We can listen to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in one of two ways. We can metaphorically seat ourselves in cold church pews or on padded theater seats. In other words, does our appreciation and enjoyment of Bach have to be grounded in the music's original liturgical context? Can we separate, if we wish to, the music from its composer's faith?
In today's lesson, the eminent conductor and music historian John Eliot Gardiner says that in order to recognize the essential humanism in Bach - indeed, his subversiveness - we need to be aware of the music's place in the liturgy.
We then can see how music can operate according to its own rules and even act "in counterpoint to the text it’s supposed to be elucidating." That is why Gardiner says he finds in Bach "a sense of secular joy, secular ebullience and effusion" that "leaps over all the boundaries of nationality, of date, of period."