Reflection on Purcell, Handel, and Bach

Over the last few days, we’ve looked at the lives of Henry Purcell, George Frederic Handel, and Johann Sebastian Bach. We’ve talked about their education and about their compositional styles and about what they’re known for in the church. What we haven’t talked about is why they should matter to us.

For me, it’s pretty simple. Traditional sacred music presents us with an opportunity to be connected with history and to collectively make art. Music is dependent upon performers, so whether or not we are the “best” musicians, we get to take part in this historic ritual together. Whether it’s Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, Fanny Crosby, or John Rutter, sacred music is timeless. Bach’s message from 1723 is, I think, the same message that we believe today.

Though we can enjoy sacred music and be inspired by it, we can also create it together for God’s enjoyment. Choral and congregational singing is an incredible tradition God has given us, and it provides us with an opportunity to be connected to the composer, to each other, and–hopefully–to God.

Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, who teaches us in Holy Scripture to sing your praises and who gave your musicians Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Henry Purcell grace to show forth your glory in their music: Be with all those who write or make music for your people, that we on earth may glimpse your beauty and know the inexhaustible riches of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.–Collect for Feast of Bach, Handel, and Purcell, July 28

So what have I missed? How does sacred music affect you? Do you tend to prefer traditional hymns or larger works like the ones we’ve heard from Purcell, Handel, and Bach? Do you prefer participating in these works through performing or through listening? (Both are equally important!)

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