Johann Sebastian Bach: Genre-Bender Extraordinaire

One might say of Bach's time, it's unheard of to combine opera with a religious theme, my dear. 

"It's unheard of to combine opera with a rock theme, my dear," Queen's Freddie Mercury told Circus Magazine in 1977. Mercury was referring to the critical reaction to the band's operatic single, 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' The song was slammed by some critics, as Mercury saw it, because "they couldn't put their finger on us."


Such reactions can be found throughout the history of musical innovation. Genre-benders make us uncomfortable. 

This was certainly the case with Johann Sebastian Bach. According to the British conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the clergy of Bach's day "didn’t want him to compose music that was in any way operatic or theatrical." Why? The churchmen had a general anxiety, Gardiner writes in his book Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, "about religion borrowing the clothes of secular theatre." Moreover, the church was threatened by drama insofar as it lifted a religious text beyond church dogma and brought about conversations "between characters, between two voices, between several voices, between an instrument or several instruments and a voice," Gardiner says. 

And so one might say of Bach's time, it's unheard of to combine opera with a religious theme, my dear. 

And yet, Bach's church cantatas and Passions are full of drama, internalizing and dramatizing "the situation of the individual believer, spectator or hearer." According to Gardiner, the new form of Baroque music-drama that Bach created answers Gottfried Ephraim Scheibel's rhetorical observation: "I do not know why operas alone should have the privilege of squeezing tears from us; why is that not true in the church?" 

"With never an opera to his name," Gardiner writes, Bach will be the one to work his way towards uncovering and releasing a dramatic potency in music beyond the reach of any of his peers." 

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less