Harald Schützeichel Albert Schweitzer’s perception of Bach
Het ORGEL 96 (2000), nr. 4, 7-14 [summary]

schweitzer.jpg (12638 bytes)Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a student of Charles-Marie Widor. Widor was the first French organist to teach Bach’s music to his students. He confessed to Schweitzer that he did not quite understand Bach’s chorale preludes; Schweitzer pointed out that understanding the text was the key to a correct interpretation. Widor encouraged Schweitzer to write his famous book about Bach: J.S. Bach (1908).

According to Schweitzer, Bach was an ‘architect’ who had completed the gothic art of music; a poet and a painter with music; a mystic. The essence of gothic art for Schweitzer was the free connection of different (musical) lines to a new unity. This view of Bach’s music resulted in a new condition for playing Bach properly: one had te understand the architectural structures of his music. As a poet and painter, Bach was able to explain in his music aspects of texts that could not be explained in words. Proper understanding of how these motives are expressed is another condition for playing Bach. Mystic meant to Schweitzer becoming one with Christ, finding peace and ease in the unity with the eternal will of God. The difference between Bach and other mystics is that Bach uses music to express this state of grace – whereas other mystics use words.

According to Schweitzer, the ‘true’ organ was the ‘Bach-organ’. This ‘true organ’ was a new organ type that was based upon organtypes of the past.

To Schweitzer, Bach was an artist who guided people to inner peace. This corresponds with Schweitzer’s own self-perspective as a musician, as well as his humanitarian and spiritual ideals.