July 28: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Henry Purcell, Composers, 1750, 1759, 1695

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About this commemoration

J.S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany, in 1685 into
a family of musicians. As a youngster he studied violin and organ
and served as a choirboy at the parish church. By early adulthood,
Bach had already achieved an enviable reputation as a composer and

His assignments as a church musician began in 1707 and a year
later he became the organist and chamber musician for the court of
the Duke of Weimar. In 1723, Bach was appointed cantor of the St.
Thomas School in Leipzig and parish musician at both St. Thomas
and St. Nicholas churches, where he remained until his death in 1750.
A man of deep Lutheran faith, Bach’s music was an expression of his
religious convictions.

G.F. Handel

George Frederick Handel was also born in 1685, in Halle, Germany.
After studying law, he became organist at the Reformed Cathedral
in Halle in 1702, and in 1703 he went to Hamburg to study and
compose opera. His interest in opera led him to Italy and then on to
England where he became a citizen in 1726.

Once in England, Handel supported himself with court appointments
and private patronage. His energies were devoted to producing Italian
operas and English oratorios, large choral works based upon religious
themes. Handel’s most popular work, Messiah, was first performed in
Dublin in 1741, and is notable for its powerful musical interpretation
of texts from the Holy Scriptures.

A man of great charity and generosity, Handel died in London in 1759
and was buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell was born in London in 1659 and became one of the
greatest English composers, flourishing in the period that followed the
Restoration of the monarchy after the Puritan Commonwealth period.
Purcell spent much of his short life in the service of the Chapels
Royal as a singer, composer and organist. With considerable gifts as
a composer, he wrote extensively in a variety of genres for the church
and for popular entertainment. He died in 1695 and is buried adjacent
to the organ near the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.


I Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in
holiness, who dost teach us in Holy Scripture to sing thy
praises and who gavest thy musicians Johann Sebastian
Bach, George Frederick Handel and Henry Purcell grace to
show forth thy glory in their music: Be with all those who
write or make music for thy people, that we on earth may
glimpse thy beauty and know the inexhaustible riches of
thy new creation in Jesus Christ our Savior; who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

II 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 Frederick 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.


2 Chronicles 7:1–6
Colossians 2:2–6
Luke 2:8–14

Psalm 150

Preface of a Saint (3)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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12 thoughts on “July 28: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, and Henry Purcell, Composers, 1750, 1759, 1695

  1. Why are these three composers on our calendar? Nothing against Bach, Handel and Purcell – I sing a great deal of their music – but why are they singled out for a commemoration (as are other musicians later in the calendar)?

    Might a Common for Musicians be more appropriate (as there is proposed for Artists & Writers, page 728 of HWHM)?

    Bio: If we keep them in HWHM, each of these gentlemen needs a ‘who he is’ statement – and a ‘why he is important’ statement.
    1st Paragraph: “As a youngster he studied …” A youngster? That sounds like my great grandmother speaking. How about: “As a young child …” or “As a young man …”?

    The Hebrew Scripture (about trumpets because of the music that Bach, Handel and Purcell wrote?) and the Gospel (which Handel made famous with a Recitative and Chorus, and Bach and Purcell set to other music) seem to have been chosen for their musical ‘connection’ to these composers. That seems an odd way to choose Scripture for these new honored ‘saints’ of our church. I suppose it could have been worse: quoting Scripture about the ‘sure foundation’ (for Purcell, H82 #518) and ‘Hallelujah’ (for Handel). Poor Bach. 😦 He didn’t get a Scripture reading just for him; perhaps we can find something about being a member of a large and talented family. 🙂

  2. The bio of Bach needs a little adjustment: there is “Lutheran tradition” within Christian faith, but there is no such thing as “Lutheran faith” — such usage simply perpetuates an unecumenical way of thinking and, in fact, compromises the ecumenical intent of the expansion represented by “Holy Women, Holy Men.” On the other hand, it is wonderful to see these great musicians added to the Sanctorale.

  3. The opening of the Collect for these 3 great musicians (who I’m delighted to have in the Calendar) is too long. Unlike most BCP collects which name one attribute of God (and/or the subject of the commemoration) in the address, or even many in LFF which name two, this Collect has three clauses before getting to the petition. Combine this with the names of three composers (two of which are tri-partite!) and it is all just too wordy. I would propose a shorter version such as one of the following for consideration:

    Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in
    holiness, you gave to your musicians Johann Sebastian
    Bach, George Frederick Handel and Henry Purcell grace
    to show forth your glory in their music ….

