The Great Passion by James Runcie–Book Review

If you’re a Lutheran, you’ve heard of Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent most of his life composing music for use in Lutheran church services. This novel gives us a glimpse of his life as a cantor and teacher at St. Thomas’s in Leipzig, Germany. Told in the voice and through the eyes of a young student, Stefan Silberman, it is the story of one year, 1727– a year when he learns about music and life.

Arriving at the school after the death of his mother, Stefan is bullied, especially when he is singled out by Bach for his musical abilities. Bach’s family takes him in, and here he learns to know Bach’s children and his second wife Anna Magdalena. He becomes one of the boys who copy Bach’s works in progress and Anna Magdalena gives him singing lessons. During his time with the family a young child dies, and Bach composes his masterpiece, the St. Matthew Passion. The experiences stay with for Stefan for the rest of his life.

After taking part in the first performance of The Passion, Stefan describes it this way:

It was not a theological lecture, or a piece of improving rhetoric, or even an account of an event in the history of Palestine. It had become our story. It was happening now, during this performance, in the present tense, and I could see, on the faces of the congregation below, that they recognized that they could do nothing more important than listen, because they had become part of it all.”

If you read this novel, you’ll learn some things about Bach’s life, but even more, you’ll learn about the creative process, and how music can be used to teach and inspire us.


For more book reviews see:

Making Darkness Light by Joe Moshenska–Book Review

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller–Book Review

Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton–Book Review

2 thoughts on “The Great Passion by James Runcie–Book Review

  1. Pingback: Rembrandt is in the Wind by Russ Ramsey–Book Review | Lutheran Ladies Connection

  2. Pingback: It’s Not Your Turn by Heather Thompson Day–Book Review | Lutheran Ladies Connection

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