It is the 29th of August 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1749.
It was the very tail end of the Baroque era. Yet, a few of its most representative pieces of music were composed in this year. The term baroque, as a refresher or explanation, comes from the Portuguese word for an oddly shaped pearl. It’s a peculiarly specific descriptor, and the movement was peculiarly specific with its attention to the elaborate and highly detailed. Baroque music is complex and technical. The art emphasizes shadow and movement, and the architecture can best be seen in the remarkable palace at Versailles.
While it was initially an artistic movement associated with the Catholic Counter-Reformation, some of its finest composers would be Protestant. In 1749, Handel’s oratorio “Solomon” was first performed. But it was his “Music For The Royal Fireworks” that would be the story of the year. Handel composed the widely recognizable number for George II to be performed for a Royal Firework show in London’s Green Park. The music was widely praised, but the show was a disaster. Fireworks misfired, burning down the pavilion and sending the audience scrambling. A few people were hit by errant rockets. Dejected by the failure, Handel would commit to next composing a more modest piece to be performed for charity. That composition would become his most famous work, “Messiah.”
Johann Sebastian Bach, only a year away from his death, was finishing his “Art of the Fugue.” This piece and many of his later works were not commissioned and were intended to be used for teaching purposes. The entire piece, all 18 fugues, are based solely on the three notes of a D-minor chord and a scale. It was published posthumously two years later by his son, Carl.
As the Baroque was winding down, so too was much of the drama that the Reformations had imposed on the European scene for over two centuries. Parallel to the Baroque were both the Enlightenment and Pietist movements. We see the Enlightenment spirit in works on general and natural history by Count Du Buffon and works by the likes of John Wesley and William Law, representative of an internalized spirituality.
In 1749 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born, as was the father of immunology, Edward Jenner. Both men would represent a new age dawning, but it was a member of the fading Baroque world that we note today. It was on this day, the 29th of August, in 1749, that the Lutheran pastor and polymath Matthias Bel died.
Bel was born in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1684 to a well to do and pious family. He went to school at the famed University of Halle, a center of Lutheran Pietism. Bel also studied at numerous other universities in which he studied philosophy and philology, among other things.
Bel considered himself to be “by language a Slav, a Hungarian in nationality, and a German by education.” Ordained in the Lutheran church, Matthias would also work as a teacher and eventually as the court historiographer of Emperor Charles VI.
He remains an important figure in the Eastern European world for his work that helped to establish the Czech language and to bring attention to Slavic and Hungarian culture. Bel was well respected and made a member of the philosophical and scientific academies in London, Berlin, and St. Petersburg.
His most important works were translations. He worked on a New Testament in Biblical Czech as well as editions in German and Latin. He also translated the two major works of that mystical Lutheran, Johann Arndt. As Arndt borrowed heavily from Thomas A’ Kempis, Bel translated his works as well. His portfolio would include working on translations for at least 35 theological publications. Born in Hungary in 1684, he traveled extensively throughout Europe and ended up back in the kingdom where he died on this, the 29th of August, in 1749. Matthias Bel was 65 years old.
The reading for today comes from the American/Slovakian Lutheran pastor and hymn writer, Jaroslav Vajda. This is the first stanza from his hymn “Go My Children, With My Blessing.”
Go, My children, with My blessing, Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
In My love’s baptismal river,
I have made you Mine forever.
Go, My children, with My blessing. You are My own.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of August 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who regularly eats his weight in goulash, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.