Review: Johann Sebastian Bach by Rick Marschall

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Johann Sebastian Bach
Christian Encounters Series

By Rick Marschall
Published by Thomas Nelson
eBook edition


J.S. Bach is often called ‘The Fifth Evangelist’. A devout Lutheran, he supplied the church with an immense collection of liturgical music, and some of the masterworks of western music.

This biography is part of the ‘Christian Encounters’ series of biographies, and so it has a certain slant, and assumes that the reader is also a believer and uses ‘in-group’ language at times, which I have to say, I found somewhat irritating. The writer is clearly a huge fan of Bach, even going so far as to make comments about his superiority to all other composers, including Beethoven and Mozart, suggesting that western music has generally been in decline since Bach, and implying that the composers who came after him tended to rely on tricks and devices (such as alberti bass)

There is no doubt that Bach was a sincere, devout and theologically adept believer, and that his output owes an enormous deal to this fact; there is no doubt that he saw his gift and calling as divine, but I found that this book drops into hagiography too often. While some references are made to his faults, they tend to be glossed over, and a kind of superhuman faith and devotion presented. I’d rather see a more nuanced, and perhaps, human exploration of the great composer’s faith than is presented here.

Despite these caveats, there is quite a lot of interesting content, personal and career details as well as how Bach’s music related to the trends of Lutheranism at the time. There is a helpful glossary in the apendix, for those who may not be so familiar with the musical terms.

Overall, I thought that we might be better served and indeed edified as believers ourselves, with a more human look at this great composer and his faith.

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.

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