Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has praised the “glorious music” of Johann Sebastian Bach in a message to a festival in Germany.
In a statement released July 27 by the organizers of the 2021 Bach Festival in Leipzig, Benedict XVI noted that the festival would include a cycle called “Bach’s Messiah,” chronicling the life of Jesus through the composer’s music.
“The particularity of this festival is that it has merged the works of Bach relating to the life and work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth into a whole, thus giving us a kind of ‘Messiah’ by Bach,” he wrote.
The Bach Festival will be held on June 12-15, 2021, with the theme of “Redemption.” The “Bach’s Messiah” cycle will consist of 11 concerts over four days in the churches of Leipzig, the city in eastern Germany where the Lutheran composer died in 1750. The cycle will include 33 Bach cantatas, the St. Matthew Passion, and the Christmas, Easter and Ascension Oratorios.
The cycle will be framed by two performances of the oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, one of which will take place in Halle Cathedral, the first place where the Halle-born composer worked, as part of the Handel Festival 2021, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German language news partner.
While planning the cycle, artistic director Michael Maul read Benedict XVI’s trilogy “Jesus of Nazareth,” which was published between 2007 and 2012 while he was serving as pope.
Maul entered into a correspondence with Benedict XVI, which culminated in the pope emeritus’ message. Festival organizers said that the 93-year-old told them that he wrote the text in June 2019, “as I do not know how long my health will stand the test of time.”
Benedict’s message said: “The faith that produced this music and which Bach, as a musician, loyally served, is now extinguished and continues to have an effect only as a cultural force.”
“As a devout Christian, one may regret this reduction, but it also has a positive element. For the fact remains that something is accepted as culture, that is the fruit of a devout encounter with Jesus and that bears this origin in it forever.”
“Let us remember that according to Bach, the ‘end and final reason’ of all music should be ‘none other than God’s glory and the recreation of the mind.’ And indeed, Bach’s glorious music itself moves us deeply and glorifies God, even where he is not formally present through faith.”
“In this sense, precisely those people who share Bach’s faith can rejoice and be thankful that through his music, the atmosphere of faith, the figure of Jesus Christ, lights up even where faith itself is not present.”
The pope emeritus continued: “And so it seems to me that there is a two-way process: faith has generated culture, which shines far beyond it. But inversely, even today, this culture still conveys something of its origin to the whole world. It is something akin to the ‘pleasing aroma’ that emanates from Christ (cf 2 Cor 2, 14f). It has no missionary intention; the ‘pleasing aroma’ is present for its own sake, without intent, and precisely by this means does it spread ‘God’s glory.’”
“In this way, we can all, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, gratefully allow ourselves to be moved by beauty, knowing that it shows us the right way. In this sense, my best wishes and sincere blessings are with the 2021 Bach Festival.”
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