R is for 'Religion'
Extracts from interviews with Mark Morris, Andrew Marr, Julia Neuberger and Rowan Williams, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 during 'A Bach Christmas'.
'Before I realised that I was atheist I used to say that Bach was God's favourite composer - and that still might be true even though I don't believe it. Obviously Bach wasn't the first composer and didn't invent opera or religious music, but he was obviously the greatest one, unless there's a missing one!'
'I'm not religious at all, I'm a flinty atheist - I think Bach does for me some of the things which religion does for other people. Bach draws me out of myself and makes me more sensitive to what's going on in my life at the time. I can find him very disturbing, and moving. To say Bach is a great intellectual composer seems to me to miss more than half of the point'.
'A lot of people think that if you listen to Bach - the quintessentially religious composer - you have to share his faith. Sometimes listening to, for example, the Magnificat or the St John Passion, you almost do need his faith, because when you have those soaring phrases and voices then you think 'what is Bach trying to do' - Bach is trying to express musically almost the purity and the ascendancy of religious faith. I'm Jewish, I don't share that faith, can I appreciate that almost trying to touch the divine - can I appreciate it and not share his faith? The answer is yes, but with reservations. I'm happier listening to it when it's not in my first language and where I can listen to the sublime soaring of the human voice and not listen to what the words really mean'.
'It's very difficult to know how you would characterise Bach as a religious composer -he's not just a composer who sets religious texts, he's a composer who sees all his music as a kind of spiritual exercise. Although performers and listeners may not share his confessional convictions, its difficult to listen to Bach without that sense that you are being invited to change your life...something in Bach prompts you to re-evaluate who you are, that re-evaluation of your feelings and your thoughts.'