This Sunday is Reformation, one of my favorite Lutheran festivals in the whole church year because it’s a day that I inevitably play Bach. I’ll be playing Bach’s Prelude in E minor, BWV 548a for the prelude and the Prelude and Fugue in E minor (“Cathedral”) BWV 533 for the postlude. During communion, I’ll be playing the slow movement from the Trio Sonata No. 1 in E-flat, BWV 525. We will also be using German chorales for the Ordinary — Kyrie Gott Vater in Ewigkeit; Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Jesaia, dem propheten (German Sanctus) and Christe du Lamm Gottes.
This past summer, our family was in Leipzig for the BachFest and I caught sight of a plaque which I never noticed before.
It was near the pulpit and commemorated Martin Luther preaching at St. Thomas in 1539. That was nearly 200 years before Bach’s tenure there and Luther’s influence was still evident. Luther wrote, “Next to the word of God, only music deserves being extolled as the mistress and governess of Human feelings. And when music is sharpened and polished by art, then one begins to see with amazement the great and perfect Wisdom of God in his wonderful work of harmony.”
In Bach’s time, the service included a hour-long sermon, preceded by a cantata, all based on the biblical text of the day. The organist was expected to use and embellish upon the chorale melody of the day throughout, as well as use it as a basis for preludes and postludes. This emphasis on the chorale was surely part of Luther’s influence.
Meanwhile I’ve also been practicing Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 for All Saints Vespers, which will be held Sunday, November 4th at 7:30 pm. Except for the “Cathedral” Prelude and Fugue, I haven’t played any of this repertoire for a least ten years, maybe more. So I’m really enjoying resuscitating this music. When I play Bach, I feel like I’m going back to the basics!