I had anticipated that I would spend most of this semester learning about world religions in Music and Religion and in my other classes, but I spent most of my time reflecting on Lutheranism. While I hope to concentrate on other traditions in future semesters, I am thankful to have semester to think about the tradition in which my parents raised me. Lutheranism never fails to offer new fodder for thought despite my familiarity with it.
I was especially intrigued this semester by the interrelatedness of and inconsistencies in Bach’s conception of music and theology. Prior to this semester I held Bach in my mind as a deeply faithful composer, but not as a composer who sought to communicate a Lutheran theology with his music. I learned about Bach’s ability to express ambivalence of being simultaneously sinner and saved and of feeling simultaneously guilty and relieved. While many of the pieces we studied remind me that Bach’s music was homiletic commentary on Lutheran doctrines, John Butt’s article “Bach’s metaphysics of music” suggests to me that Bach’s conception of music itself was not wholly consistent with the Church. Butt argues that for Bach music was a “medium through which God becomes immanent”, an idea that did not sit well with Pietist or Orthodox Lutherans. I’m not sure if it is fair to suggest Bach’s conception of music and theology are in tension with each other, but I think it’s interesting to note Bach’s reverence for music itself despite the theological implications.
As I finish my final paper about Bach and as I reflect on our class, I am most struck by the complexity of Bach’s faith, especially when compared with Lutheran faith today. I am impressed by Bach’s ability to conceive of God mystically because I think Christians today are horribly uncomfortable with relating God and sex. I am impressed by Bach’s ability to musically capture the ambivalent burden and relief embodied in the crucifixion because I think Christians today fixate on one or the other. I think a careful analysis of Bach’s music furnishes Lutherans with an opportunity to contemplate the intricacies of faith. I hope our study of Bach’s music discourages me from characterizing God as understandable, but instead encourages me to revel in Christian theology’s mysteries.