MARTIN LUTHER, theologian, reformer, musician

Martin Luther  by Lucas Cranach

MARTIN LUTHER – a brief introduction followed by details of a significant new biography

Throughout history there are certain dates when it can be truly said they “changed the world forever”.  The outbreak of WW1 on 4 August 1914 is one (till 1918), the centenaries of which we are marking until 2018; 31 October 1517 and Luther’s Reformation is another, the 500th anniversary of which we are marking this year.

The October date is when Martin Luther made his famous stand against certain practices applied by the Catholic Church, a momentous event which, like WW1 and also the various challenges we are facing today, had far reaching consequences, with its influence spread across the world, theologically, socially and politically   Revisiting Luther’s time and advocacies will help to put them into perspective, understand them better, even answer questions that have remained unanswered for centuries perhaps. Whatever the conclusions, whatever he did and believed, however controversial  (…and he was!) Martin Luther was a towering figure…..and his undoubted influence on Bach’s life and music is reflected in the composer’s repertory. 

For us in the London Bach Society, Luther’s 500th is an opportunity to re-assess the influence his theology and beliefs held for Bach (1685-1750), a modest and deferential 18th century church and town musician who served the Lutheran church all his life, received limited recognition for his trouble, but whose own story, his extraordinary work and musical influence, has since assumed proportions he could never have imagined or contemplated.

31 October 1517

On that day Luther posted on the door of the castle church at Wittenberg 95 theses, which he undertook to defend in public debate. These related to the preaching of indulgences (perhaps special absolution or forgiveness is a better description in today’s parlance) that were granted by the Pope to those who contributed for example towards the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Rome,.Dominican Friars travelled around the country for the purpose. Luther’s persistent opposition to these led to his excommunication from the Catholic church in 1520 amidst articles and writings between Protestant and Catholic factions before and afterwards containing bitter, even vicious, personal attacks and criticism. However, the energy generated ultimately led to the foundation of the Protestant church that bears the Reformer’s name, the Lutheran Church, whose sphere and influence has, since then, spread to Britain, across Europe and into the USA.

The life and work of Martin Luther, born at Eisleben on 10 November 1483, bears consideration particularly during times of significant reforms across the board today. His deeply held beliefs and determination to get to the heart of the matter in the religious life influenced both theological and musical thinking first in 16th century Southern Germany and then beyond.

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