The new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, German-born historian, musician and Bach scholar Dr Andreas Loewe (pronounced Lerver), recently spoke to Roland Ashby about his faith, his plans for the cathedral and his love of Bach.
“[…] He also believes God’s love can be expressed powerfully through music, not least in the music of J.S. Bach, about whose St John’s Passion he has written a theological commentary, to be published later this year. In his book, he describes Bach as ‘a preacher in sound’. He draws on the comments which Bach recorded in his own copy of the Bible in support of his thesis that Bach, a devout Lutheran, was theologically aware. The composer noted in his Bible that ‘In sacred music, God is always present in his grace.’ So what did Bach understand the purpose of sacred music to be?
‘Bach sees that there is a grace-filled presence wherever people make music to praise God, and that is something that very clearly comes out of the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther himself was a very competent musician; he was a singer, a lute player and a music theorist. He was someone who also really appreciated the proclamatory, hermeneutical and homiletical dimension of music. Luther saw music, and hymns in particular, as a vehicle for making his reformation message known; a message of grace freely given. Therefore he deliberately fostered music education, of which Bach was a prime recipient. So it is no wonder that Bach stepped into this tradition where music is seen as an incredible channel for the word of God to be made known.
‘Bach saw that music can be transformational, and that music that reflects on the love of God can bring others to ponder that love. That is made clear again and again in the words of his cantatas: that there is a personal response that is expected of us to this great act of love in Jesus Christ’.