Author: David Kotler
Title: "Law, Gospel and Faith: Tracing the Influence of Martin Luther's Theology on a Few Sacred Cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach"
In our time, the music of J.S. Bach is sometimes elevated to the status of an "ars perfecta" -- "perfect art" -- the way Josquin's music was during the Renaissance. The preludes and fugues are perhaps the best representation of the precise mathematical logic that characterizes his music. Yet it is Bach's sacred works, mostly written while he was a cantor in Leipzig churches that Bach is most well known for. To this day, his cantatas, passions, and the stately B Minor Mass are regularly heard in churches and concert halls alike. Although many say that listening to these compositions inspires a close connection with the divine, people who don't regularly attend church might not know what exactly inspired Bach to write these pieces. In fact, some might wonder whether Bach himself was a religious man, or whether he wrote these works simply because this was his job. This is an important question to consider, because if he didn't hold deep religious convictions, it might not be theologically sound to use his music in church services. In this paper, I will show that Bach's sacred music was indeed heavily influenced by the thinking of Martin Luther, a theologian and priest who was a major figure in the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century (Mullet, 2015). However, because this is a brief paper, my focus will be on a few sacred cantatas -- works written weekly for different events of the liturgical year (Chafe, 2000). It would be very interesting to investigate how Luther's influence extended to the passions and the Mass -- however this is discussion for another paper.
Key Words: Bach, Cantata, Luther, Reformation, Faith