Summary: J.S. Bach signed most of his sacred music "S.D.G." (Soli Deo Gloria). 1 Kings 3:1-15 and Ephesians 5:15-20 encourage us to live an S.D.G. life style - a life that gives glory to God alone.
20th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year B
It’s hard for me to imagine a world without music. And it’s even more difficult to imagine worshiping our Savior without the joyful sounds of singing. One of the greatest composers of sacred music was Johann Sebastian Bach. Born into a family of musicians, by the age of 10 – when his parents died - Johann Sebastian had already become an accomplished musician, singing and playing several instruments. By the age 17, having found his musical love and calling, Bach accepted his first position as a church organist and choir director. Although the directing of the choir was to be a little strained as the singers did not live up to Bach’s expectations and they weren’t gifted enough (in his opinion) to singing the intricate compositions that Bach was composing for them!
His next church was beset by similar issues – the priests asked him to compose pieces of music that were simple and less ornate. These struggles seemed to follow Bach throughout his life – yet they did not deter his ambition to use his musical gifts to glorify God. While Bach was known throughout Europe for his skills on the organ bench, he was not in his lifetime well respected for his compositions. In fact, after his death, Bach’s music fell into obscurity for nearly a century until Felix Mendelssohn resurrected it. After the criticism of his music and after his cantatas and masses had long been forgotten, I’m certain Bach himself would be shocked that his music is still influencing worship 250 years after his death! If anyone had told him, I doubt that he could have believed that his music would be among the most widely performed and recorded centuries after it was written. But then again, Bach might be embarrassed by all the attention his life and his music have been give. Bach did not view his music as his own. He did not compose to impress himself or others. Bach composed music solely for the glory of God. Bach didn’t care if others thought his music was too ornate or too old-fashioned (yes, Bach was considered old-fashioned even in his day). Bach only cared about glorifying God.
You might wonder how we know this. Well on most of his original manuscripts there are two sets of initials: at the top there is J.J. and at the bottom is S.D.G. Both of these are Latin abbreviations that set forth Bach’s faith. J.J. stands for Jesus Juva (or Jesus help me.) And the S.D.G. stands for Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory. Bach did not compose his cantatas and his masses and his orchestrations or any of his music for his own vanity and glory – everything he did was done S.D.G. – for the glory of God alone. S.D.G. is probably one of the reasons Bach’s music fell into obscurity – because he did not mass produce it or publicize it. He wrote it solely for God to be glorified.
And perhaps, just maybe, S.D.G. – for the glory of God alone - is precisely why Bach’s music has withstood the test of time, because it was not written for kings or popes or bishops or priests or even for the people in the pews – it was based on scripture and written to glorify God.