I recently read a new biography by Rick Marschall entitled Johann Sebastian Bach, which is part of the Christian Encounters Series by Thomas Nelson. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which focused on Bach as a man of faith—the consummate church musician. Marschall calls Bach, “The Fifth Evangelist”.

So many modern sources try to secularize classical music and exclude the religious convictions of history’s great composers. Marschall chose to embrace Bach’s spiritual side and supported his conclusions through Bach’s life choices, his music, and his own statements.

Some of my favorite Bach quotations include the following:

“Music has been mandated by God’s Spirit.”

“The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul.”

“For the glory of the most high God alone, and for my neighbor to learn from.”

“It is my intention to advance the music in the divine service toward its very end and purpose, a regulated church music in honor of God.”

And, in regard to an organ performance, “There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time, and the instrument plays itself.”

If anyone had reason to boast of musical talent, it was J. S. Bach. Yet Marschall writes of Bach as a humble man who attributed his gifts to God and considered it his calling to honor God through his music and his life.

Character is not formed in a vacuum. By putting Bach’s life in historical, geographical, and cultural context, Marschall provides new insights into the influences that shaped the greatest composer of all time. For example, Bach was not merely a Lutheran, he was born in Eisenach, the town of Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation, whose writings had a profound impact on Bach’s beliefs. His life began one generation after the Thirty Years’ War at a time when its treaties limited the state and provided greater civil liberties and economic growth, which enabled Bach’s faith, career, and creativity to flourish.

This book is filled with similar examples of providence not only in Bach’s life, but also in his legacy. My favorite is the story of how Baron van Swieten discovered the forgotten music of J. S. Bach, and through publications and concerts, introduced it to the musicians he subsidized…Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Through this dedicated patron the music of Bach has been preserved for all generations and his genius influenced not only the greatest composers of the classical era, but shaped all of Western music.

As a composer, music educator, and church musician myself, I found this book most inspiring.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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