationalist attitude in the music of composers such as Dvorak, Musorgsky, and Bartók, or a Jewish attitude in the music of Bloch or "Fiddler on the Roof." So I'll ask you essentially the same question, and another. If there's no way to recognize such an attitude in Bach's music itself as a succession of notes, why did you bring it up?
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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Thu Jan 03, 2019 8:31 pm

Disambiguating the influence of christianity on composers; very difficult, yes, but I'm sure there's a thesis or published work out there on the subject. What we can speculate about (the implied intention behind my original posting of this thread) is what musical composition would look like - and how it might have evolved - without the influence of the church. The 'chamber' would be the birthplace of western classical music, rather than the church - since this split did exist in the musical world long before renaissance. Anyway, there are secular composers out there to whom we might refer, but did they - or could they - reach the elevated heights of JS Bach?

I wasn't exclusively talking about Lutheranism or Protestantism but to Christianity in general.

To John's point, which was posted exactly the same time as mine, there are essays and books on the topic of Bach and the Lutheran influence. The texts for the Lutheran church were different from those of Catholicism (obviously!) and Bach would have set those texts musically in such a way as to reflect the ideas behind that branch of Christianity - and mainly 'accessible' to insiders. In the first place, they're in the German language but there were overt ways Bach reflected Lutheran Christianity. A close examination of the Passions, for example, leads to such insights. I remember a Musicology lecturer of mine doing a harmonic analysis from the keyboard of the use of dissonance by Bach on selected passages of the text of "St. Matthew Passion" to dramatize a particular aspect of the suffering of Christ. It's also an entirely different kind of work to the "St. John Passion". Any deviation from that would not have been acceptable to the 'town council' in Leipzig which cautioned Bach about composing anything "too theatrical" (they already had picked up on that!) in his religious compositions. History has demonstrated how well he obeyed their instructions!!

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:33 am

Belle wrote:The texts for the Lutheran church were different from those of Catholicism (obviously!) and Bach would have set those texts musically in such a way as to reflect the ideas behind that branch of Christianity - and mainly 'accessible' to insiders.
Again, I'm concerned with the music, the notes etc. The texts to which some of that music was set are a different matter. We can understand what a text means, usually, so that we can paraphrase and explain it. Music per se does not have that kind of meaning, if it has any "meaning" at all beyond its ability to express certain basic human emotions; when we speak of "understanding" music it's unclear what intellectual or other process we're talking about. If we encounter a piece by Bach minus its verbal text, can we identify any element or aspect of it that is arguably Lutheran, or Christian, or religious? I think I've shown that we can't, much if not all of the time, by giving examples of the same music being used for secular and then religious purposes.

I've never suggested that Bach's church music is inappropriate in style and Affekt for the texts it is set to. But that's not about religion, it's about basic musical competence. If Bach had composed or adapted a gigue for "Erbarme Dich, mein Gott," we could hardly take him seriously. But just because a piece of music per se is well suited to the words it accompanies, does not preclude the possibility that it might be equally well suited to other words, or "work" if the soloist were not a singer but a violinist. Such transmutations actually occur in other works by Bach, secular or sacred or both. The notion that the words and music form an integral, inseparable whole is not of Bach's time but, I think, of the 19th century.

You've suggested more than once that there may be "a thesis or published work" on this topic that would support your point of view. But this gets us nowhere. There may not be; and if there is, or are, its argument may not hold up. All kinds of claptrap and worse gets published; just because it's seen print, or (today) been widely circulated on the Internet, doesn't mean it's right. That applies to music criticism and musicology as much as to politics and history.

Little or none of Bach's church music was composed for the theatre, though the Matthew Passion has been staged several times in recent decades. In that sense is is not theatrical. But some of it is highly dramatic, definitely including the Matthew Passion:

Evangelist Upon this feast the governor had the custom of setting free a prisoner to the people, whom they had chosen. He had then, however, a notable prisoner, whose name was Barabbas. And when the people had come together, Pilate said unto them:

Pilate Which one would ye have that I release unto you? Barabbas or Jesus, of whom it is said that he is the Christ?

Evangelist For he knew full well that it was for envy that they had delivered him. And as he sat upon the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him and gave this:

Pilate’s Wife Have thou nothing to do with this righteous man; for I today have suffered much in a dream because of him!

Evangelist Nevertheless the chief priests and the elders had now persuaded the crowd, that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. And in answer now, the governor said unto them:

Pilate Which one would ye have of these two men here, that I set free to you?

Evangelist And they said:

Chorus Barabbas!

Evangelist Pilate said unto them:

Pilate What shall I then do with Jesus, of whom it is said that he is Christ?

Evangelist And they all said:

Chorus Let him be crucified!

The soloists are acting out their roles in the Gospel, and the chorus is acting the role of the crowd ("turba") as vividly as possible. This is surely dramatic music, and drama is what theatre is about.
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jan 04, 2019 6:12 am

John F wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:33 am
Little or none of Bach's church music was composed for the theatre, though the Matthew Passion has been staged several times in recent decades. In that sense is is not theatrical. But some of it is highly dramatic, definitely including the Matthew Passion
The plainchant passions of the RC Holy Week liturgies, devoted to the "glory of God", are intensely dramatic.
John F wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:33 am
Martin Luther may have expressed a conviction that all activities being to the glory of God, but did Bach, living two centuries later in the Age of Reason, really believe this rather extreme position and conduct his life accordingly?
Living in the "Age of Reason" does not a rationalist make any more than living in "Trump Time" will necessarily produce a post-fascist. Bach had much more in common with the extremist beliefs of the Protestant radicals of the 1500s than he ever did with the tepid deism of contemporaries like Voltaire. Precisely because it was formed, and informed, by the Luther tradition, Bach's religious music impresses us today as being "highly dramatic", whereas Voltaire's secular drama tastes like weak tea.

