Today marks, if my calculations are correct, the 259th anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach, not only one of the greatest composers in our history, but, according to David Bentley Hart, also one of our greatest theologians. (Actually, he calls him our greatest theologian, which is surely an exaggeration. That is understandable; Bach provokes superlatives.) To wit:
Bach is the greatest of Christian theologians, the most inspired witness to the ordo amoris in the fabric of being; not only is no other composer capable of more freely developing lines or of more elaborate structures of tonal mediation (wheresoever the line goes, Bach is there also), but no one as compellingly demonstrates that the infinite is beauty and that beauty is infinite. It is in Bach’s music, as nowhere else, that the potential boundlessness of thematic development becomes manifest. . . In Bach’s music, each note is an unforced, unnecessary, and yet wholly fitting supplement, even when the fittingness is deferred across massive dissonances by way of the most intricate contrapuntal mediations. Nor are dissonances final, or ever tragic: they are birth pangs, awaiting the glory to be disclosed in their reconciliations – their stretti and recapitulations. Bach’s is the ultimate Christian music; it reflects as no other human artifact ever has or could the Christian vision of creation. . .
The analogy between God’s and Bach’s handiworks is audible chiefly in Bach’s limitless capacity to develop separate lines into extraordinary intricacies of contrapuntal complication, without ever sacrificing the ‘peace’, the measures of accord, by which the music is governed. . . [It] offers an aesthetic analogy to the work of the Spirit in creation, his power to unfold the theme God imparts in creation into ever more profuse and elaborate developments, and to overcome every discordant series.
– David B. Hart,
The Beauty of the Infinite.
By way of illustration, here is Nathan Milstein playing Bach’s great Chaconne, from the Partita No.2 for solo violin, BWV 1004. It looks like it was recorded sometime in the 1950s.
That ends rather abruptly; the remainder of the piece is here.