J. S. Bach and Pietism

J. S. Bach and Pietism (Spring 1993)

New research by theologians and music historians has given rise to a new set of questions about J. S. Bach’s relationship to Pietism, a reform movement that was flourishing in Germany when he wrote his cantatas and passions. What links, if any, did Bach have to the movement? How well did he know the writings of the Pietistic fathers? And, what influence did their writings have on his sacred works?

Bach’s Career as a Church Musician: Early Years (Summer 1993)

My purpose, in this series of articles, is to examine Bach’s relationship to Pietism in light of the new research that has been carried out in theological circles over the past two decades. Many church historians, including Peter Erb, Ernest Stoeffler, and Dale Brown, no longer describe Pietism as a separatist movement that sprang to life at the end of the seventeenth century and quickly spread throughout northern Europe, eventually reaching America. Rather, they argue, it needs to be seen as the outgrowth of a reform movement that began shortly after the Reformation and continued well into the nineteenth century. In response to this more comprehensive — some call it revisionist — view of Pietism, music historians have begun to reevaluate and reinterpret the movement’s influence on church music. In the case of J. S. Bach (1685-1750), a reappraisal is important not only because of his stature as a composer, but also because he was active as a church musician during the period in which Pietism reached its peak in Germany.