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Re: Speculations

Post by John F » Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:58 am

I did not claim that Bach was a "rationalist," but rather that he was unlikely, living when and where he did, and religious as he doubtless was, to have had exactly the same attitude toward God and the world as Martin Luther's. Which I believe Barney was suggesting. It would be nice to know what his attitude was, and I've asked whether he said or wrote anything about it, but nobody here has come up with anything, yet.
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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:13 am

John F wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:58 am
I did not claim that Bach was a "rationalist," but rather that he was unlikely, living when and where he did, and religious as he doubtless was, to have had exactly the same attitude toward God and the world as Martin Luther's. Which I believe Barney was suggesting. It would be nice to know what his attitude was, and I've asked whether he said or wrote anything about it, but nobody here has come up with anything, yet.
Not EXACTLY the same as, but shaped by an active tradition: that of Luther et al.

Whereas your appeal to the "Age of Reason" smacks of rationalism spiked with secularism. I.e., Bach's religious beliefs flattened into mere deism.

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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Fri Jan 04, 2019 4:28 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 9:13 am
John F wrote:
Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:58 am
I did not claim that Bach was a "rationalist," but rather that he was unlikely, living when and where he did, and religious as he doubtless was, to have had exactly the same attitude toward God and the world as Martin Luther's. Which I believe Barney was suggesting. It would be nice to know what his attitude was, and I've asked whether he said or wrote anything about it, but nobody here has come up with anything, yet.
Not EXACTLY the same as, but shaped by an active tradition: that of Luther et al.

Whereas your appeal to the "Age of Reason" smacks of rationalism spiked with secularism. I.e., Bach's religious beliefs flattened into mere deism.
I agree. The clues to my original premise lie in the phrase "Bach's religious beliefs".

And in speaking about 'only the notes' of the music JohnF skews the argument away from my original premise; that Bach would not have existed in the form we know him without Christianity. Those notes accompanied TEXTS from the Lutheran tradition and Bach wrote for that. Christianity existed and he was its servant. It's a rather straightforward argument. Trying to divorce music from text isn't going to settle the argument. Looking closely at the interaction of music AND text in Bach's sacred works reveals a level of greatness shared by very few other composers. It's one of the reasons all other subsequent composers studied the works of Bach, absorbing the genius therein. Again, the downstream, multiplier effects of Bach embedded in a Christian culture, which allowed his genius to flourish in a myriad of ways.

As a first principle; organs existed in churches and composers wrote for them - whether secular music, music influenced by the chant or sacred music. And it remains a point of contention, as far as I'm aware (or when I last looked), precisely what keyboard instruments Bach composed all his keyboard music for. So this argument isn't just about music and text but the facilitation of composition by the institutionalized hierarchy broadly known as Christianity.

The fact is Bach DID exist in that tradition and this enabled him to reach ever higher degrees of greatness, being comparable to virtually no other. It isn't 'easy' music, no matter what the genre; you have to approach it cautiously and be prepared to make the effort, over and over. A rather salient trope for the religious experience altogether.

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Re: Speculations

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:02 pm

The precise nature of JSB's religious beliefs appears to be an open question with strong views on both sides: see viewtopic.php?f=10&t=48120&p=484876&hil ... en#p484876
Michael Marissen wrote:Bach biographers don't have it easy. Has there ever been a composer
who wrote so much extraordinary music and left so little
documentation of his personal life?
Life-writing abhors a vacuum, and experts have indulged in all
manner of speculation, generally mirroring their own approaches to
the world, about how Bach must have understood himself and his
works.
The current fancy is that Bach was a forward-looking,
quasi-scientific thinker who had little or no genuine interest in
traditional religion.

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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Fri Jan 04, 2019 5:34 pm

"The precise nature of Bach's religious beliefs" may be moot, but not central to my original premise which was that his genius was facilitated - and flowered - by the existence of Christianity, albeit of a Lutheran variety. Whether or not he was 'devout' - and the extent of that - is peripheral to this issue. Devout or not, he was able to provide musical settings to texts which rise about the level of most other composers.

You raise an inherently interesting angle, nevertheless.

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Re: Speculations

Post by Belle » Sat Jan 05, 2019 6:21 am

This great musician has some words about Bach, with which I totally agree!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbJI-tP6tNA

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Re: Speculations

Post by barney » Sun Jan 06, 2019 10:03 am

Indeed, fascinating! "Music is subjective - but not that subjective."
I once was on a Bach panel with Barry Jones, the polymath and music lover, and asked him if he felt that people without religion missed something in Bach. He pondered for a while before deciding no, or at least not necessarily (just as, of course, religious people can miss something in Bach, or perhaps, as John seems to suggest, invent it).
I haven't had time to take up John's challenge yet to investigate Bach's religious belief, but hope to do so. If I recall aright, Gardiner speaks of this in Music in the Castle of Heaven.
I interviewed Schiff for The Age and SMH before his first visit to Australia since 1988 late last year. As you know, like Casals he plays Bach every single day. He spoke briefly about Bach and the divine. It is interesting that he finds unquestionably religious aspects to the WT Clavier.

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