    Almighty God, who teaches us [in Holy Scripture] to sing your
    praises, you gave to your musicians Johann Sebastian
    Bach, George Frederick Handel and Henry Purcell grace
    to show forth your glory in their music …

  4. Bach certainly deserves to be in te calendar. The motivation for so much of his music was religious. I suppose the Messiah gets Handel in, and purcell was big in the church music scene. I know nothing about the lives of Handel and Purcell. Were they saintly?
    I think the collect is wonderful.

  5. The Episcopal Church would be a much poorer place without the great tradition of Lutheran hymns. Try to imagine Holy Week without Herzlich thut mich verlangen (Passion Chorale) or Herzliebster Jesu. Many would miss the Easter hymn Christ lag in Todes banden. None of these three were written by J. S. Bach but were arranged/harmonized by J. S. Bach Hymns are a distinct form of confessing the Church’s faith. And the Episcopal Church is endebted to hundred of composers for its marvelously rich Anglican musical tradition which has flourished for nearly five centuries. One can thank the Anglican reformers that they seemed to follow Luther’s lead when it came to music and not that of Jean Calvin where only psalms were sung. One need only look at the composers, arrangers and souces index to Hymnal 1982 to see the Episcopal Church’s debt to the German hymn tradition. A short list would include: J.S. Bach, Johan Cruger, Hans Leo Hassler, Jakob Hintze, Georg Frideric Handel, Johan B. Konig, Martin Luther, Joachim Neander, Philipp Nicolai, Michael Praetorius, Melchoir Vulpius, and others. I have made a point of naming only the Protestant ones. The point I am making is that there should be a commemoration for those who have composed the great music for our liturgy. As wonderful as Bach, Handel, Purcell are I do not know what they have been choosen to be commemorated while others, perhaps less well known, but whose contribution to the Church is as great are not listed. If ever there was a place for “Combined Commemorations,” this is certainly one. Okay, four commemorations then: one for the English, Welsh and Irish composers; another for the German language composers; and a third for the rest of the European composers; and a fourth to cover American music (Sacred Harp, Southern Harmony), spirituals, and African composers. (I hope that there is at least a smile.) But I hope my point is taken. Having Bach, Handel and Purcell commemorated is both too much and too little. Please, rethink these names and consider carefully all the composers. We already recognize those quintessentially Anglican composers, the Wesleys. Perhaps this day could be better used to remember a long legacy of worthy composers whose work enriches our liturgy and our lives. And I did not say anything about authors.

    Suzanne Sauter

  6. About Handel: from what I know about him, he did indeed lead a saintly life and had a vivid sense of the Christian narrative, which he carefully laid out in his choices of scripture in _The Messiah_. It is very inspiring to sit in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland and think what it must have been like in the 1740s when _The Messiah_ was first performed. _The Messiah_ is, and was, a great evangelical work. –I do agree with Suzanne about commemorating other composers whose music also strengthened Christian faith.

  7. Placing Bach first appears to be a value judgment. I would place them in birth order. What’s the merit in alphabetical order of last names?

    There are many variants is listing the names of the musician usually known in English as “Handel”, but there’s an increasing consensus that his second name should be shown as “Frideric”

  8. Handel is on record as saying to someone who commented on the great pleasure that people derived from hearing “Messiah”, “I should be sorry if I only entertained them; I wish to make them better.”

    He was, of course, also floridly manic-depressive (he wrote “Messiah” in 22 days in which he presumably slept hardly at all; simply COPYING the score of “Messiah” by hand would take a typical copyist more than three weeks). It is perhaps all the more remarkable that he lived a virtuous and productive life rather than self-destructing in some way.

  9. Sorry to be a year late on this!

    There are some variants on the spelling of Handel’s name (originally in Germany it was Georg Friedrich Händel), but although the English spelling “Frederick” doubtless occurs sometimes, the spelling “Frideric” is now virtually universal.

  10. I could see Bach & Handel put together as they were almost exact contemporaries, but Purcell? He was about two generations earlier. I agree that instead of naming just those three–as important as they were–there should be a general commemoration of Church Musicians; to perhaps coincide with the RC St. Caecilia’s Day, as she is associated (erroneously) with music?

  11. I am deeply in love with the music of all three, but a commemorative feast day! I’m sorry it’s just ridiculous. Perhaps as someone suggested above a common for musicians. But a separate feast day, why my secretary deserved one at least as much a much as these three occasional church employees. Feasts should be reserved for the conspicuously holy, not for the merely famous. HWHM should be discontinued and LF&F returned to it’s rightful place.

    Perejean: Thanks for your comment. Next time please use your full name. Thx. — Ed.

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