The Greatest Church Musician

Bach’s greatness is compounded of many elements. He could combine the sacred and the secular without jeopardizing the mystical wonder of the one or the dramatic intensity of the other. He could fuse in one the popular elements supplied by the chorales and the aristocratic elements represented by consummate technical skill. He could carry realism to its utmost limits, yet he never overstepped the bounds of liturgical propriety. He was at once a daring innovator and a ‘perfect formalist’ – the master of both his subject matter and his form. He showed that Palestrina’s beauty (always mystical but often vague) and Handel’s vigour (forceful but somewhat material) could be fused in an art which surpassed the farthest reach of either. He accomplished it with an authority which imparted a touch of finality to almost everything he wrote. The firm assurance is more than a product of supreme skill. Bach offers an interpretation of life which transcends the limitations to which the work of lesser men is subject. The central thread which unifies the amazing skill, subtlety, and penetrating insight of his works is the motif of faith. He was fundamentally a religious man. To compose music was an act of faith; to perform it was an act of worship.

Bach was the greatest of church musicians. In a sense he was also the last…In religious music Bach represents the summit of achievement; after him the descent was rapid.

 Gerald R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason (pp 277-278)


2 Responses to “The Greatest Church Musician”

  1. Chris Ames Says:

    Funny, I underlined that paragraph when I read it!

  2. Dr. Marc S. Blackwell Sr Says:

    No doubt, Bach (Feb-8-2010) was the ‘greatest’ – and his achievements were, no doubt, a ‘summit’ and there is no doubt about the ‘descent’ as regards Christendom’s (Matthew 13) ‘interpretation of life’ afterwards (GRCragg). Nonetheless the music found in the heart of the redeemed still reaches Bach’s ‘summit’ (and possibly beyond) and is still to be found in many hearts … over all the centuries and even today – for those, at least, ‘filled with the Spirit.’ This New Covenant blessing of the Spirit – this ‘singing and making melody with your heart’ is still, no doubt, rightfully included in the analysis of the soul’s ‘acts of faith’ and ‘acts of (congregational and private) worship.’ Such spiritual summits are clearly to be found evan after Bach. (Ephesians 5:18-19) Thanks for your thoughtful and uplifting blogs! drMSBsr

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