by Kirby Congdon…….
Mr. Marissen gets a couple of ideas off his chest before we get into his project. His Preface states, “This book is scholarly but not devotional.” Page 2 of the Introduction asserts, “I am an agnostic.” The subject of all the essays is the text of Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantatas, their history, translations, interpretations and grammatical definitions. The language is English but the reader’s knowledge of German, as well as access to recordings, can be helpful.
The librettos of the cantatas may discriminate against Judaism, as in Cantata 46, but Marissen’s research “is not to that he (Bach) therefore must have personally agreed with them.” Anti-Judaism is thoroughly researched through the centuries until page 157. Then we take on a different slant. The next chapter’s title is Blood, People and Crowds in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, followed by the chapter on Religious Expression in Secular Chamber Music.
On page 66 through 73, in The New Yorker magazine of January 2nd, 2017, Alex Ross provides a sensitive review of Bach & God, emphasizing the emotional affect of Bach’s genius, ending his remarks with this vivid summary: “He does not console; he commiserates.”
That kind of humanistic empathy can be uniquely thrilling without being dour to the layman like myself. Mr. Ross explains the engaging considerations of a composer who remains an historical monument for the civilized world.