The ‘Volcanic’ Side of Lent

Prelude in Bm (BWV 544) J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

"Lord, Who Throughout these Forty Days"

Fugue in Bm

Lent of course is a time of quiet reflection. And we’ll have plenty of music along those lines. But to me Lent also has a dimension of titanic struggle—the opposite side of the same coin. This morning’s Scripture includes the story of Jesus’ temptation (wrestling with Satan himself no less!). In Mark’s Gospel it says that the Spirit DROVE Jesus into the desert to be tempted. Another place in the New Testament where that same Greek verb is used is when Jesus DRIVES the moneychangers out of the temple. Seriously ’tough love’ in both instances! And of course the titanic struggles of Lent culminate in Passion Week and Good Friday.

Regarding the prelude, there is a good chance that Bach played this impressive piece for the first time in St Paul’s Church in Leipzig. That is where, on 17 October 1727, the university held a memorial service for the recently departed Christiane Eberhardine der Starke (1671–1727), who was the Electress of Saxony and the Queen of Poland. For this occasion, Bach wrote the cantata Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, ("Let, Princess, let yet a beam shine out of Salem’s starry firmament, and see with how many floods of tears we surround your monument."). During the ceremony, Bach played the organ himself. He opened with a prelude and ended with a fugue, and although nobody can prove it, it seems highly likely that it was this piece. It exudes the same atmosphere as the funeral music and is written in the same key of B minor. In those days, B minor was described as bizarre, listless and melancholy. And Bach used it for other mournful occasions, such as the aria ‘Erbarme dich’ ("Have mercy Lord") in the St. Matthew Passion — the lament which Peter sings immediately after he has denied Christ three times.

"Nebudem sa Zénit" Slovakian

Bach himself worked on a 'family' tree of his ancestry, tracing it back to 'Veit Bach' (1550 – 1619), who hailed from Slovakia, whence he was expelled as a Protestant by the Counter Reformation and emigrated to Germany. Veit would be Bach's great-great-grandfather.