My first encounter with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach was in the spring of 2007, with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, with a presentation of the six Brandenburg Concertos. At this time I knew virtually nothing at all about Bach, maybe at best a wig wearing German who often makes an appearance at dinner parties or reception dinners, just one of many baroque composers. I probably thought of him as the possession or interest of the cultural elite, but oh how wrong I was. As I walked into that first encounter with the music of Bach I anticipated another ‘performance’ under the vague and general category ‘classical music’ in the ‘baroque’ period. The name of ‘Bach’ was in every way, at this time, indistinguishable from the names Handel, Vivaldi, or Purcell.
It is difficult to identify what was so captivating in those concertos, because I am hardly a musician, not a scholar, and know nothing about music theory and little of history. Yet I was immediately awakened by that opening first concerto. Though maybe, I lacked a sufficient understanding at the time, I knew intuitively in those concertos, that they dealt with the ‘truth’ in the highest sense – a confession of universal truth and harmony rooted in that harmony of God himself. Bach’s own student would later write, “Music is a mixed and mathematical science that concerns the origins, attributes, and distinctions of sound, out of which a cultivated and lovely melody and harmony are made, so that God is honored and praised but mankind is moved to devotion, virtue, joy, and sorrow.”
Eminent Bach scholar Christoph Wolff likens Bach’s innovation in music to Newton’s discoveries in science, opening up understanding of the natural world – the laws of motion, universal gravitation, space, time, mass and dynamics, even history and biblical exegesis (Newton’s interest in his latter years). Newton captured that timeless pre-enlightenment belief, that all discoveries “pointed to the operations of God.” Wolff writes in his prologue to Bach: The Learned Musician:
“For Bach, schooled in seventeenth-century thought, the concept that music formed a branch of the liberal arts quadrivium was still as valid as it had been for Johannes Kepler, who promoted the view that music mirrored the harmony of the universe. Music, then, with its traditional mathematical underpinning, provided an especially rich field of operation for a composer who was increasing infected with scientific curiosity, totally uninterested in ‘dry exercises in musical craftsmanship,’ but thoroughly committed to advancing ‘true music,’ which Bach defined as music that pursued as its ‘ultimate end or final goal…the honor of God and the recreation of the soul.”
It was in my first hearing of Bach, in the Brandenburg Concertos, that I heard that “true music” and its refreshment – receiving that recreation of the soul. As a student in the university system, “truth,” was a possession hard to come by. For all students dealing with the plagues of relativism, multiculturalism, and secular humanism, it is held that “truth” itself is a myth, of course, as long as you are not making a celebratory case for Marxism. Most universities are not interested in “truth,” “the harmony of the universe,” or the “honor of God and the recreation of the soul.” Instead of that love for truth and beauty most curriculum are interested in untruth and destroying the idea of beauty and harmony. Being in the Milwaukee area, most professors are of Jewish origin, and the Jewish mind dominates the intellectual and philosophical life, going back to Spinoza (impersonal abstract god/religion of nature), Karl Marx(communism), Sigmund Freud (infantile sexuality), and Peter Singer (perversions too extensive to list), in short carrying out those tired goals of the Frankfurt School.
In short the university system can be a godless place, a spiritual and nihilistic waste land, where young minds are destroyed by degenerate Marxist professors and sexual predators. We ought to pray without ceasing for those hard-working parents who work tirelessly to send their children to the university, in hopes for greater opportunities and education. Little do they know, that those impressionable young students are sent in as lambs among wolves, to have their faith mocked and ravaged, and to be enlisted in the ranks of class warfare, covetousness, lewd and licentious behavior. It is common for those young students to come home after their first re-education program, hating their socially conservative bourgeois parents.
My first encounter with J.S. Bach was a musical snatching out of the depths – a retrieval from that atonal and dissonant noise of Marxist theory and covert revolutionary instruction. That highest creed in the university is that there is no other truth that what I may have in the mental constructs of my own scull, and even that ought not be trusted. Or in Kant’s words that we can never directly know the noumena, the "things-in-themselves," but only that dim construction or representations in our heads. Therefore ‘reality’ is relegated within the thrashing inner recesses of the individualized consciousness.
Hearing Bach is a musical and poetic encounter with truth. Those Brandenburg concertos, along with Goldberg Variations and the unfinished Art of Fugue(my favorite), though considered outside of his sacred works, are very much sacred pieces. The idea of a secular work for Bach would have been inconceivable for countless reasons, one particularly unambiguous bit of evidence being that he appended his initials with “SDG,” or “Soli Deo Gloria,” “to the glory of God alone.” Bach, being a genius steward of that gift of music, knew musics’ origin, its high purpose, and the ultimate chief musician God himself. When music is received and directed toward that goal; to the glory of God alone, notation will be moved away from that timid and confused inner Kantian consciousness toward that bold confession of God as creator, preserver, and sanctifier – seen, heard, and apprehended not as mirage but in flesh - that confession of Christ in the three ecumenical creeds. Music will be speaking back to God from what He himself has first spoken.
In this way, the music of Bach is an antidote against being cast into a world of subjectivity, inward retreat, and denial. One of our country’s “leading” universities Berkley University was founded in celebration of George Berkeley, who called into question the very existence of matter itself, reviving that confused Jewish/Kaballah truth-hating maxim “nothingness without end.”
This sacred music of J.S. Bach provides rest and recreation for the soul. He safeguards the human mind and soul from philosophical and ontological perversions because he preaches in that sacred language known from the beginning of time, that speaks of God in Jesus Christ and His self-giving to all creation – poured out for all. It rescues us from that inward retreat (incurvatus est) – “that nothingness without end” – away from speculation – into that chorale dance that begins when God speaks and the human creature hears and responds.