(PUBEerdmans)Bach was the pre-eminent composer of the Reformation. In case you've forgotten his deep theological and scriptural roots, Stapert quotes the texts and translates them, then skillfully interprets and illustrates how the music conveys their meaning. 232 pages, softcover.
In the history of Western music, J. S. Bach is unsurpassed in mastery of technique and profundity of thought. He was also a devout Lutheran with a broad knowledge of Scripture and theology. Given Bach's combination of musical prowess, personal devotion, and theological depth, it is not surprising that his music stands unexcelled among artistic expressions of the Christian faith. With the passage of time, however, many of the essential keys to understanding Bach's music have been lost. My Only Comfort uniquely reconnects modern listeners with Bach's music, enabling them to listen to Bach with renewed understanding and appreciation.
After an introduction to Bach, his theological knowledge, his musical language, and the various genres of sacred music in his output, Calvin Stapert leads readers through specific works by Bach that express, interpret, and vivify some of the principal doctrines of the Christian faith. For each work discussed, Stapert provides relevant quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism (a novel and provocative approach to the study of Bach), a literal translation of the text set beside the German original, and textual and musical commentary meant to contribute to a more perceptive and devotional listening to the work.
Calvin R. Stapert is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. His previous books include My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach; Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People; and A New Song for an Old World: Musical Thought in the Early Church.
The Living Church
"This is a wonderful book! After giving readers a brief introduction to Bach's music, theology and historical context, Stapert proceeds to interpret, enliven and discuss specific pieces of Bach's music using questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism to illuminate Bach's theological and musical purpose. . . An excellent book for anyone who wants to become better acquainted with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, or those who want inspiration for their own spiritual lives."
Max L. Stackhouse
"The noted humorist Garrison Keillor once said that Johann Sebastian Bach was a great musician because he was a Lutheran. The great liberal theologian James L. Adams, who disliked Luther, advanced the notion that Bach's music was, in fact, a fifth Gospel. Calvin Stapert here shows how both of those views are almost valid. He skillfully leads readers through the thicket of contentious commentary on Bach's biography, musicology, faith, and legacy, then offers a fresh, Reformational interpretation of the biblical-theological themes that lie at the core of Bach's work. Without understanding these, he argues, neither the inner structure of the music nor the enduring significance of its evangelical intent can be grasped. Through Stapert's book we gain a view of Bach as an artful, spiritual mentor for us all."
"Amid all the noise of Bach-Year 2000, this is an especially marvelous and welcome contribution. Integrating theological and musical insights is rare enough in writing on Bach. Rarer still is what Calvin Stapert additionally brings to the subjectwisdom."
"Here is a remarkable book. Calvin Stapert, a Calvinist, gives a clear and responsible introduction to Johann Sebastian Bach, a Lutheran, from a theological and musical standpoint. He then sets a Calvinist document, the Heidelberg Catechism, in dialogue with Bach's music. The result pushes beyond either Calvin or Luther to a faithful catholic breadth. This is a book for anyone who wants to get at the essence of J. S. Bach."
"Highly recommended for the theological or musical layperson, this work is an invaluable resource for the serious church musician."
"Bach's religious works are far more than musical gems adorning religious services. This is the premise of Calvin Stapert's My Only Comfort, which explores the theology of Bach's works through a meditative reflection on parts of the Heidelberg catechism. Stapert examines three motifs (death, deliverance and discipleship) in the music and text of several cantatas, several passages of the Mass in B Minor, and the Christmas Oratorio. . . The use of scriptural and catechetical reflection may actually help us hear these cantatas as they were meant to be heard. Stapert's discussion of several compositions, notably the Mass in B Minor, shows how text, music and theology combine in a theologically and musically profound way. . . With remarkable craft and genius, Bach transposed the essential language of faith into music. Readers of [this] splendid [book] will listen to that music with renewed appreciation."
"Here in a moderately sized book is the core of Bach's theology in music. For musical theologians or non-musical theologians, it is a good introduction or review, emphasizing the powerful preaching aspect of Bach's music. But, for all experts and neophytes, it could be a valuable devotional guide or discipline."
Perspectives in Religious Studies
"Stapert's gifts as a teacher are evident, particularly in sections on 'Bach the Theologian' and 'Bach's Musical Language.' . . . He offers a sound introduction to Bach's music and its understanding as a theological statement."